The Los Angeles Lakers needed all the help they could get on their two-game road trip this week. Anthony Davis missed both games with a gluteus maximus contusion, while LeBron James was out for the second one with an illness he had been playing through all week. Danny Green sat with a hip injury, while Avery Bradley played while under the weather.
Making matters worse, on Friday both of the Lakers’ centers — Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee — were dealing with foul trouble. L.A. needed someone to step up, and Jared Dudley was ready to answer the call, playing small-ball five for the first time this season.
He acquitted himself well in his unexpected exposure, even getting just his second 2-point basket of the season on a rare post-up opportunity, and emphasizing how many Lakers had to step into unfamiliar roles to patch over absences this weekend in the process.
“I told coach Vogel, no more four for me, I’m only playing small-ball five,” Dudley told reporters on Spectrum SportsNet with a laugh while talking about his post skills before turning more serious.
“I don’t think people realize how deep we are. I was starting playoff games last year, now I’m 14th or 15th man, (and) that’s the role I wanted. People forget about that, I chose this,” Dudley said.
That was not an unfamiliar theme for the role players that stood out over the weekend. Troy Daniels was the first player to agree to terms with the Lakers in free agency this summer, taking a minimum deal to join a winner. Quinn Cook left the Golden State Warriors for a chance to pair with James and Davis, even if the battle for minutes wouldn’t always tilt in his favor. Both players (and Dudley) stayed ready for the trip despite not having played much in prior weeks, understanding that while their roles might be limited, they have to be prepared to play them when called upon.
“That’s the biggest thing about this league. A lot of guys, when they don’t get minutes, they fall back, they don’t work out as hard, so when they get in the game it shows,” Howard told reporters after Cook and Daniels combined for 25 points on 21 shots in the team’s James and Davis-less win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Head coach Frank Vogel added that he was “extremely proud” of the role players for stepping up on a night when a lot of teams would have just rolled over without their two stars.
“(I’m) really extremely happy for the guys like Quinn, and Troy and Dudz that don’t play every night, and have to stay ready, which is a difficult assignment when you’re not practicing, and games are going by where you’re not playing,” Vogel said. “For those guys to come in and contribute at the level that they did… I’m really happy for everybody.”
Howard lauded the role players as “very professional” in the way they’re always in the gym, whether they’re in or out of the rotation.
“And when they get their minutes, it shows. They make big shots, they make big plays and they do what they’re supposed to do,” Howard said.
Whether it’s Dudley defending centers or Cook and Daniels hitting timely shots, sometimes championship teams need a few big moments from unheralded role players along the way. Think Sasha Vujacic hitting title-clinching free throws in a game seven of the NBA Finals, or Richard Jefferson stepping up in the postseason for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 after being a bit player for parts of that year.
While two games in the regular season isn’t equal to those achievements, the Lakers might have a few guys capable of stepping up when the team needs them to.
“That’s been my career in the NBA. Always staying ready. You never know in the NBA,” Daniels said on Saturday. “I think tonight everybody was ready.”
All quotes transcribed via Spectrum SportsNet. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.