Last season, when Phoenix Suns' General Manager Steve Kerr was looking to add some offensive firepower at the trade deadline, he targeted Charlotte Bobcats' swingman Jason Richardson to fill the void.
The agreement meant moving veterans Boris Diaw and Raja Bell, but Kerr was insistent on getting forward Jared Dudley as a "throw-in."
Dudley, the 2007 ACC Player of the Year at Boston College, was a fixture in Charlotte's rotation as a rookie, but fell out of favor when Larry Brown took over in 2008.
The San Diego native established himself quickly as a spark off the bench with his hard-nosed defensive play and intensity. Dudley also helped the team chemistry with his easy-going personality and constant joking. He has also become a fan-favorite with his journalism parodies, JMZ.com and JSPN, which often involve his teammates.
Despite his "class clown" title, Dudley's play this season has been nothing short of serious, ranking in the NBA's top five in three-point percentage and often shutting down the opposing team's best players. This was evidenced by his play in the sweep of San Antonio, where he averaged almost eight points, five rebounds and more than a steal per game. Dudley also teamed with Grant Hill to shut down Manu Ginobili, even earning the praise of opposing coach Gregg Popovich.
"I thought Jared Dudley changed the whole game," Popovich said after Phoenix's Game Two win. "He came in and he was a monster. He was committed to the board and it was infectious and for that period they really got after us on the board and that changed it."
"JMZ" now draws the tough task of marking Lakers' star Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference Finals. But Dudley continues to bring his lunch pail and his blue-collar, workhorse mentality to work everyday. He has carved himself a niche in the Phoenix rotation, and along with Channing Frye, Goran Dragic and Lou Amundsen, established something Phoenix has sorely lacked in previous playoff runs: a deep bench.
"I feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do—bring energy," said Dudley after Game Two. "We were down, obviously not shooting the ball extremely well and we tried to come in and slash and get offensive rebounds … defensively we got after it and got the team back in the game."
Dudley will be looking to do more of the same in the upcoming series against the heavily-favored Lakers, whom the Suns lost three of four to this season. But if Dudley and company's play continues to be as stellar, the Suns have a legitimate shot at a Finals birth.