Now settled into a role as a key reserve for the Brooklyn Nets, veteran Jared Dudley is providing value both on and off the court.
When the Brooklyn Nets acquired veteran forward Jared Dudley from the Phoenix Suns in July, many analysts believed the true value of the deal rested in the top-35 protected 2021 second-round pick general manager Sean Marks picked up as a sweetener in the trade.
We live in the age of analytics in the NBA, when hundreds of folks — myself included — take deep dives into the numbers beyond the box score when evaluating the relative value of players and teams.
Taking that approach with Dudley will tell only part of the story of what he’s brought to a young Nets team this season.
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Dudley began the year as the team’s starting 4 after DeMarre Carroll went down with an ankle injury in the preseason and missed the first 11 games of the season following an arthroscopic procedure.
Carroll was in the lineup in place of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who was slowed early in the season while recovering from an adductor strain sustained while playing in former Net Jeremy Lin‘s charity game in China.
The numbers paint a picture of a 33-year-old who might have been thrown out of his depth as a starter early in the campaign.
In those first 20 games with the starting unit, Dudley averaged 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 23.5 miutes per game, while shooting just 37.5 percent overall and 30.6 percent from 3-point range, where his greatest value was supposed to lie.
He had entered the season, after all, as a 39.6 percent shooter from deep and had hit 36.3 percent from the land of plenty even as a forgotten reserve for the Suns last season.
Before Brooklyn played the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center on Nov. 25, coach Kenny Atkinson made the move, replacing Dudley on the first unit with Hollis-Jefferson.
Dudley’s numbers in the last 18 games aren’t much different — on the surface — than what he was doing as a starter.
He’s averaged 5.4 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in his new role, but he’s done that in just 20.6 minutes a game and has shot 45.3 percent overall and 34 percent from deep.
Brooklyn is 9-9 with Dudley as a reserve after going 8-12 with him in the starting group. His raw plus/minus was minus-1.0 per game as a starter, but is a plus-2.9 as a reserve.
In mid-December, Dudley showed there was still plenty of life in the legs, scoring 16 points in 25 minutes in a 17-point win over the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 16 and following that up with 13 points — 10 in the fourth quarter — as the Nets beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 18.
And if you just stop there, you have the picture of a productive, if unspectacular, veteran backup.
Dudley’s impact on the Nets goes beyond the numbers.
He’s the oldest player on the roster and his career is a microcosm of the NBA landscape over the last decade or so. Dudley entered the NBA as the 22nd overall pick by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2007 NBA Draft, where he played the small forward spot.
In December 2008, early in his second season, he was traded as part of a five-player deal to the Phoenix Suns, where he played as a 2-3 combo wing and was a key reserve on the Suns 2009-10 team that made a run to the Western Conference Finals.
He left Phoenix in 2013 for one-season stints with the LA Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards before returning to the Suns in 2016.
By that point, Dudley had evolved into a small-ball/stretch 4 as the game continued to move to the perimeter and coaches often favored floor spacing over pure size.
As the Nets were losing eight straight games in late November and early December, it was the veteran in the locker room who called it like he saw it, telling the media via Jonathan Lehman of the New York Post:
"“We’re to a point now, it’s happening too often, seven, eight games, and the way we’re losing, it’s like Groundhog Day.We’re losing in very similar ways, not playing smart basketball, not doing little things … rebounding, stupid turnovers, not knowing shot selection, time on the clock, fouling bad shots, putting them on the free throw line.We’re playing bad basketball in the last five to seven minutes and it just seems like we’re out there and we’re not making enough adjustments.”"
Dudley then backed up his talk by leading the players in a film session following their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 5.
The Nets proceeded to roll off seven straight victories, becoming just the fifth team in NBA history to follow eight or more consecutive losses with an immediate winning streak of at least seven games.
It was a veteran move and the results say it was the right move for the ball club.
If you watch Nets games, you will almost always see Dudley during stoppages in play getting with teammates, gesturing to spots on the floor and teaching from experience.
He and DeMarre Carroll are the only players on the Brooklyn roster who have been rotational players for teams that have gone deep into the playoffs and that perspective could be vital moving forward as the Nets try to make the leap from lottery team to lower-echelon playoff club.
And while the box score won’t indicate it, nor will those newfangled next level stats (that I completely embrace, for the record), Dudley’s impact on the Brooklyn Nets this season has been substantial in ways both on and off the hardwood.