Timing Is Everything: Welcome Back, Brandan Wright
USA Today Sports
Ratings-breaking center Brandan Wright returned to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, and it could not have come at a better time. Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle were ill, and Vince Carter‘s game has been ill, but not in the good way. Carter was considered one of the best sixth men in the league last season, but it was Wright’s numbers that popped out. In two years off the Dallas bench, Wright’s PER is above 21, and last season’s shot chart is stunningly beautiful. The Mavericks were 5 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor last season.
Wright is the perfect example of a player who understands his role offensively and doesn’t do anything crazy like take contested and/or uncontested jump shots off the dribble. (Oh, hey, Josh Smith.) When he looks to score, Wright catches the ball, takes a step, and puts up a shot, and that shot usually comes from within five feet. Three-hundred thirteen of Wright’s 404 field goal attempts came from within nine feet last season, a staggering amount. But it also played a big part in Wright’s field goal percentage hovering just below 60 percent. And as for the mid-range shots he made at a league-average 41 percent clip last season, all 17 of his converted attempts from 15-19 feet came off assists, and 80 percent of his total field goals came off passes. He isn’t going to try anything dumb. There’s value in that, which is why he was rewarded with a two-year, $10 million contract this offseason, arguably still a bargain for His Efficiency Brandan Wright.
So it isn’t exactly shocking, then, that Wright shot 9-of-10 in his season debut, with three and-one opportunities. Seven of his field goals came off assists. He makes everyone better, and that includes Vince Carter. The Wright/Carter duo by itself was statistically among the Mavericks’ best last season, outscoring opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions. But Carter and Wright were separately perhaps even more important, or at least in the statistical sense. Of Dallas’ top-10 two-man units by net rating that spent at least 50 minutes together, Wright appeared in half, and Carter in four. (Yes, the Carter/Wright unit was one.)
Dirk Nowitzki, meanwhile, appeared in just one pair — with Wright. That duo outscored opponents by 12.1 points per 100, with a ridiculous 114.1 offensive rating, a 56.2 percent eFG, and a 2.46 assist/turnover ratio. Add Mike James to that pair (who, last year, was worth exactly zero offensive win shares) and Dallas’ eFG rose above 61. How?
First, Wright blocked a shot at the rim and still made it back on offense by the 20-second mark in the shot clock, and Dallas was in a set with 18 seconds left. That athleticism is important. Andrew Nicholson makes a fairly large mistake in trying to double-team the ball-handler (in this case, the offensively challenged James) instead of sticking with Wright, the roll man. As Wright is rolling, though, Nic Vucevic has a decision to make: cut off a WIDE-open Wright and leave Nowitzki open from 20 feet, or stick with Nowitzki and force James to make a tricky pass? Vucevic stays glued to the German, and Wright scores easy. (Things really become interesting if you envision a similar set with Monta Ellis as the ball-handler instead of James, adding Jose Calderon spotting up on the wing. Oh, man.)
But back to the Carter/Wright combination, which hooked up three times in Wright’s debut. (Last season, only Darren Collison assisted Wright more than Carter.) Add in Dirk Nowitzki, and here’s what some of the Mavs’ four factors looked like last season when they played together:
If observers all know Vince Carter is a threat driving to the rim, then the Bucks certainly do. As Carter nears the rim, the entire defense’s attention shifts to him and only him, leaving Wright all alone at the rim (this is not an uncommon thing to see).
Wright does several things that seem obvious, but that Dallas big men in years past outside of Tyson Chandler have struggled with. First, he’s looking for the ball. Second, he has soft hands and can catch a bounce pass in traffic, a skill Carter tests when he splits the defenders with a pacey pass. Wright gathers, takes the contact, and finishes. Oh, here Wright is doing it again.
Carter catches at the three-point line and gives a soft-ish lob pass to a cutting Wright, who again catches and scores with contact. His footwork was stellar as well; many a big man has traveled in that exact situation. (Wright aaaaalmost walked, but fortunately the contact came before his feet could become any happier.) Again, he isn’t reinventing the wheel down low, but Wright gives Dallas an athletic element it’s been missing forever, and he adds a touch that even Tyson Chandler would envy. Sam Dalembert isn’t going to be able to make that cut, and even Nowitzki would probably have just spotted up for a jumper.
Lastly, here’s Dalembert trying to reel in a Carter alley-oop. Admittedly, Carter’s pass wasn’t the best. It could have been a tad softer and more on-target, but it was still there, and it results in a turnover.
Here’s Wright handling a Shawn Marion lob against Milwaukee. Mo’ length, mo’ problems? No! He catches and finishes in one fell swoop.
He can also do cool stuff like this every now and then, which I’m sure adds points to one of his advanced stats.
Carter’s numbers have been down across the board this season, in large part due to Wright’s absence. The second unit is so much better with him on the floor, and because Carter has adopted more of a facilitating role in the past two years than he ever had before, it’s vital to have players who can perform basic tasks collect the ball and finish. Nowitzki has spent considerable time with the second unit this season as well, meaning we’ll probably see plenty of the Carter/Nowitzki/Wright trio. That can only mean good things going forward for the Mavericks.