The time will come when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is back up to game speed and ready to regain his starting power forward position for the Nets after coming back from a two-month absence to recover from a groin strain. But in the interim, 12th-year veteran Jared Dudley has been a surprisingly solid replacement who has helped the Nets with his basketball IQ.
Dudley started the first four games of the season and has played himself into shape after averaging only 14 minutes per game in 48 appearances for a poor Suns team last season. He scored just one point in 36 minutes in the opener at Detroit but found his rhythm Wednesday in Cleveland, making four of five three-point attempts for 12 points and playing excellent defense against Cavs star Kevin Love in a 102-86 Nets blowout.
Dudley hit three straight threes in a 25-5 Nets run that broke open the game in the third quarter, and he held Love without a field-goal attempt in the period.
“I thought we had been getting stops the whole time, but they got  offensive rebounds the first half,” Dudley said. “We were securing the rebound. Then, we started playing with the pace and the poise we were supposed to have in the first half. We started making threes, and our confidence grew. We started picking the matchups we wanted.”
While some might view the aging Dudley as a stopgap measure, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has been emphatic in emphasizing the importance of Dudley’s experience.
“He gives us veteran experience, and he really keeps the ball moving,” Atkinson said before the Cavs game. “He’s not a ball-holder. He makes other guys better. He facilitates for Caris [LeVert], he facilitates for D’Angelo [Russell]. It doesn’t stick in his hands, and he gives us some spacing out there. That defensive experience, I’ve always felt like he’s been an underrated defender. He’s been a plus for us.”
Atkinson also values Dudley for his ability to mentor the Nets’ young core players in the locker room, and the coach said he, too, has benefited from Dudley’s experience.
“I learn things from him every day,” Atkinson said. “He’s a real sharp guy.”
Against the Cavs, Dudley was most proud of his defense against Love, and he knows he will face an even bigger challenge Friday night in New Orleans against power forward Nikola Mirotic, who is averaging 28 points through three games. Dudley called the return of his three-point shot an added bonus.
“I never really worry about my jump shot because the percentages always even out,” said Dudley, who has a .396 career three-point percentage. “([he Nets’ blowout] was a huge step. You don’t want the season to be a rollercoaster, so let’s try to gain some consistency, especially when we play these better teams, which we have the next couple games.”