The NBA may be a star’s league, but basketball will always be a team sport. You know all about the great players and individuals, but there are no championships and glory without great teams clicking together and playing like one. Getting players to buy into their roles, playing for the sole benefit of their team rather than their own stats, is a very challenging task every coaching staff endeavors every year.
Only a handful of guys can be stars, starters, or role players, but what about the guys at the end of the bench. The players that don’t get the chance to play most of the nights, waiting patiently for their opportunity. It may not seem like they have much of a role on their team, but trust me, even the last guy in the hierarchy can contribute to his team more than you can imagine.
When you think about some of the more notable bench warmers in today’s NBA, Jared Dudley of the Los Angeles Lakers is one of the first names that comes to mind. Dudley has 14 years of experience behind him, in which most of the time, he was playing a significant role and contributing, especially with the Phoenix Suns. But as time has caught up, at 36 years old, Dudley has made peace with being one of the players on the end of the bench, serving as that veteran leader to the Lakers for the past two seasons.
Dudley talked with JJ Reddick on his Old Man and the Three podcast about various topics, and most notably his role over the past two seasons in Los Angeles. Dudley firstly explained how he tries to make it easy on his coach, understanding only so many guys can play on a nightly basis:
“We can only play 8-10 guys on a consistent basis, so 11-15 are not going to play. You’re gonna be a practice guy…You’re not gonna hear me complain to the coach about that; he already has to worry about nine to ten personalities.”Jared Dudley via The Old Man and The Three
Dudley then went into the topic of handling superstars. When you have a player like LeBron, it’s hard to keep him in check and risk the possibility of upsetting him. But Dudley makes sure that every single player on the team is held accountable for their mistakes:
“You have a guy like LeBron. Certain people are intimidated by him when it comes to the coaching staff, the ownership, the players, what to say, and what not to say. When we watch film, and the coaches are talking about film, there is at least 2-3 times every film session I will call somebody out of what they’re doing wrong. Because I want everybody to know our goal is a championship.”Jared Dudley via The Old Man and The Three
Playing with LeBron and AD for the past two seasons allowed Jared to bond with the two stars and be able to talk with them openly. Dudley explained how the connection outside of the court allowed him to share all of his thoughts, no matter how harsh, without worrying he will hurt someone’s feelings.
“The camaraderie. This is why I excel at camaraderie. I’mma be at the gambling table; I’mma gamble with the guys. If I can gamble with you, take your money, you take my money, we laugh it off, we go drink some wine, go have a beer. Now during the game, I can curse at you, and you’re not going to be sensitive to me…There is a very small percentage of people that can say that to those guys.”Jared Dudley via The Old Man and The Three
That sort of influence on the bench is vastly underestimated, as LeBron, AD, and the rest of the Lakers players can always count on Dudley giving them insight into the game from a different perspective, all while giving them all the advice they need.
It may not seem like much, but you can’t expect the young players on the team to tell LeBron what he needs to do. That way, all the championship teams have at least one experienced vet, credible, and ready to keep the team in check in order to have the best chance of winning a championship. They may get clowned on social media, but at the end of the day, if they help their team win, it really doesn’t matter.