Based on his lively smile and enthusiasm, one would not peg this to have been Jared Dudley’s 13th media day.
The veteran who inked a one-year, minimum deal with the Lakers over the summer spritely made the rounds of the annual event on Friday leaving behind one lasting impression — he’s ready to do whatever the team asks of him.
On a squad that suddenly is top-heavy with veterans, Dudley still stands out. In many regards, the headband-donning forward is the prototypical role player every team scours for. From being a willing charge participant, to his screen-setting artistry and his occasional jawing at opposing team’s star players/benches, Dudley has shown an eagerness to do it all.
But during his merry-go-round of photo shoots and radio spots, the 34-year-old brought up one particular goal he has for the upcoming season, and it’s an aim that won’t necessarily take place on the court: He wants to mentor Kyle Kuzma.
“We play the same position. What can I do off the court to help him get to his full potential?” Dudley asked rhetorically while explaining why he had zeroed in on helping Kuzma. “Everyone knows about LeBron and Anthony Davis, but Kyle Kuzma is really the key for us. He’s the one that has the potential that is untapped to where he could become an All-Star player.”
Although the team made it clear over the summer that they are in win-now mode, Kyle Kuzma’s continued development is still significant after missing out on Kawhi Leonard and losing DeMarcus Cousins for the year.
This is an area and role in which Dudley could end up playing a prominent part for the Lakers. The lessons Dudley can help instill into Kuzma likely transcend aspects like floor positioning or defensive footwork — and instead come in preparation and guidance.
Dudley has made a career first and foremost on being a professional and willingly embracing a role. That’s often a difficult task for athletes who for the vast majority of their lives have been head and shoulders better than their peers.
For journeymen like Dudley — the Lakers will be his seventh team — it is within these margins and attention to detail where success is found. If he can impart an appreciation for those things on Kuzma, it could be huge for the young forward’s development. For Lakers fans hoping that happens, the good news is that Kuzma isn’t Dudley’s first star pupil.
After making pit-stops with various clubs over the past few seasons, Dudley has taken on this type of mentorship role for several young stars, playing a key part in impressing the importance in the details on them.
“I did it with D’Angelo Russell where he was benched in fourth quarters and I would watch film with him on the plane, help him expand and become an All-Star,” Dudley said, listing Devin Booker and Bradley Beal as other players he’s helped, and that’s in addition to his role in reigning-MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s development, arguing to then Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach that Antetokounmpo should be starting over him.
“So I’ve had experience with young players before they’ve reached their All-Star potential,” Dudley said.
And while Dudley himself thinks Kuzma has All-Star potential, he can also help teach the 24-year-old the mindset and responsibilities a player needs to accept on a team that already has stars.
Kuzma already displays an impressive ability to operate off the ball, but he’ll also have to take a step forward in rounding out the rest of his game.
Last season Dudley finished third in total screen assists (and points), third in box outs and first in charges drawn on a feisty Brooklyn club despite appearing in only 59 games.
Kuzma also topped the Lakers in charges drawn last campaign, but had 30 less screen assists than Dudley and barely bested the vet in boxouts (Kuzma played in 11 more games) according to NBA hustle data.
Kuzma’s career will not be built upon doing these things solely. But on a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, proving able to impact the game without scoring is vital. And there might not a better player than Dudley on the roster to help Kuzma accomplish learn how.
The San Diego native is a product of what having proper mentorship from veteran teammates early on can do for a career. While he never was projected or played at a star level, there are few players who have earned the respect of various locker-rooms across the league like him.
“I got traded my second year from Charlotte to Phoenix. On the older team, I was the young guy. I was the Kuzma on that team. It was Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Jason Richardson,” Dudley said, crediting his ability to play 13 years to Nash emphasizing the need to always evolve in his career.
“People wouldn’t think I’d be here at year 13, and they’ll be shocked when I’m still here in year 15 still playing with these young guys,” Dudley said. “That’s because knowing your role, being a good teammate off the court is just as big as on the court, because GMs and front offices don’t like knuckleheads. Those guys taught me how to be a pro.”
It is unclear how significant of a role Dudley will ultimately play for the Lakers this season. However, there is little doubt that when his number gets called — he’ll be ready like a professional always is.
If he is able to be that guiding hand to Kuzma that he was fortunate to once have — and was for his former teammates — this will likely exceed any production he could offer on the court at this stage of his career. Dudley himself would proudly call that a win, just another little victory for him that won’t show up on the stat sheet.
All stats per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.