In September, Mavs Moneyball previewed the upcoming season for Brandan Wright, the athletic, fan-favorite who had electrified Mavs fans with spectacular plays, and helped create indelible moments during the team's lowest points(as an aside, I didn't realize how many alley oops Wright had with Jason Terry).
A quick recap:
In 2007, the Golden State Warriors traded Jason Richardson to the Charlotte Bobcats for the draft rights to Brandan Wright, the freshman big man from North Carolina and 8th overall pick in the draft. Wright entered the NBA with elite measurables and athletic ability for a power forward: a 6'10 frame with a 7'5 wingspan and the speed and leaping ability of a guard.
Despite these tools, Wright did not quite make his mark in Golden State. His rookie season was limited to 38 games due to various injuries, and he managed only 39 games the next year(though he started more than half of them) after dislocating his shoulder midway through. His third year was completely lost, after another shoulder injury required surgery, and by the time he returned, Wright was no longer a fixture in the Warriors' future plans.
That season, with his rookie contract in its final year, Wright was traded at the deadline to New Jersey, where he struggled mightily, converting just 40.7% of his shots in 16 games. Unsurprisingly, he was made an unrestricted free agent. Dallas, looking for a cheap, bargain-bin project like Brandon Bass or Desagana Diop, signed Wright to a two year deal for under $2 million. Coming off a championship season and the first phase of post-title free agent exodus, Wright was one of many new faces for the Mavs, and he quickly impressed teammates with athletic gifts not common on a veteran, aged squad. He would go on to set career highs across the board his first year in Dallas, showing off a hyper-efficient around the basket game and the ability to change shots defensively with his length and activity. The decision to pick up his second year option was an easy one.
Another year and a lot more of the same from Brandan, who proved his comeback year in Dallas was no fluke and, most importantly, stayed relatively healthy for the second year in a row.
The major selling point on Wright is easy to find: he doesn't miss much. He narrowly missed the 60% mark on his field goals for the second year in a row, and among centers playing at least 15 minutes, the only players with better true shooting percentages were Tyson Chandler, Tiago Splitter(last year these were also the only two better), and promising rookie Jonas Valanciunas.
Combine this outstanding finishing ability with an extremely low turnover rate(tied for 1st among all centers with Al Jefferson this year, and Al Jeff was the only guy better last year), and what you have is one of the most efficient scoring big men in basketball. While Wright's offensive game is mostly predicated on catching the ball close to the basket, he did show increased proficiency from midrange. Wright connected on 12 of 23 shots from 16 feet out to the 3 point line, good for 52%. While the sample size isn't huge, it is a very strong percentage, and especially impressive when you consider that last year he only attempted 3 shots from that range, and made just 1.
Defensively, the book on Wright is a little complicated. Per 82 games, Dallas defended better with him on the floor, allowing just over 2 points per 100 possessions fewer with Wright in the lineup. Of course, this may be skewed somewhat by the fact that Wright usually backed up Chris Kaman, who had a pretty awful season on defense. His synergy splits and defensive ratings put him closer to the middle of the pack, and I think this may also be painting a sunnier picture than one might think, given Rick Carlisle's matchup friendly usage of him.
Brandan Wright has the length and athletic ability to block shots in bunches, and to alter others. Against the right opponent(no pun intended), he can be a major factor at this end. However, he has fairly obvious limitations, and most of you know about them already. At a little over 210 pounds, Wright is a string bean, and since he will be entering his seventh year as a professional, it's safe to assume at this point he won't ever be the bulkiest guy. His lack of muscle hurts him most notably on the boards, where he ranks near the bottom in rebound rate among centers, but also in defending the post.
What to expect going forward:
Brandan Wright is a very popular player among Mavs fans, and with good reason. He's exciting, still fairly young, and with all the time he missed earlier in his career, it isn't unreasonable to think he might still have areas where he can improve. Dallas has his bird rights, meaning they can go over the cap to sign him, and since he made pennies last year, his cap hold will be small, at around $1.3 million.
Determining what exactly the market for Wright will be is difficult. Though he didn't play more than 20 minutes a game in Dallas, it is possible another team might view him as a starter. Though he struggled with injuries early in his career, he has been healthy most recently, and he'll be 26 at the start of the next season, making him a solid candidate for a longterm deal.
I am sure there is mutual interest for the team and the player here. I am also sure there are some readers out there who view keeping him as a slam dunk, no-brainer type move. My reason for pause on that is one of concern over fit. This may be a controversial side to take, and it is possible my fellow writers will disagree with me, but I'll make the case for, if nothing else, a proper framing of the Brandan Wright free agency discussion.
Brandan Wright is a very nice player, and unquestionably does things no other player currently on the roster can. But the Mavericks of past, present, and (near) future are built around Dirk Nowitzki, and I question how well Wright matches with him. As I touched on above, Wright is a poor rebounder and post defender. These are areas Dirk also struggles in, and although the NB has been evolving away from the classic lowpost big man of yesteryear, rebounding the ball and limiting points in the paint are always going to be keys to winning basketball games. Dallas has seen the rewards of pairing Dirk with a center who makes up for the Big German's few weak points. Also, consider the two teams currently in the Western Conference Finals, San Antonio and Memphis. Two teams with size, and in eight games against those teams this past year, Dallas won once. Continue looking around the West's playoff race, and you see more big frontcourts(the lone exception being Oklahoma City). If the ultimate goal is to win a championship, you'll have to beat those teams.
Value in the NBA, as I see it, is largely determined by fit. Lineups require interaction. It isn't simple a game of stacking points, rebounds and assists on top of each other until you have the best five guys. Wright, when viewed isolated from the lineup, might have a certain value, but context can and usually should change that value. Saying that Dallas might be better off spending their money on a more traditional center isn't an indictment of Wright the player, but of his interaction with the lineup, and specifically Dirk Nowitzki.
Don't get me wrong: I like Brandan Wright, a lot. Infact, I believe that on a team that could play him 25+ minutes a night at his natural position, power forward, he would thrive, and possible start. If he's in Dallas, however, he is a rotational player, and matchup-dependant. The big picture here is that the Mavericks have lots of holes, and under the current CBA, limited resources to fill them all. So how much can you allocate towards a third big man?