Tenth in a 15-part series ranking the Mavericks' 2011-12 roster in importance of bringing back next season.
Brandan Wright is easily the most athletic big man the Dallas Mavericks have put on the floor since ... well, Tyson Chandler. Wright, the Human Pogo Stick or the Human Exclamation Point as a certain colleague of mine dubbed him this season, brought a high level of energy and excitement -- and a higher level of two-handed alley-oop slams -- as he earned more and more playing time.
The former lottery pick of the Golden State Warriors provided two areas that the Mavs' sorely lacked and will look to gain more of this offseasaon -- youth, he's only 24, and athleticism. He's a high-motor big man who can run the floor. He has soft hands and is an impeccable finisher around the rim with a nice array of moves -- he boasted a team-best 61.8 shooting percentage.
The biggest issue with Wright is where he fits. His natural position is power forward, but coach Rick Carslisle converted him to center because Dallas obviously has Dirk Nowitzki entrenched there and at the time they believed Lamar Odom would fill the bill when Nowitzki sat. At center, Wright started out on the depth chart behind Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi, but as the season wore on the spindly-framed Wright at times logged more minutes than the others.
Until the playoffs.
And that's the conundrum with Wright. He hasn't developed a mid-range game to be able to play power forward effectively in Dallas' offense and he's not physically strong enough to consistently defend the center position. When he got his brief chance to play in the first round against Oklahoma City he had a serious case of butterfingers and the moment, the first playoff action of his career, seemed a bit too big. He played a total of 26 minutes in the series with a high of eight in the Game 3 blowout.
But at less than $1 million last season and next (assuming the Mavs pick up the team option), Wright is cheap, cheap labor and a talent worth trying to develop for the long run. In fact, he could be a talent the Mavs must develop for significant minutes next season because the center position at the moment is in total chaos.
Haywood is a prime candidate for the amnesty provision and Mahinmi is a free agent with no guarantee that he'll be back. Dallas won't dare go into the regular season with Wright as its primary man to patrol the paint, but he could certainly be relied upon to become a prime player.
The Countdown winds down a second week with No. 6...
Ht./Wt.: 6-foot-10, 210
Experience: 4 years
Age: 24 (Oct. 5, 1987)
2011-12 stats: 6.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 16.1 mpg, 49 G
Contract status: Team option for next season
2011-12 salary: $915,852
2012-13 salary: $947,907
His story: Perseverance has Wright on the right track to remove his name from the long list of lottery busts and onto a more flattering one of productive rotation players. Drafted eighth overall in 2007 by Charlotte and traded to Golden State for Jason Richardson, Wright was buried on Don Nelson's bench and then injured his shoulder during an October 2009 practice. Surgery sidelined him the entire season and the next year the Warriors traded Wright to the New Jersey Nets. In his first three seasons, Wright played in 114 games so the 49 he got in this season was something of a landmark, a career-high he hopes to build upon. He's already been busy back in the gym, proving it by tweeting pictures. "I worked really hard to get back where I am," Wright said at the end of the season. "I'm blessed to have the opportunity to heal up from those injuries. This is a process and you’ve got to stick with it. When you start thinking like that (negatively), it's easy to start slacking off with rehab or getting back to where you want to be."
His outlook: Wright has to feel good that the Mavs will pick up his option (it would certainly seem to be a no-brainer). The real question is whether Carlisle will continue to try to mold him into a center or if power forward can be an option now that Odom is out of the picture and Shawn Marion (if he returns) might seem better off exclusively, or close to exclusively, at small forward. Wright believes he can develop a consistent mid-range jumper that could force defenses to extend out, providing the spacing the Mavs need to operate their halfcourt sets. He also needs to add muscle to his 210-pound frame (for a bit of reference, 6-5 guard Dominique Jones weighs 215 pounds) so he can hold his ground defensively at either the 4 or 5. If he can do that and sharpen his jumper, combined with his vertical jump and ability to finish at the rim, Wright could eventually live up to his lottery-pick status.
No. 15 Lamar Odom
No. 14 Brian Cardinal
No. 13 Yi Jianlian
No. 12 Dominique Jones
No. 11 Brendan Haywood
No. 10 Kelenna Azubuike
No. 9 Ian Mahinmi
No. 8 Vince Carter
No. 7 Rodrigue Beaubois
No. 6 Brandan Wright
No. 5 Coming Monday