McKinley Wright IV is a player fighting for his NBA future. The Dallas Mavericks brought in Wright for training camp and preseason after a busy summer. Wright played for the Phoenix Suns in Summer League, making solid contributions to the team. He then found a place on Team USA during their FIBA World Cup qualifying games in August. Now, he has a chance to land an NBA contract.
To get a better insight on Wright, his game, and his potential, I spoke with Team USA head coach Jim Boylen. Boylen is also currently a consultant with the Indiana Pacers and has 22 years of NBA experience as an assistant and head coach. He has won championships with three teams as an assistant—the 1994 and 1995 Houston Rockets and 2014 San Antonio Spurs.
The following is an abridged version of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Doyle Rader: Tell me a little about McKinley Wright during his time with you and Team USA.
Jim Boylen: This World Cup qualifier basketball is really different and it’s very difficult. If you think about the process, you build a team in five to 10 days. Then you practice for seven [days] and play games you have to win, and everybody expects you to win.
It’s not that easy. The world is catching up, and we’re playing their game. They’re not playing ours. The rules are different. The refereeing is different. The style of play is different. The physicality is different. It’s a totally different game.
So now, we’ve got a young player in McKinley coming in and trying to learn what we’re trying to do but also growing as a young player and now playing a different style of ball. It’s a really tough mix.
He’s very good at adapting, learning, trying to understand what we need him to do for us, along with everybody else. We had a couple of guys that played in previous [qualification] windows, so they were trying to help him. We were trying to help him. He’s very coachable, very teachable, and played really hard.
DR: Wright has been in the G League for a year and played in Summer League twice now. How do you think his game best translates at the NBA level?
JB: He has an NBA style of play and skills. He can defend the ball. He can play with pace. He has great acceleration with the ball and great speed. He’s a good shooter. I was impressed by how good a shooter he was. He has the physical attributes to play an 82-game season.
So, to me, he’s right there. Now, it’s about learning and growing his ability to learn and become more efficient in everything he does. I think he can do that. He’s got a real spirit for being taught. I think that’s real important. Usually, guys with talent like he has that have that type of spirit, they get better. And I think that’s one of his greatest attributes.
DR: What did you see from him in terms of court vision and being able to lead an offense?
JB: I love the fact that he can play with pace. He can get downhill and make decisions. The biggest thing is he can get by his man, he can take on the secondary defender, and make good decisions from those positions on the floor. To me, that’s how you become a big assist guy. Make the defense shift, which he can do, and then you make clean plays out of it.
I think that’s who he is. He’s a guy that can make people better. He’s a guy that can be a two-way player. He can help you at both ends of the floor. That’s what he did for us. He was good for us defensively too.
That’s important in these games and that’s important in the NBA—to be able to impact the floor on both ends and just not be a one-way player, be a two-way player. I think he has that ability to be a two-way player.
His work ethic is good. His attitude is good. I talked a lot about controlling the controllables and he does that—his effort, his energy, his attitude, his coachability, his work ethic. So now, it’s just a matter of getting the reps, getting the experience, and getting used to the lights being on.
Sometimes, it’s just getting used to saying, “I’m an NBA player.” It’s such a dream for everybody. And understanding that he has arrived, he’s good enough, and play with that confidence. I’m excited for him.
DR: Before I let you go, is there anything else you’d like to say about Wright, even just anecdotal?
JB: The vets loved him and the veterans on our team tried to help him. I think that says something about his character and what they see in him. They were going out of their way to support him, help him, and have him be part of it.
For us, the coaching staff, he was just a gem to have around. I think that will serve him well.