The New Orleans Pelicans have grand plans for free agency. They want to get a meeting with Kevin Durant. They plan on pitching Nicolas Batum and Chandler Parsons hard if Durant spurns their advances. Problem is, the Pelicans weren't a very good basketball team last year and won just 30 games. All three of those targets have been regular residents in the playoffs and their services will be in great demand. Chances are Dell Demps is going to swing and miss on plan A (and B, and C, and D) and will instead need to sift through the lower tier of free agents. One ideal target rises above the host of others, Jared Dudley.
Why is Dudley lowly rated (63rd according to Tom Ziller, not in the top 50 according to Matt Moore) according to most national writers? The key, sadly, is printed right on Dudley's birth certificate. Dudley will turn 31 this July, young for almost anyone that isn't an NBA player, but positively ancient in the league. Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson were the only players over 30 to suit up for the Pelicans last year. Omer Asik, considered to be on the down slope of his career, turns 30 this coming Independence Day.
None of that should rule Dudley out as a free agent target for the Pelicans. Does his age fit poorly with the Pelicans potential window for contention? Absolutely. His presence in the locker room (and, unlike Perkins, on the floor) could provide much needed leadership for a defense that has been rudderless for the last four seasons. On the offensive end he creates space as a knockdown shooter while being a willing passer. Oh, and he's open to coming to New Orleans, which matters.
I love Alvin so yes! https://t.co/UD3yMVXlQD— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) May 11, 2016
Jared Dudley makes team defense better. Last season the Washington Wizards posted a 103.0 DRtg with Dudley on the floor and a 104.2 DRtg when he was off. The story when he was with the Milwaukee Bucks was a similar story (96.8 DRtg on, 101.1 off). In four seasons with the Phoenix Suns, while Alvin Gentry was the coach, Dudley produced impressive results as well. Phoenix was better defensively with Dudley on the floor in 2012-13 (103.4 on, 108.4 off), 2011-12 (103.3 on, 104.6 off), 2010-11 (106.3 on, 108.6 off), and 2009-10 (106.1 on, 107.7 off). That is a remarkable history of making teams better on defense in a wide variety of schemes.
For the many Pelican fans, who lamented the lack of basketball IQ on this roster, signing Dudley this off-season provides a much needed jolt. Additionally, unlike a number of current wings on the roster, Jared Dudley brings both defense and shooting New Orleans needs so badly.
An elite spot up shooter. That might sound hyperbolic but when discussing Jared Dudley it is not at all. Dudley shot 42.7% on catch and shoot opportunities last year, 14th in the league. Leaving Dudley open was death, he converted 47.8% of his wide open looks, good for 9th in the league. Not terribly surprising for a player who has shot 39.9% behind the arc on his career.
Over his career, Dudley has been classified in a number of different ways. Basketball Reference lists him as a shooting guard, small forward, and power forward. Last season, he logged the majority of his minutes (94%) at power forward. The year before, in Milwaukee, he played 37% of his minutes at shooting guard and 54% at small forward. (Nylon Calculus has significantly different estimates.) The vast majority of his time in Phoenix was spent at small forward (67%) or shooting guard (31%).
Is Dudley fundamentally a small ball power forward now? Can he play small forward in the NBA? I'm more bullish on his ability to play on the wing, remember that the Pelicans had Dante Cunningham play small forward out of position most of the season last year.
So, how much will Dudley cost to sign? The man himself weighed in on Twitter. (Note, Dudley would immediately be the most prolific tweeter on the roster.)
I love my Boston people but that 1 yr 5 mil not goin to get it done lol https://t.co/pSQ0sju741— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) June 6, 2016
Free agency is going to be absolutely wild this summer. There is going to be over $1.4 billion in available cap space around the league. Dudley was a steal the past few years at just $4.25 million a year. With the salary cap exploding from $70 million to $92 million (or more) this summer Dudley is going to get paid. However, the Pelicans could avoid too much risk of a sudden decline with a shorter deal. Maybe two years at $7 million each could get the job done. But, if we're being completely honest, in this market place Dudley can probably fetch a little more.
That's where his history with Alvin Gentry can hopefully come into play. Paying an "old" wing seven or eight million a year sounds like a dramatic over pay, but when the salary cap is $92 million it's roughly equivalent to the old mid level exception. Fans would not blink an eye if Jared Dudley signed with a contender for the mid level exception.
Veteran leadership, defensive competence, and lights out shooting. Dudley checks all the boxes for New Orleans this summer. He isn't the homerun the Pelicans front office is hoping for, but maybe he's the single this franchise needs.