It must be frustrating to be Brandan Wright. Full of talent and usually always producing, throughout his brief NBA career Wright has continually had to scrap and claw for minutes. Sometimes it was his own undoing or other times, things outside his control. Injuries and coaches have kept Wright for being a frequent NBA contributor, something everyone thought he was when Golden State selected him with the 8th pick in the 2007 draft (well, selected by Charlotte then traded to Golden State).
With Golden State, Wright was either injured or trapped behind the losing-his-touch Don Nelson. Nelson's decisions were very strange after the "We believe" 2007 Warriors run. He seemed distant and unfocused and clearly ready to spend more time in his vacation home in Maui than coaching an NBA team. That left Wright sitting on the bench on a lot of bad teams. He finally got some starts in his second year before injuries derailed him. A shoulder injury made him completely miss his third year in 2009-2010.
Wright still couldn't get any minutes in Dallas until more than halfway through the 2011-2012 season. The Mavericks were starved for offense and centers Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi weren't cutting it. Rick Carlisle paired Wright with Dirk Nowitzki and the offensive results were off the charts. In the limited minutes those two played together, the Mavericks were by far scoring at a rate that would lead the league.
The one problem? The Mavericks were defending like a bottom-five team and couldn't rebound. Wright's explosive athleticism wasn't matched with an understanding of defensive principles and proper blocking-out techniques. It's why Wright didn't register double-digit minutes in any of the Mavericks four playoff losses to Oklahoma City in the first round.
Wright's second season in Dallas started off even stranger. He started in the absence of Dirk and Chris Kaman and generally thrived. He scored 15 points in the season-opening win against the Lakers and scored in double digits in his first six games, all starts.
Chris Kaman returned to the starting lineup and Wright vanished. Wright was in and out of the lineup until he's returned permanently in March. In March, Wright averaged 24 minutes a game, a little over 11 points, six rebounds and a block and a half a game. He also shot 60.8 percent from the floor.
It's strange because Wright has consistently put up those numbers throughout his career. His per-36 numbers have always been fantastic and he's never had a PER below 15 (average NBA player). With the Mavs, Wright's PER in two seasons has been 21.6 and 21.3, respectively, which are crazy numbers for someone on such a small salary.
So what gives? The problem with Wright is what you get on the offensive end is sometimes mitigated by Wright's inability to rebound and his trouble on defense. Wright's slender frame allows him to get bullied on the block and his rotations always seem a bit slow. He has the athleticism and speed to be a better than average team-defender, which is showed by his staggering block rates -- when Wright gets to the right spot, he usually contests well. The problem is making sure he gets to that spot consistently.
But Wright's taken new measures this year to make sure when he gets on the court, he stays there. Watching tape of recent games against San Antonio and the LA Clippers, Wright has done a much better job of navigating the Mavericks pick and roll defense and sliding over to help when teams decide to involve Dirk in a pick and roll. Which teams are doing much more often with Dirk still recovering from knee surgery.
When Wright's on the floor, the Mavericks defensive efficiency is 101.8, a much better mark than the 104.1 the Mavs overall defense posts. The offense Wright brings is still there, with the Mavs four points per 100 possessions better when Wright's on the floor, according to NBA.com.
Last year, when Wright and Dirk shared the court, the Mavericks scored at a blistering pace but couldn't defend. Now, the Wright + Dirk tandem is still destroying teams at an astonishing rate on offense but holding their own on defense.
When Wright and Dirk share the court together this year, according to NBA.com, the Mavs offensive efficiency jumps up to 113.5 -- which would be far and away the league's best offense. They're holding their own on defense, somehow, with a net-plus rating of over 14. A lot of other factors can be drawn in (the defense of Shawn Marion, for instance) but make no mistake: when the Mavericks put Dirk and Wright on the court, good things happen. Wright's limitations as a defender and rebounder are less felt this season, thanks in majority to Wright's improvement and Carlisle's lineup rotations.
So what is he worth? Wright enters free agency this summer and the Mavs will have plenty of juggling to do. Dallas will be aiming for the stars (both literally and figuratively) and Wright will have the freedom to sign with another team while Dallas goes over all its possible scenarios. There's O.J. Mayo and the will-he, won't-he decision about his player-option (what once seemed like a no-brainer opt-out months ago is now perhaps in doubt), there's the point guard situation and Darren Collison's restricted free agency. Chris Kaman is about as close to 100 percent gone as you can get but I'm sure the Mavs would love to bring back Elton Brand, especially since their Dwight Howard pursuit will come up empty.
There's also the question of Wright's worth. He's an ultra-productive offensive player who needs some work on the other end. He's extended his range to about 15 feet (57 percent shooting from 15-19 feet according to NBA.com) but still mostly a pick and roll, off-ball cutting offensive player with no real post up game. But Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler have shown how valuable a hard-cutting big man can be without even touching the ball, sucking in defenses for open three-pointers and giving more driving angles to teammates in this new spread-and-kick NBA world we live in.
Wright's also a monster in the paint. According to NBA.com, Wright is shooting 73 percent in the restricted area (LeBron, Dwight, Tyson-level numbers) and an even more staggering 55.2 percent from 5-9 feet, the typical NBA "dead zone." Wright has an assortment of hook and flip shots and with his length and jumping ability, can finish with either hand in that normally cold spot of the floor. The ability to make shots from that area has been a big reason why Wright's been so productive in pick and roll (64.7 percent shooting as the roll man in a pick and roll, according to Synergy Sports). Wright's ability to thrive in the pick and roll and take up space (much like Tyson Chandler did) has allowed Dirk to feast off easy spot up attempts as teams grow ever fearful of Wright gliding to the hoop. Wright isn't an elite offensive rebounder looking at the numbers, but he's picked up a nice knack of following up teammates' misses in pick and roll situations when he doesn't get the ball, like the clip below shows:
It's hard to put a price tag on that, especially since Wright has his warts clearly defined (lack of strength, defense and rebounding). Something like 3-years, $10 million seems perfectly reasonable but there are sure to be teams out there that salivate on the fact that Wright is only 25 years old and is still away from his prime (while also considering the big-man pool this summer is definitely shallow after Dwight Howard and Josh Smith). If the price tag and years go any farther than that, the Mavs will surely walk away.
If he does, it'll be tough to see him go. Wright seems to be finally figuring out how to solve his weaknesses and the Mavs coaching staff has clearly been a positive for him. Wright has always produced but he's finally gotten a control of his faults to get consistent minutes. The Mavs might not be playing for much longer, but if they are, you can point in Brandan Wright's direction for a key reason of the turnaround.