Brandan Wright found himself Dallas after four injury-plagued seasons that threatened to tarnish the former 7th overall pick with the dreaded "bust" label. Signed for barely more than the minimum, Wright not only managed to stay relatively healthy over the next two years, but his play made him easily one of the league's best bargains.
A free agent after last season, there was some speculation that Wright might get some quality offers to go elsewhere. If he did, we'll never know, as Wright waited patiently for Dallas to conduct its business, then signed with little fanfare to a very team-friendly two year, $10 million contract.
Already a hyper-efficient finisher, Wright somehow managed to convert shots at a career-best rate in 2013-14. Though he still is primarily a role player, Wright set career highs in points per game, rebounds per game, steals, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. Not surprisingly, he set a career high in PER, after leading the team in that category last year(the first time someone not named Dirk did so since 1999-00).
At some point Wright is going to reach his ceiling, but I probably said the same thing last year, when Wright set most of his previous career highs.
Wright's otherworldly 69.5 True Shooting Percentage(a measure of shooting percentage that accounts for threes, twos, and free throws, giving a complete assessment of shooting efficiency) would have led the league had Wright played enough minutes to qualify. This is the heart of Wrigth's game. At 6'10 with long arms and tremendous leaping ability, Wright has the physical tools to finish above the rim. However, he also has a soft touch to convert floaters and off-balance layups, and he has underrated offensive instincts, helping him to make well-timed cuts to the basket either from the weakside or in pick and roll situations. As the roll man in P&R plays, Wright averaged 1.32 points per play, good for second best in the NBA(slightly ahead of Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond).
Wright is not supremely adept at creating his own shot, but he is expanding his offensive repertoire. Wright did not take as many midrange jumpers this season as he did last season, but he knocked them down them with greater frequency, and cracked 70% at the free throw line for the first time in his career. That will be important for Wright in the future to prevent teams from either sagging off on him and forcing him to shoot from outside, or fouling him hard at the rim to make him convert at the line.
2013-14 Grade: A-
Signed through 2014-15 for $5 million
Wright is a fan favorite, and with good reason. He adds a dimension the team simply doesn't have otherwise. Dallas averaged a little over 117 points per 100 possessions on the floor with Wright, more than any other Maverick. Really, there are dozens of amazing numbers one can throw out when discussing stat-darling Brandan Wright.
So why is Wright still barely playing 18 minutes a game?
A proper discussion of Wright requires an understanding of the nuances of basketball, where stacking players with the prettiest statlines isn't how you win games. As we continue to break down this Dallas lineup, one might notice this trend: Dallas has a lot of specialists. Guys that do one or two things really well, but are greatly lacking in other areas or aren't great fits with other players in the lineup.
For Wright, Dirk Nowitzki's floor spacing absolutely helps him on offense, creating lanes for him to dive to the basket or drawing enough attention to allow Wright to back-cut to the rim. However, Wright is 210 pounds soaking wet, and has trouble in the post, either boxing out his man for a rebound, or bodying up an opponent enough to bother his shot. These are traits needed in a center, especially given Dirk's own shortcomings(which include his age), and they make Wright a less than ideal 5 on the Dallas roster. Wright ranked in the bottom fourth of the NBA's centers in rebound rate, and the team defended nearly 3 points per 100 possessions better with Wright off the floor. His size becomes a particularly noticeable issue against big West squads like San Antonio, Memphis, Golden State and the Clippers. You know, all the teams Dallas will play in the playoffs.
Of course, this is what I've been writing for years. If Dallas is content to play Wright less than 20 minutes a night to wreak havoc on undersized second units, then I suppose they can do that. At some point, though -- and I mean this broadly toward the roster as a whole -- they might decide they'd rather have a few more two-way players around Dirk, like they had with Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd.
The other thing to consider is that Wright is maybe the only player on this roster who might be attractive to other teams as a trade-piece. He's young, cheap, and his rate stats are so good it's not hard to imagine him succeeding in an expanded role. It certainly would be a shame if we never got to see what Wright could do with serious playing time.
If it sounds like I'm eager to see Wright be shipped out, then please believe me: I"m not. Wright is fun to watch and one of the franchise's best success stories from a talent acquisition and development standpoint. John Hollinger coined the phrase "second draft" to describe guys like Wright: talented draft picks who nearly washed out after their rookie deal only to become huge steals in their second contracts. You'd think as good as Wright has been the team would want to give other young, athletic guys a chance.
Wright is inexpensive enough to have a place on this team, and good enough to deserve even more playing time. The only question that remains is if Dallas is going to contend for a title again before the Dirk era is done, who starts next to him? Because I don't think the answer is currently on the roster.
A Mavs Moneyball exclusive interview with Brandan Wright from before the season started, conducted by Hal Brown.
More from Hal Brown, bringing stats and facts to show that despite his limitations, Brandan Wright is still very, very good. And a badass.
Josh Bowe talks about Wright's importance to the offense