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What If: 2014 Brandan Wright is this team’s missing threat

Luka Doncic can create the space, and Brandan Wright can jump to outer space. A perfect combo.

Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s note: there are a few new faces in the Dallas Mavericks front office. While there were no big splashes in their first free agency they did add a piece or two that should make an impact. But we can always ask for more. So we as a staff took some time to ask: if we could add any former Maverick from the post-title years to the 2021-22 Mavericks who would it be and why? I mean, what else are we supposed to do with this down time before training camp?

Since the Mavericks won the title 10 plus years ago, has their been a time more fun to be an MFFL than October 28, 2014 to December 17, 2014? The Dallas Mavericks were an offensive juggernaut, able to unleash a flurry of attacking weapons along the perimeter or around the rim. Winners of 19 of their first 27 games, I remember feeling in specific moments every game that this team was truly unstoppable.

After losing the opener by one point to the San Antonio Spurs, they went 10-3 with a six game winning streak where they averaged nearly 119 points per game. They beat the Philadelphia 76ers by 53, and the Los Angeles Lakers by 34...eight days apart. This was a Mavericks team starting Jameer Nelson next to Monta Ellis.

What a time to be alive.

While the team at the time featured peak Run DMC (Dirk, Monta, Chandler) the weapon that obliterated every opponent’s bench was Brandan Wright. The 6’10 rim runner was a human pogo stick with great hands, underrated timing, and a great sense of space away from the ball. In his 27 games with the Mavericks that season, prior to being a piece of the December Dwight Powell trade, Wright averaged nine points, four rebounds, and nearly two blocks in 19 minutes per game. But his impact on the offense doesn’t fit inside those numbers.

It’s easy to remember him jumping over the backboard and through traffic to catch lob after lob, but Wright was even more dynamic. Rewatching highlights from that stretch was a nice reminder of how well Wright read the floor away from the ball. A large portion of Wright’s lobs came from timely cuts or his presence at the dunker’s spot, filling space off-ball away from the primary action.

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When Wright was involved directly, former Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle would commonly run a Horns set with Wright and Dirk Nowitzki on the floor together, in which both players would set screens for the ball handler at the top of the key. The space created from Dirk flaring out to stretch the floor, and Wright diving hard to the rim could not be contained.

It is not inconceivable to squint and see the current Mavericks having similar success with this set, with Luka Doncic making plays off a double screen from Kristaps Porzingis and a rim runner. The problem is as it stands the only player truly capable of setting a real screen and being able to go and get the ball in traffic is Dwight Powell, who is still seeing his athleticism effected by his past achilles injury and often looks gassed.

The other big men? None of Willie Cauley-Stein, Maxi Kleber, Boban Marjanovic can set true screens. Cauley-Stein at times seems capable of catching a lob, but his hands are unreliable at best. The only other option is Moses Brown, the newly acquired giant whose arms stretch to the rafters of the AAC. The biggest issue is he is ultra raw, a player that has displayed an interesting skill set but only in garbage minutes or on tanking teams (or both). Translating that to meaningful minutes is a massive step for any prospect. Is it possible? sure. Is it likely? no.

2021 NBA Playoffs -Dallas Mavericks v LA Clippers Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

But with Brandan Wright this team would wreck shop. Luka Doncic can create the space, and Brandan Wright can jump to outer space, while Porzingis’ threat from three forces too many defenders to second guess helping. A perfect combination.

It’s tough to predict how exactly a Jason Kidd-led Mavericks team will look schematically, but one thing is certain: that version of Wright would be a starter in Dallas this season. It’s not always fair to use this projection, but his 2014 per-36 averages with the Mavericks were 17 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks. And per-100 possessions he posted a 148 Offensive Rating and a 104 Defensive Rating. Yes it was just 27 games, but in the full season with Dallas in 2013-14 he finished with ratings of 135 and 107 respectively.

For a brief moment in Dallas Wright soared over the heads of every opponent, and the Mavericks were floating over the NBA landscape as an offensive juggernaut. The 2021-22 Mavericks continue to add fringe pieces to the Luka puzzle, still an offensive powerhouse thanks to Doncic’s dynamic play. But Wright is the sort of missing piece that can raise the floor of a team brimming with potential.