Brandan Wright sticks to the pick-and-roll with Suns
PHOENIX — Brandan Wright made an NBA career by accepting who he is. This isn’t about Wright dealing with an existential crisis as a basketball player. It’s about him succeeding with a basic economics lesson.
Wright, acquired by the Suns this week in a trade from Boston, made himself into a commodity by focusing on what he does best. Screen, roll, maybe dunk. Sometimes use a short hook shot.
If he doesn’t get an open shot out of the pick-and-roll, chances are a teammate will.
When this basic plan makes Wright one of the most unique statistical successes in the NBA, why try to do anything else?
"Haven’t been asked to," Wright said.
If anyone thinks he’s using this as an excuse for failing to build upon his skill set, Wright hedges by adding he’s a better shooter than people think. Then he’ll follow with the truth.
"When you’re so effective at the rim, in the paint, there’s no need to be horsing around with jump shots," he said.
Finding a niche was part of the trick for the 27-year-old Wright, the 6-foot-10, 210-pound leaper who started his career in Golden State but developed into a key role player the last three years with the Dallas Mavericks. Wright was traded midseason to the rebuilding Boston Celtics, who then sent him to the Suns in exchange for a conditional draft pick.
So how do we know Wright isn’t trying to do too much?
Nearly three-quarters of Wright’s shot attempts in 27 games with Dallas this season came at the rim, and the other quarter came in the paint, according to NBA.com. Before being dealt to Boston for a brief stint, Wright was averaging 8.8 points in 18.7 minutes per game while shooting 74.8 percent; for a season that would have bested the league’s record for accuracy, set by Wilt Chamberlain’s 72.7 percent in 1972-73.
"He’s not going to go out there and shoot threes," Hornacek said. "He’s going to roll to the basket, he’s going to take a hard dribble and jump over somebody and shoot his jump hook."
During the past three-plus seasons with the Mavericks, the backup center thrived in coach Rick Carlisle’s offense, so much so that there was some worry among Dallas fans that losing him to the Celtics could be detrimental, even though that deal saw the Mavs acquire point guard Rajon Rondo.
The advanced statistics would say there’s some merit to that conversation.
Here are the numbers the moneyball-skeptical folks may care to ignore: Wright was top-10 in the league this year in win shares per 48 minutes, effective field goal percentage (an accounting for 3s being worth more), and PER.
"I don’t look at (advanced stats) and a lot of people talk about it," Wright said. "I guess it’s a good thing. I guess it means I’m a winning player. So I hopefully bring that attitude over here, help out, bring a little intensity, help us get to the playoffs."
The eye test backs up that an agile, strong leaper with a 7’5 wingspan can be pretty effective, and the Suns believe that can continue in their system. To acquire Wright, Phoenix parted with a conditional first-round draft pick originally owned by the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s top-12 protected the next two years, and if Minnesota remains above that mark in the lottery, the Celtics will only get 2016 and 2017 second-round picks.
The Suns have labeled the move for a backup center as one to push them to the postseason.
Along with the offensive efficiency, Wright’s professionalism has earned compliments from Hornacek.
So has his defense. While he may not be able to bang with bigger centers on defense — center Miles Plumlee should remain a relatively common rotation piece because of it — Wright is a solid shotblocker who impressed Hornacek on Tuesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when the Suns went to their recently-implemented zone defense.
"With his long arms and his activity, we had a couple great possessions," Hornacek said.
Teammate Eric Bledsoe even thought Wright had a block when he rotated on help defense and tipped a Kyrie Irving floater just as it hit the upper corner of the backboard square. It was called a goaltend.
The Suns’ center rotation is still to-be-determined, Hornacek said on Thursday, this just as Phoenix shipped little-used Shavlik Randolph to the Celtics to acquire swingman Reggie Bullock from the Clippers. Plumlee appeared to be the odd man out after playing a season-low three minutes Tuesday, but Hornacek believes he could play Wright with either Plumlee or starting center Alex Len in order to rest forward Markieff Morris.
In any case, Wright plans to stick to his routine that made him a staple in Dallas.
"I know I can score in the paint, distract a lot of attention from the defense," Wright said. "Hopefully I can open a lot of shooters on the outside.
"Opportunity presents itself for me to do more, I will, but the way I can really help this team is be excellent at those things."
Screen. Dive to the hoop. Cause problems.