Jared Dudley has a particular set of skills. Like Liam Neeson’s character in “Taken,” he doesn’t show them a lot — and at his age, would probably prefer not to have to — but he’s always ready when the Lakers have a mission for him.
On Friday, the 35-year-old received some instructions that required him to take a break from his peaceful life as honorary team mascot and spring back into action. It wasn’t quite as important as having to rescue his daughter from being kidnapped during her trip to Paris, but Frank Vogel needed Dudley to play against the Chicago Bulls, and in seven minutes, Dudley was a nightmare for a team like that. His impact didn’t really show up in the box score, other than a bench-high plus-minus of +5, but Dudley’s 0 points and 1 rebound don’t adequately capture his impact. He gave a lifeless Lakers team a spark of energy that allowed them to close out a win, and showed that he can still play when called upon.
“Dudz is one of those guys, he’s ready for whatever moment. He energizes on the bench, and when his name is called he’s ready. He’s going to be in the right spot, he’s going to be talking,” said teammate Wesley Matthews. “Dudz is a great player.”
Nearly every NBA team has a veteran in the same role as Dudley, the sage older voice to help lead a locker room. But while even Dudley would admit he’s not longer in his prime on the court, he is still at the peak of his powers off of it.
Aside from basically being the highest-paid member of the Lakers’ PR staff, Dudley is also constantly pumping up everyone in the locker room to make them feel valued and wanted, whether it’s saying publicly that he expects big things from Talen Horton-Tucker, or making sure Dwight Howard felt important last year. He’s always willing to stick up for his teammates when he feels like someone outside their ranks crossed the line — whether that means fighting the entire Orlando Magic team because they took a cheap shot at Howard or calling out Snoop Dogg for being unfair to Danny Green — as well as consistently pushing everyone publicly to try and get the best out of them. It’s Dudley’s versatility as a leader that might make him the LeBron James of end-of-bench veterans: The GOAT.
And while he may not have phrased it exactly like that, it seems like James himself might agree.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some real, real true professionals in that role, and guys that are stars in their role, and Dudz is another one of those guys that whatever the team needs, man — I mean literally whatever the team needs — he is ready for whatever, both on and off the floor,” James said. “That is a diamond in the rough to have for a championship-aspiring ball club, and Dudz has been that for us the last few years.”
One of Dudley’s best qualities in his role — at least when he isn’t getting called into action to hit the floor for loose balls against the Bulls — is his willingness to call out anyone, no matter their stature in the locker room. From LeBron James to Talen Horton-Tucker, there is no one he won’t constructively criticize when he knows they’re not doing the right thing. It’s something that has immediately stood out to new Laker Dennis Schröder since joining the team in an offseason trade.
“He’s so vocal to everyone, even if it’s ‘Bron, AD, me, he’s vocal to everyone,” Schröder said. “If he sees something, he’s coming up to you and he says in a great way ‘listen, we need you to do this, and we need you to do that.’ He’s a pro, at all times he’s ready.”
It’s why Schröder, who is so early into his Lakers tenure that he’s still living in an Airbnb until he closes on a house, is already willing to shower Dudley with some high praise.
“Dudz is one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around,” Schröder said. “A great professional and he’s ready at all times. He’s working.”
On Friday, Dudley showed why his teammates always trust that he’ll be prepared to go if necessary. And provided the Lakers can give him the next game off after every time they need him to play seven minutes, he always will be.