Editor’s Note: As the season gets closer, our Silver Screen and Roll staff is going to be taking a closer look back at every player on the Lakers for a refresher on stuff we may have forgotten during quarantine. Think of this as like the 30 second clip reminding you of what happened during the current season of your favorite TV show that rolls right before the latest episode starts. Today, let’s recall what was up with Jared Dudley.
Anyone paying close attention to the Lakers this season has heard a lot from Jared Dudley. The vocal veteran forward has basically been an honorary team spokesman, candidly offering thoughts on topics from Kyle Kuzma’s development to where the league should resume its season, and everything and anything in between. At this point, it’s almost a guarantee that he’s offered up more quotes than he has attempted shots for the Lakers (50, if you’re wondering, which is by far the fewest of any season of his career).
“Fewest of any season of his career” has also been theme for Dudley’s stats, as he’s also played the least minutes (311) of any of his 12 seasons, as well as compiling his lowest totals in steals (12), rebounds (43) and minutes (311). And if he doesn’t get at least one more assist during the Orlando restart, the 19 he’s managed so far this season will also tie his second year in the league for a career low (in at least 20 more games than he played that season).
Those marks, in conjunction with his age (he will turn 35 at Disney World), the fact that the advanced numbers paint the Lakers as being 5.1 points per 100 possessions better when he sits, and low-key mean headlines like “Lakers’ Jared Dudley: Not fantasy-relevant,” might lead one to believe that Dudley is simply a washed ring-chaser at this point. But not only does such an evaluation ignore a lot of context, it also glances past some of the signs that Dudley might be giving this team exactly what it needs from him, and be primed to offer them even more if necessary.
For one thing, on-off numbers are a somewhat flawed way to analyze a player in the specific type of role Dudley has played, given that the majority of his minutes have come in garbage time this year. The Lakers are really good, so of course a low-usage veteran playing with a bunch of end-of-bench guys at the end of blowouts isn’t going to put up better lineup metrics than, you know, the guys that have played while the Lakers compile a Western Conference-best 49-14 record.
There is also the matter that in his limited opportunities to shine, Dudley has mostly come through when the Lakers needed him. He’s started for the team when Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma couldn’t play. In a particularly memorable December road win against Orlando when just Kuzma was out, Dudley came in, gave the Lakers three 3-pointers, played good team defense, finished a team-high plus-16 in plus-minus, and then got ejected for running in out of nowhere to try and fight basically the entire Magic roster in order to keep Dwight Howard from getting tossed.
The night was essentially a perfect encapsulation of Dudley’s role on this team: Not only the way he stayed ready despite not playing much, impressing his teammates and coach at the time, but also for how he fulfilled his preseason promise to offer hands to anyone that started stuff with Lakers players that have bigger roles to play than he does.
But just because that’s all the Lakers have needed from Dudley so far doesn’t mean he can’t do more if needed, especially during an Orlando restart in which the weird circumstances almost guarantee that coaches will go deeper into their benches than they normally would in playoff scenarios. The man teammates affectionately call Dudz has taken 34 of his 50 shots this year from behind the arc, hitting a career-best 47.1% of them. He can still shoot, and maybe just as well as ever. He’s also still shown that he can play solid help defense in limited minutes, scrambling and communicating like a madman.
And even if Dudley doesn’t get in games much, he’ll still have a role to play in Orlando. In addition to his self-given job as the Lakers’ Chief of Keeping LeBron and AD Locked in the Bubble, his other intangible role as a glue guy may be more important than ever at Disney World. Dudley has already been a vocal leader for the team, both all season and during the hiatus, and with everyone being stuck in the same place for months in what is somehow the best-case scenario, Dudley’s calling as the Walter White (or at least Jesse Pinkman to LeBron’s Heisenberg) of team chemistry will be critical in making sure everyone stays happy and connected during a trip that may qualify as the least excited any group of people has ever been to go to Disney World.
Beyond that, Dudley is a helpful player to have if Kyle Kuzma or Markieff Morris struggle, or get in foul trouble, or become hurt or ill, because he has shown he can step up and give Vogel a different element; a pure, low-usage floor spacer for small-ball lineups. But arguably more importantly, Dudley has demonstrated he will be just as happy to sit out if the Lakers don’t need him, and is someone who has proven the team can count on him to be ready if they have to break glass in case of emergency, whether that’s to step in for an important playoff game, or talk to the media so a teammate of his who doesn’t feel like it won’t have to.
Whatever the Lakers ask, Dudley has shown this season that he’s ready to do it. He just wants to win a ring, and even with the long layoff and weird circumstances, this trip to Orlando still looks like his best chance yet. Whether he gets noticed or not, he’ll play his role.
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.