In the lull between free agency and the start of the regular season, NBA analysts begin to evaluate how each team spent their offseason. Needless to say, the Brooklyn Nets received outstanding marks from most publications. General manager Sean Marks was praised for his clever dealings by getting out of Timofey Mozgov’s albatross contract, turning Isaiah Whitehead into multiple picks and players, and filling out the roster with strong bench pieces in Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier.
However, the most important deal that Marks made last summer may have been acquiring Jared Dudley.
Dudley was picked up from the Phoenix Suns along with a 2021 second-round pick in return for Darrell Arthur, a forward that the Nets received from Denver as part of the Kenneth Faried trade. Arthur was waived by the Sun and, at first, some thought that Dudley would suffer the same fate. Many pundits claimed that the best asset in the deal was the pick with Dudley potentially seeing some backup minutes as a stretch forward.
When the news broke, many Nets fans were apprehensive, to say the least. Jared Dudley had a bit of history with the organization, questioning publicly why a star would choose to play for them over other teams. After clearing up that comment, Dudley was mostly forgotten about as he took a minor role, averaging 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
Fast forward to Dec. 5, the Nets were outscored by the Oklahoma City Thunder by 20 points in the fourth quarter, including a Paul George buzzer-beater three to seal the game. That was the Nets’ eighth loss in a row, five of them coming by six points or less. To make matters even worse, the squad’s best player, Caris LeVert, was out indefinitely. At the time, FiveThirtyEight gave them a 17 percent chance of making the playoffs. The wide-eyed optimism that accompanies each franchise at the start of a new season was nowhere to be found in Brooklyn. Many fans were calling for the team to intentionally tank for Zion Williamson, while rumors even surfaced that head coach Kenny Atkinson was on the hot seat.
Enter Dudley. He was fed up with how the Nets seemed to be losing those close games over and over again in the same manner.
“We’re to a point now, it’s happening too often, seven, eight games, and the way we’re losing, it’s like Groundhog Day,” Dudley noted in a postgame interview. “We’re playing bad basketball in the last five to seven minutes, and it just seems like we’re out there and we’re not making enough adjustments.”
The very next day, the team held a players-only meeting.
Worst-case scenarios ran through the minds of fans, as the information being released was minimal — which left people with no choice but to speculate. With the most recent players-only meetings being called by Kawhi Leonard on the Spurs and Jimmy Butler with the Timberwolves, panic set in. Was there a mutiny? Had Atkinson lost the team? Was someone going to demand a trade?
Luckily, that noise was put to an end quickly and reports emerged that the meeting was really a players-only film session. But so what? Why does it matter that the players spent some extra time watching themselves lose? We do that most nights!
It matters because the player who took control at that meeting was Dudley. This is his 14th year in the league, so he knows a thing or two about winning and losing. Seriously, during the 2009-10 season, Dudley won 54 games with the Suns — a stark comparison his last season in Phoenix where he only won seven. That kind of experience is invaluable in a youthful locker room Brooklyn’s. The full details of that meeting never came out, but the results are undeniable.
The day after the meeting the Nets had a matchup against the red-hot Toronto Raptors, who were — and continue to be — playing like one of the best teams in the league. To say that expectations were low would be a gross understatement. Then, in typical Nets fashion, they completely subverted expectations. Brooklyn managed to sneak away with a win in overtime to break their eight-game losing streak.
That night was the start to a seven-game winning streak that would extend to a 20-6 record over the next month and a half. The team has played more efficiently since the meeting, increasing both their eFG% and TS% by two points in the games played since. Their offensive and defensive ratings have both improved. The Nets have controlled defensive rebounds better and turned the ball over less, allowing their opponents less extra possessions per game. But, perhaps, the most critical growth for the young team has come in closing out close games.
LeVert was the default closer early on in the season before he was waylaid by his injury. However, even with him, the squad struggled to close out close games, going 3-8 in games that were decided by six points or less before the Dudley-led meeting.
Afterward, they have gone 11-1 in those same situations.
Beyond that, Dudley makes plays. They may not be flashy or, at this point, even uber-athletic — but he’s got an uncanny ability to show up when needed most. Whether that’s a three-pointer, a charge or annoying pest-like veteran move, Dudley has saved the Nets countless times. Since his hamstring injury, the Nets have missed his leadership on the court, even if the statistics don’t always back that up.
Any close onlooker will tell you that the Nets are not the same team now that they were in October and the data supports that. Brooklyn completely transformed themselves from a group of inexperienced players to one of the scariest, most promising young cores in the entire association. At the time this article was written, FiveThirtyEight gave the Nets an 87 percent chance of making the playoffs, higher than the Charlotte Hornets or Detroit Pistons — plus over double that of the Miami HEAT or Orlando Magic.
That is a 70 percent increase in the probability that can be traced back to the players-only film session led by Dudley, a move which completely revolutionized this team.
So while uninformed fans around the league may call him washed up or too old, Dudley doesn’t pay them any mind. His focus is on winning games, and he knows that you don’t have to be sinking buzzer-beaters or filling stat sheets to do it. Sometimes all a team needs is some wisdom and leadership, and in those areas — Jared Dudley is a superstar.