Dudley is Suns' 'do-it-all' guy
The way Jared Dudley speaks has much in common with the way he plays. The words run into each other quickly and logically across a variety of topics. His style of play is equally fast and smart and versatile.
Put it all together and those who know him are unable to find the words to describe him.
"It's hard to explain him,'' said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. "I was trying to think of anybody else in sports that you could relate to him. But I can't think of anybody, he's just so unique."
Most NBA role players are asked to excel in one or two aspects. Dudley's role is to do almost everything. At 6-foot-7 he scores (10.5 points per game this season), makes threes (at a career 41.2 percent), creates for others (he's third in assists behind Suns point guards Steve Nash and Ronnie Price) and defends several positions. He began the season as a starter, then was recently returned to the bench in order to bring energy to the second unit.
"He's almost like a utility infielder," Gentry went on. "He's not one of these guys that's tremendously gifted athletically, but he does a good job of guarding the really athletic guys. I don't know if you can call him a great shooter, but he shoots the ball extremely well. It's things like that -- I don't know how you ever explain exactly what he is."
The Suns' base of talent has been diminishing in recent years, yet they've remained upbeat because of the optimistic leadership of Nash, Grant Hill and Dudley. At 26, Dudley's more accomplished teammates are at least a decade older than him, and he's trying to learn as much as he can from them. He slimmed down to his current 225 pounds by following Nash's diet advice after Dudley was traded to the Suns from Charlotte midway through his second NBA season in 2008-09. "He doesn't even treat himself, because he wants to be able to still play," said Dudley of Nash's refusal of desserts and other sweets. "People say, 'when is he going to slow down?' He knows if he starts slipping on his diet, it will be quicker to that [decline]."
Dudley was the ACC Player of the Year as a Boston College senior, and as a first-round pick (No. 22) he contributed to the Bobcats' rotation instantly. His hopes for an extended career were inspired by playing with Nash, who led Phoenix to the 2010 conference finals.
"Steve allowed me to show skills that people thought I normally wouldn't have, such as shooting the ball or having the ball in my hands coming off screens," said Dudley. "He gave me an outlook on nutrition and diet to be able to play a long time. Even though he's not lifting heavy weights, he's able to stretch certain muscles without bench pressing and squatting, which are so overrated in high school and college. And offensively, it's 'don't let anyone define you.' If you look at him on the street, would you even think he plays basketball? He's not fast as a runner, he's not quicker [than other point guards]. But he's one of the great shooters, he's in great position, he has great balance and that's what makes him still at 37 one of the best point guards in the league."
Dudley understood what he was up against when he entered the NBA draft. "I was a role player when I first went to BC, and I was a role player in high school until I was in my senior year," said Dudley, who grew up in San Diego. "My whole thing was weight-wise to come in looking slim, like you're taking it serious. I dropped 10-12 pounds and 2-3 percent body fat just to show them, 'hey, I can play at this [NBA] level.' I wanted the lateral testing to be a good score because that would show defensively I can move my feet."
One of Dudley's immeasurable strengths is his positive outlook. "He's the very reason that we have good practices," said Gentry. "It's because he makes it so competitive. It doesn't matter if he's on the first team or the second team, he's challenging guys that are guarding him, or he's guarding guys on the other team."
"That's how I was raised -- you've got to have fun," said Dudley. "You're going to have ups and downs, you're going to shoot bad or shoot good. We were in the conference finals; and then we didn't make the playoffs [last year]. You've got to have fun, and since I've been here in Phoenix we've had no problems being teammates. Everyone has liked each other, and I think it's more conducive to winning."
Dudley became a popular tweeter with close to 100,000 followers after learning of its power from former teammates Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Richardson. He currently appears in a public service announcement with Hill telling viewers it's not right to use the term "gay" as a put-down. "It was something I felt strongly about, but I didn't know it was going to be as big as it is,'' said Dudley. "Me being bi-racial -- being half-white, half-black -- you see people being picked on, and a lot of people can't defend themselves."
His playing career has years to run, but he's already thinking about his potential afterward. "One of my goals is to be a college basketball coach," he said. "I could see eventually trying to be an assistant somewhere for two or three years, and getting a small D-1 job somewhere and working my way up."
Another thought will come as no surprise. "I've also been thinking about doing, like, a TNT analyst," he said. "But a lot of those guys have won championships."
Which means he's going to have to help win a championship someday. The best way to fulfillment, Dudley has found, is to be happy with oneself. No good can come from anything less than that. "That's why this game is more mental than physical," he said. "Obviously the physical attributes get you more recognition and make it a lot easier. But if you don't have the mental aspects ... people [talk about] LeBron [James] in the fourth quarter. LeBron's probably the most talented player by far in the NBA, and people wonder about the fourth quarter. Well, that's all mental. There's nothing physical about it at all."
Why does James struggle occasionally, and why does Dudley exceed expectations? These are the mysteries that make the games worth watching.