That Nene could be out for tonight's game for the Wizards puts an even brighter spotlight on Jared Dudley with the second unit. He's everything that the 7-footer is in a lot of ways, especially between the ears, but brings a different dynamic.
Nene (sore left calf) used to be a power forward. Hes' now the backup center. Dudley used to be a small forward, but he's now a 6-7 power forward who stretches the floor to the three-point line.
“You look at his stat line sometimes but his knowledge and basketball IQ and ball movement and positioning on the floor defensively have all been really, really good," said coach Randy Wittman of Dudley after Monday's practice. "That’s been a big plus in the development of our second unit. It doesn’t come in terms of points or rebounds or assists. He has probably more hockey assists than a lot of guys on our team."
Dudley was slow to get acclimated with his new team, after coming here in a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks over the summer. He had surgery on his lower back to repair a bulging disk in July. He wasn't able to even shoot the ball during recovery and was 242 pounds for training camp in October. He's down 10 pounds, and the Wizards (6-4) are up in production when Dudley is on the floor as they outscore teams by 17 points per 100 possessions.
That puts Dudley in elite company, but he figures he could drop a few more pounds if needed though he won't go too far. Every Monday, the Wizards check every player's body mass index.
"Maybe five pounds. I still have to guard power forwards. I can’t be out there 225," Dudley said. "When I was in Phoenix I think the lowest I was was 227. I’m 232 right now. For me it’s a good weight. I think the lowest would be 229. Over here we don’t really go by the weight. We go by the body fat."
The 27 minutes that Dudley played in Saturday's 97-95 win in Detroit tied a season high. He had nine points, one rebound and one steal. But that hardly reflects his impact.
“What I’ve learned over the last two, three years, I try to be the quarterback on defense even though I’m at power forward. I feel they can control the defense so much more than the point guard and wings because I can call the defensive coverages even though my man might not be in it," Dudley said. "It might be Nene, I can call (isolation). I can tell the rookie to stay high and me low.
"I can have more impact defensively where I can kind of control the pieces and how I want them. I started (that) in Milwaukee. It’s been huge for me. I can see the game on the backside looking at the whole defense, seeing who we want to shoot the ball, who we don’t want to shoot the ball. ... You get to a point in your career, I don’t care about stats. It’s not to me averaging 10 or 12 points. I want to shoot a good percentage so I’ll turn down a good shot if it gets Gary Neal a great shot."
When the Wizards started to fray in the third quarter vs. the Pistons, Wittman went back to his bench early to help erase an 11-point deficit. That meant Nene, Dudley, Garret Temple, Ramon Sessions and Neal.
“How many minutes have we ever played together? Preseason we weren’t out there. I was in and out of the lineup. First six, seven games I didn’t know if I was going to play or not. Now I think you have more of a chemistry, commitment," said Dudley. "Temp wasn’t even in the rotation that we got now. He’s a huge part of that. It’s a different dynamic. We’re better defensively. Coach Wittman changed the defensively philosophy and simplified it. I think everyone agreed with that. We’ve shown the commitment to that.
"Offensively, it starts with Nene. He’s the one guy that can get his own shot and then we move the ball. Me being the four, when I get the ball even when I’m open sometimes it’s getting the ball side to side and getting other guys involved."
With possibly no Nene, Dudley will have to do more vs. the Pacers. During this three-game winning streak, he's 8 of 12 shooting, including 6 of 8 on threes. For the season, he's shooting 49% from the field, and 43% from three.
"The thing for me is being healthy," Dudley said. "Once I’m healthy, I’ve shown throughout my career I can shoot the ball well. I can play at a high level."