With the lack of rebounding and defense the Dallas Mavericks have been noted for this season it’s a wonder rookie Bernard James hasn’t gotten more playing time, although that seems to be changing. Perhaps even more perplexing is the escalation of Brandan Wright from one of last year’s “three-headed monster” centers to starter, followed by descent into repeated DNP-CDs over the last few games.
We ostensibly know the reasons and yet, it’s a mystery…not that Wright isn’t getting as much time as he was but that he isn’t playing at all.
With the Mavericks’ on-the-court issues, some concern is certainly justifiable. Wright is not the greatest rebounder for his size and has trouble defending bigger centers in the post. Of course, he has been shoved into the five when he’s obviously a natural four. Nevertheless, he had a significant role last year and over the summer, worked hard to beef up and it showed early in the season. Last season in just 16 minutes a game he scored nearly 7 points, grabbed nearly 3 ½ rebounds, blocked 1.3 shots and shot almost 62% from the field.
This season he’s still playing about 17 minutes. His scoring has been slightly up (8.5 ppg) while his rebounding and blocks are slightly down. His field goal percentage is also even better at nearly 65%.
But those season-long numbers don’t reflect his play early in the season as his minutes have evaporated. Early on he had improved on his numbers: through the first three games he was averaging 13.5 points and closer to 5 rebounds and Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News observed “Through three games, the best constant for the Mavericks’ front line has been Brandan Wright.”
But after a 4-1 start, the Mavericks began to struggle and part of the problem continues to be rebounding and interior defense, so then came the finger-pointing and apparently Rick Carlisle eventually found fault with Wright.
“So first the good news regarding Wright: He’s blocked five shots and piled up 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting, making him the club’s second leading-scorer behind point guard Darren Collison.
Now for the bad news: Wright has eight boards in 45 minutes on the floor, a statistic that might plant the majority of power forwards and centers in the league on the bench more often than not. That’s the Brandan Wright conundrum. You love his game, but a player standing 6-10 has to pound the glass, and particularly so in the Mavs’ precarious injury state — they’re desperate for rebounders.“
Of course, note the leading scorer at that time was not O. J. Mayo, nor Chris Kaman, but Darren Collison. Mayo took awhile to get going and had a three-game slump quite recently but didn’t get benched as a result. He also hasn’t shown consistently that he can do anything besides score but no one is questioning his starting job, much less benching him completely.
Meanwhile, Wright has by far the highest field goal percentage and PER on the team and is riding the pine, not even getting garbage time. The Mavericks have largely been silent on this as Wright went from starting to limited minutes to not playing at all. The Mavs Moneyball guys summed up what many of us may be feeling:
In the last Mavs player power rankings, Alan Smithee writes:
“Wright leads the team in PER by a mile, scores a point every two minutes despite rarely having plays run for him, and is starting to develop a nice midrange game to pair with his elite finishing skill. He doesn’t turn the ball over, runs the floor like a gazelle, and blocks some shots for good measure. Despite all that, he’s barely seen the court the last week. His defensive instincts are not great, and he’s still not bulky enough to bang in the post and muscle guys out of the way for rebounds. Still, few 6’10 guys do this many things well, or as well. “
Tim Cato adds:
“With [Troy] Murphy gone, he should finally get consistent minutes again. It’s ridiculous that Murphy took them in the first place, because Wright has been one of the best Mavericks this season. We all know his rebounding is not where it needs to be, but it’s not every day you come across a big man quite as efficient as him, especially not one that jacks up the occasional jumper. He can get pushed around on defense, but he’s still an excellent weak side shot blocker and when you throw in the fact that he’s great at running the floor, there’s really no business for him sitting on the bench.”
So what more can be said?
On a team that needs rebounding, better field goal percentage and interior offense and defense it would be terrific if all players excelled in every aspect of the game. Often they don’t and as is the case with players such as the Nets’ Brook Lopez. Characteristically this year Lopez is averaging 18.5 ppg and 6.8 ppg and he’s a 260 lb. 7-footer who has never been known for his rebounding or defense, yet that didn’t prevent him from being the recent recipient of a $60 million contract. We sometimes overlook deficiencies in favor of the upside.
Wright also doesn’t turn the ball over much and for a team struggling with that statistic (and especially viewing Chris Kaman’s fumbles of late) that is also an area to consider.
Instead, Jae Crowder has played more and more but after a blistering preseason Crowder has cooled off. He has had some good games but he’s had some really bad ones and for the season, brining his field goal percentage below 43%. Crowder has also displayed a penchant for indiscriminately jacking up threes when he’s only hitting around 33%—not horrific but certainly not worthy of 30 minutes on the floor while Wright sees no action whatsoever.
Is there precedent for letting Wright work out his issues on the court? Of course…
DeAndre Jordan is a different type of player, who has never been a great scorer or a great defender but a decent rebounder and a great shot blocker, averaging around two a game for the time he’s been a starter. Still, he makes the most of his limited offensive arsenal and has a career field goal percentage of over 64%. Interestingly, this year while he’s surrounded by more scorers than ever, he’s averaging a career high in scoring (10.5ppg) and a career low in rebounding for a starter (6.8 rpg).
Serge Ibaka is another defensive standout whose scoring has continued to improve. He has been fairly steady as a modest scorer and a decent shot blocker and rebounder but last year took his shot blocking to new heights. This year he’s on pace with most of his numbers but his scoring has also jumped significantly from around 9 points to over 14 with very few changes to the personnel around him in Oklahoma CIty.
The point is the Clippers and the Nets and other teams have a place for role players, a term which is often confided to defensive specialists or players who are not a great offensive threat or occasionally instant offense-type guys. But it is a simple fact that when a player is hitting over 60% of his shots, you don’t need to rebound the ball as often and the Mavs biggest deficiency is in offensive rebounding.
The problem is also not a result exclusively of Wright, as evidenced by the lack of improvement during his exodus. If Rick Carlisle wants to address that, perhaps the first thing he should do is give more minutes to Bernard James, who leads the team in rebounds per minutes played.
Beyond that, a little introspection is in order for a team that has on its roster players with career averages of 9.4 rpg (Elton Brand), 9.2 rpg (Shawn Marion), 8.3 rpg (Chris Kaman), and an excellent rebounding guard in Vince Carter (5.1 rpg) yet still ranks near the bottom of the NBA. These are experienced, consistent players who aren’t getting it done as a team and you can’t blame that all on Wright, particularly when he isn’t playing and it doesn’t change.
If Elton Brand is returning to form that will certainly help and of course, having Dirk back will as well, even though his rebounding numbers are not what they once were. The simple truth is that no one else on the Mavs roster brings what Wright does and they would be foolish not to make use of it.
Some area writers feel he will soon be trade bait, perhaps for a point guard and should be if Rick Carlisle isn’t going to play him. Obviously the rest of us don’t know the team’s plans but until they have an athletic inside threat of similar capabilities, my vote is to play Wright and let him give the Mavericks the diversity they so sorely need.