What ever happened to Jared Dudley, master of efficiency?
Seriously, where did he go?
Dudley came to the Clippers this past offseason as part of the deal that brought J.J. Redick to L.A. and shipped Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to Phoenix. After seven years of smart, efficient basketball, he looked like he would be a perfect piece to slide into a Clippers puzzle that was loading up on shooters. Dudley always made his jumpers at a high rate, but playing with Chris Paul and an agglomerate of floor spacers would only open up the court for him even more.
Except that hasn’t happened. Dudley hasn’t been what the Clippers have hoped. The open shots aren’t falling. He’s not stretching the floor like the scouting report said he would. Through 25 games, he’s laid a dud.
It’s not so much that Dudley’s season has been an entire disappointment. It hasn’t. Actually, the numbers were just fine through the first 17 games of the year. He was shooting 46 percent from the field. He was draining 36 percent of his long-range attempts. He had a 56 percent true shooting. For someone who was in a shooting slump, Dudley was making a bunch of his shots. But then J.J. Redick went down and everything seemed to change for the worse.
All of a sudden, Dudley couldn’t hit a shot. Maybe it was the absence of Redick’s ability to open up the floor. Maybe it was that dreaded, gosh-darn, good-for-nothing tendonitis in his right knee. Whatever the reason, he shot just 22 percent from three over the first seven games without Redick by his side. A contrarian to the Redick theory might note that Dudley was still getting good looks; his shots just weren’t going in the hoop. And that’s true, until you note the 2.5-point increase in Dudley’s usage rate since Redick broke his hand.
Saturday, though, Dudley found something. It may not have been much, but at least it’s a positive and for someone who has struggled as mightily as him over this two-week road trip, something to build off is always a good thing.
“It wasn’t like I did anything crazy,” Dudley explained after Saturday’s 113-97 rout over the Wizards, when the first-year Clipper sunk seven of his 10 attempts. “I knocked down open shots and that opens the floor for Chris and Blake to do their thing.”
Dudley finished Saturday’s win with 16 points. He made two of his four three-point attempts. He looked comfortable. He looked fluid. He looked like the Jared Dudley we’ve all become accustomed to seeing over the past seven years.
That game may have been a turning point, but it might not just be because of the numbers. There were changes in Clipperland over the weekend. In the nation’s capital, on the final day of a seven-game road trip, Jamal Crawford entered the starting lineup in place of Redick-replacement Willie Green and with that, the Clippers began to handle Dudley a little differently on the offensive end.
We usually see Dudley begin games in the corners on the offensive end. The Clippers don’t run plays for him. He hangs out on the perimeter, moves a little bit off the ball, and if the rock lands in his hands organically for a good look, he shoots. But that’s it. That’s all he’s getting.
Saturday though, the Clippers ran some plays for Dudley right off the bat. And those plays were for two-point jumpers from the elbow, which is pretty rare for a guy who takes 49 percent of his shots from three.
“With J.J. not in the lineup, we’re doing a little bit less floppy,” says Dudley. “We did a little more pin downs. Usually the plays that I score are those floppy plays where J.J. plays.”
Floppy is a set the Clippers ran a bunch with Redick. It pits a shooter under the basket and gives him an option of either running off a stagger screen on one side or a single screen on the other. Usually, that shooter is Redick, so now with the Clippers’ sweetest long-range threat out of the lineup, the offense has to make some adjustments. Namely, the floppy sets are less prevalent.
It’s not so much that Dudley has to find a new comfort zone with Redick out, more that the Clippers have to find one for him. Cue: the elbow jumper.
Dudley has been consistent all season from the elbows, where he’s shooting 56 percent. And that’s not really a case of small sample size. He shot 49 percent from the elbows last season in Phoenix. So the Clippers figured they’d try something relatively new and find him at some irregular spots on the floor.
The logic made sense: Let Dudley get cozy with a shot he doesn’t take often, but misses even less often, and let him build from there. Confidence means something for a guy who insinuated after Thursday’s loss in Brooklyn that if he were a coach, he would bench himself. But less than five minutes into the Saturday’s game, Dudley was 3-for-3 from the field, sinking two elbow jumpers and a layup. Confidence: acquired.
“You know you’re struggling when you’ve got family friends texting you and stuff like that,” Dudley explained. “You try to block it out, but it’s tough to block out. I mean, it’s not like it’s [Michael] Jordan where I’m taking tough shots. These are open shots, regular shots I’ve been making in my six, seven years.”
Here’s the thing about makable shots: they usually tend to go in sooner rather than later. And Dudley has proven over the years that he’s more than capable of hitting open jumpers. Maybe it’s the tendonitis. Maybe it’s just a slump. Maybe it’s some combination of those two and other factors we can’t even develop in our minds. Eventually though, we have to expect that an accurate shooter will start to hit makable shots. Eventually. And maybe that moment is starting now.
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