When the Los Angeles Lakers signed Jared Dudley to a minimum contract, the move was largely ignored by almost everyone except hardcore NBA fans. After all, the 34-year old forward comes in as a journeyman with career averages of just 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds, so he doesn’t have the same allure as Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins or some of the other high-profile players that joined the Lakers this summer.
However, Dudley is widely known as a great teammate and a rugged defender who brings toughness and effort into every game in which he appears. Thanks to these qualities, Jared Dudley could prove to be a valuable member of the Lakers team, particularly since he can be relied on to provide stability and professionalism regardless of the situation.
With this in mind, we examine the impact that Jared Dudley might have on the Lakers’ fortunes in the 2019/20 season and the factors that could determine whether he stays with the team for more than one year.
Overview of Dudley’s career
After playing four years at Boston College where he was regarded as a crafty and hard-working player, Dudley was drafted 22nd overall in 2007 by Charlotte Bobcats. He adapted well to the NBA, quickly gained favor with coaches (a trend that continued at his other stops) and spent his first year and a half in the league as a regular in the Bobcats’ rotation. He was traded to Phoenix in December of 2008, and played for the Suns for the next four and a half seasons, reaching career highs in scoring and rebounding in 2011/12, with 12.7 and 4.6, respectively. In this period, Jared Dudley acquired the reputation of a legitimate NBA starter, and even had a few notable performances in the playoffs.
After Phoenix, Jared Dudley started bouncing around the league, struggling to find a permanent home or contractual security. He played one season with the Clippers, Bucks, and Wizards each, before coming back to Suns in 2016. Staying another two seasons with his former club, he failed to gain a relevant place on a rebuilding team and quickly continued his journey across the league. He signed with Brooklyn in 2018, and had a relatively prominent role in the unexpected success of the young Nets team last season, emerging as a strong locker room voice and a player ready to introduce some physicality into the game. The leadership he displayed with Brooklyn is probably what attracted the Lakers to sign Dudley in the offseason, and might be instrumental in earning him another contract.
Key skills and weaknesses as a player
Jared Dudley can play both forward spots, although as he is getting older he is primarily deployed as a power forward or even small-ball center. He is a complementary player that doesn’t require the ball in his hands in order to contribute and takes pride in being a reliable defender. Dudley was never very athletic, and relied more on skill than speed even when he was younger, so his style is aging pretty well. He is a capable 3-point shooter with a career average slightly above 39%, which is more than respectable. On the flip side, he rarely creates his own shots and is far more effective in catch-and-shoot situations than when he needs to initiate the action. While he is generally a well-rounded basketball player without any glaring flaws, his free throw shooting is a mild liability, as his 73% career average is less than ideal for a player who is billed as a shooter.
At 6-7, he is undersized for the power forward position, but he makes up for the lack of size with a bulky frame and excellent positioning, making him a reliable rebounder on both ends of the floor. His mobility remains very solid even in his 30’s, so he is still capable of guarding wing players on switches or in emergency situations. Most importantly, Dudley willingly dives to the floor for every loose ball, and is crafty when stationing his body to draw offensive fouls, thus creating value for his team out of thin air. He rarely loses his temper on the court, but is known to sometimes intentionally provoke star players from the opposite team, hoping to bait them into committing a costly technical foul (just ask the Sixers about it).
Roster fit with the Lakers
On this Lakers team, Jared Dudley will have probably have a small but important role, which may change from month to month. Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis are the probable starters on the forward spots, but there are no true power forwards other than Dudley and Johnathan Williams on the bench. That means Jared Dudley will likely be in the rotation to start the year and play anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes on any given night, provided everyone is healthy. If there is an injury to Davis or Kuzma, Dudley could be forced into a more extensive role, possibly even in the starting lineup, which wouldn’t be anything new for the 12-year veteran. The Lakers certainly want to avoid this scenario, but it’s safe to say Dudley will be ready if his number is called.
Most importantly, Dudley fits the description of a perfect role player on a James-led team. He is smart about choosing where to move on the court and can anticipate passes better than most players. While his defensive versatility may have diminished in recent years, he still has some positional flexibility, especially in the modern NBA where traditional positions are less and less strictly defined. His value might be greater in the playoffs, where matchups are much more important – Dudley could potentially guard Draymond Green in a hypothetical series against the Warriors, or switch onto Leonard and George in a showdown against the crosstown rivals, the Clippers. Given his modest price tag, Jared Dudley represents an asset for the Lakers that comes with practically no risks.
Leadership and intangibles
The decision to fill out the lower part of the roster with savvy veterans rather than young talent was in part a necessity after the Davis trade, and in part an expression of a broader strategy. After years of turmoil and instability, the team is in dire need of veteran leadership and uncompromising professionalism. This is an area where Jared Dudley can be expected to assume a role disproportionate to his impact on the court. He is known as a hard worker who voices his opinions freely, but his trash-talking ways don’t cause serious incidents. In other words, he is liable to get slapped with a technical here and there, most probably because he felt that his team needed a jolt and was ready to sacrifice in order to affect the game, yet he will rarely if ever commit a transgression that truly crosses the line. On a young team like last year’s Brooklyn, this approach was much appreciated and it’s possible that it will be even more welcome on the Lakers team who will be looking for an edge anywhere they can find it.
It would be naïve to expect the Lakers to go through the season without any losing streaks, internal disagreements or tense players-only meetings. If things veer in this direction, the coaches will have a valuable ally in Dudley who will do anything it takes to return the team to winning ways. Jared Dudley has earned a right to speak openly, even in the presence of players much better than himself, and he could be a calming influence at a time of crisis. Even more critically, he is sure to provide an example of how to play hard and adapt to any game situations on the fly, which could serve as motivation to his teammates. While he can’t be expected to turn the season around on his own and will never have the type of impact on others that a superstar offensive playmaker might, Jared Dudley is a rock-solid pro who can be trusted to pull his weight and then some.
What does Dudley need to do to stick beyond this year?
Few people would argue that Jared Dudley was a nice addition to this year’s roster, but it’s clear that the management currently doesn’t see him as a long-term building block. He signed a one-year contract, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was the only year he spends with the Lakers. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him replaced even before the end of the season if he fails to develop good chemistry with his new teammates. Of course, it’s also possible to imagine him sticking around and growing into a stable bench player for a championship-caliber team. There are simply too many unknowns about the LA Lakers to confidently project the future of a journeyman on a minimum contract right now.
The most realistic scenario in which Dudley becomes indispensable to the Lakers involves a lot of winning, and a happy LeBron. It’s no secret that the Lakers will do anything to keep their star in good spirits, and if that means giving a raise to a few of his favorite pals, so be it. While this couple doesn’t have a history of close collaboration, there are numerous examples of players roughly similar to Dudley being embraced by James, including James Jones, Mike Miller, Dahntay Jones, and Kyle Korver. If Dudley can earn some playing time, make some clutch shots, and the team starts winning, he won’t have to put up monster numbers in order to stay a Laker. His performance during the regular season likely won’t be decisive, since the team’s ambitions are much more grandiose. However, if he manages to string together a few inspired performances when it matters most, he might finally find a long-term NBA home that has eluded him throughout his career so far.