8. The evolution of Jared Dudley
Players donâ€™t have to make huge leaps or evolve into stars to make themselves more valuable. The Sunsâ€™ Dudley is a great example. Once a spot-up shooter, Dudley has gradually gotten better at running off screens for catch-and-shoot plays and even posting up smaller players when he draws a switch. Heâ€™s a creative finisher near the rim, capable of using up-and-unders and funky angles on the glass. Kudos to one of the NBAâ€™s Twitter All-Stars, who becomes more well-rounded every season.
Over the course of his five-year NBA career, Jared Dudley has made the transition from human manifestation of Fudgie the Whale to professional basketball’s Dread Pirate Roberts.
If your only exposure to Fudgie the Whale is a Patton Oswalt stand-up routine, you might not know that Fudgie is a cake (though if you’re a SimpsonsÂ fan, you know it’s the kind of thing you give to “a whale of a wife”). Yes, a delicious, heavyset dessert is the best comparison for Jared Dudley when he came into the league. Fudgie was often marketed as a cake for Father’s Day — yes, that was a thing in the 70s and 80s — but, by rotating the cake 90 degrees, cake artists (the most fulfilling of life’s careers, I assume) could turn Fudgie into a leprechaun, a rabbit or Santa Claus; Fudgie could be all things to all people, depending on the season.*
*He also taught children of those decades an important lesson — everything that is adorable or celebrated for a holiday should be turned into sugary confections and devoured. Thousands of years from now, anthropologists will compare our cetacean obsession to Aztec ritual sacrifices. Of this, I am convinced.
But at his sweet, decadent core, Fudgie was a whale. One could pretend his tail was bunny ears or Santa’s hat, but that’s not fooling anyone. Such was the case with Dudley, a rather rotund combo forward,Â as a rookie. Not athletic enough to effectively play small forward but too short (at a listed 6’7″) to realistically play the four, he seemed doomed to Fudgie status. Nominally, this positional purgatory meant he provided a certain semblance of versatility and flexibility. In practice, he was a sea-going mammal trying to hide his tail in an NBA jersey and shorts.
Then Dudley was traded to Phoenix. Upon his arrival in the desert, he went to work shedding excess weight and refining his game. Credit Steve Nash, credit the Suns’ training staff or credit Dudley himself; in any case, the man made of cake reshaped his body and his potential as a basketball player. Playing alongside Nash undoubtedly bolstered Dudley’s performance and numbers, but the improvement in Dudley’s game was immediate. He posted then-career highs in points and rebounds per 36 minutes in his 48 games in purple and orange, and his win shares per 48 minutes hit .126.
That number is a perfect depiction of what Dudley has become. Since the trade, his WS/48 has never exceeded .129 or dipped below .125. He is essentially 25% better than a replacement level player (defined here as one who provides .100 WS/48). His production, in raw, statistical terms, really hasn’t increased over his years in Phoenix. His total rebound percentage has hovered slightly over 8%. He’s practically an average player as gauged by PER, consistently posting an efficiency rating around 15. As Phoenix’s offensive options have faded over the last two seasons, Dudley’s usage percentage has increased, but just barely. He’s added the ability to step up and fill Grant Hill’s shoes as a perimeter defender to some extent when Hill has missed time, but he’s nowhere near the level of defender that Hill is.
It’s that willingness to do whatever is asked of him and whatever the team needs on a given night, though, that’s truly marked Dudley’s improvement. He’s the Suns’ Dread Pirate Roberts. His role in each game is defined by his teammates, his opponents and the ever-changing situation on the court. One never knows what exactly he’ll bring — or be asked to bring — to the table; his duties are masked, like Wesley’s face, to protect the innocent and to disguise his utility and true purpose. When coach Alvin Gentry chose to start Vince Carter ahead of Dudley last year, he took it in stride and performed admirably off the bench. When the Suns were struggling to find consistency in their rotations at the start of the year, Dudley willingly came off the bench to try to provide a spark to the second unit. Over the course of five games, from January 18th to the 27th, Dudley’s starting spot was given to Ronnie Price.*
*Those five games seem like a bad fever dream at this point. Was there really a stretch of the season where Nash and Price started alongside each other? That had to have been aÂ hallucination, right?
That experiment failed fairly miserably — the Suns went 2-3, including a loss to the Raptors, and Dudley shot 38.7% from the field — but Dudley’s “As you wish” mentality cements his place in the NBA as the ultimate glue guy. Need someone to crash the boards? As you wish; he has two double-digit rebound games so far this season, and against the Wolves on March 12th, he helped pick up the slack by equaling Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat’s combined nine rebounds.
Is your lockdown defender sidelined by old age and leg injuries, putting you in need of a replacement to wear the mask as the team’s best wing player? As you wish; since Grant Hill has been out of the lineup for the past eight games, Dudley has been tasked with guarding the opponent’s best wing scorer or ballhandler and has generally acquitted himself well, though he was fortunate that Kobe Bryant, Hater Of The Sun, was out when the Lakers came to town on Saturday.
On your way through the Fire Swamp to avoid Humperdinck’s army and looking for someone to guide you? As you wish.
What both the Suns and fans of the team have found is that when Dudley utters those three words, what he really means is that he loves this team and its fans. And that makes it extremely easy to love him right back. He’s not the best player in the world, but he’s one of my favorites.
Now who wants some cake?