So I’m sitting in the car this morning after a fulfilling IHOP breakfast sampler with a bunch of friends and I get to thinking about the Blazers offseason needs. I think we can all agree that the most “pressing”, or at least the most talked about, needs are at the point guard and backup forward spots. We know the options at point, all the prospects in the draft, all the free agents, all the rumored-to-be available veterans. And we know what we have (except with Bayless) at that spot, which gives us the freedom of thinking that whatever we do at the 1, it has to be a significant upgrade over what we have.
If Channing Frye gets released or traded as seems likely, we don’t know what we have at the backup 4. Travis Outlaw can play some minutes there, but he’s not a night-in night-out option (especially in the playoffs) because of defensive/size/rebounding liabilities. The consensus around the interwebs is that we need to add toughness to the frontcourt, that we need a “banger”. So we’ve all thrown out names like Antonio McDyess and Brandon Bass, guys who can get their cabooses low and throw and elbow or two for those boards. We hear the Blazers linked to guys in the draft like Gani Lawal (before he dropped out), DeJuan Blair, Tyler Hansbrough, our sleeper pick Jeff Pendergraph and even Jordan Hill. And we dream about guys like Paul Millsap and David Lee being ultimate role players. All different, but all guys we think will rebound (which is really what we mean when we say toughness, in this case) and provide energy and hustle points off the bench.
I don’t think you can disagree with any of that, so with all that in mind, here’s a name for you: Brandan Wright.
Maybe the player we need isn’t such a banger after all. It’s no surprise that a young player on a Don Nelson team might be available, nor that Wright has gotten limited minutes even when said team stunk up the joint. But if the former No. 8 pick can be had for a reasonable price, what makes him so different than all those other guys I listed? Is it because, at 21 years old, he looks soft? The same that’s been said about LaMarcus Aldridge or recent NBA Champion Pau Gasol? Is it because he’s not undersized and not as “thick” as some of those other players. Let’s look at the numbers (per Basketball-Reference.com):
Player A: 18.6 PER, .576 True Shooting %, 13.1 Offensive Rebound %, 21 Defensive Rebound %, 2.5 Block %, 116 Offensive Rating (Points Produce Per 100 Possessions), 105 Defensive Rating (Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions)
Player B: 19.0 PER, .590 True Shooting %, 9.6 Offensive Rebound %, 27.9 Defensive Rebound %, 0.6 Block %, 118 Offensive Rating, 108 Defensive Rating
Player C: 18.7 PER, .570 True Shooting %, 9.8 Offensive Rebound %, 15.0 Defensive Rebound %, 3.7 Block %, 118 Offensive Rating, 112 Defensive Rating
Player A in this scenario is Paul Millsap (30 minutes per game), Player B is David Lee (34 minutes) and Player C is Brandan Wright (17.6 minutes). The offensive and defensive ratings are surprisingly similar (Dwight Howard led the league this year with a 95 Defensive Rating), and you could even make the argument that the Warriors were so disinterested in playing defense, that Wright’s defense was a victim of coaching philosophy (same with Lee). The most glaring difference is between Lee’s stellar (would’ve been a league-leader in other, non-Howard years) Defensive Rebound % and Wright’s (15). You could argue that Wright’s numbers suffered from the unstructured system he played in, but Lee gets the same excuse in D’Antoni’s slightly more structured, controlled-chaos scheme. The truth there is that Wright has never been a great rebounder (6.2 per game at North Carolina), but what we don’t know is if Wright could become one if he played for a coach that gave a damn about defense and rebounding.
The other question is, if Wright became a good rebounder, would he be able to make up for his non-greatness on the boards with length, energy and athleticism? You have to think he would make a defensive impact, if more in a Chris Andersen-way than Anderson Varejao-way. He’s also got a nice, southpaw touch from the perimeter, and isn’t afraid of dunking over people.
No, he isn’t a banger, and will probably never be in the same sense that Aldridge will never be known as one either. But Wright has qualities and talents that could be useful off the bench, especially next to Joel Przybilla, where he could be the LaMarcus to Joel’s Oden. And if the Warriors are so opposed to keeping their young forwards around, wouldn’t Wright be worth a look? At what price would you take the risk? Our first-round pick? Do you think he’s still improving? Do you think he could fit, especially if we upped the tempo a notch or two with a point-guard pickup like Jason Kidd? Should I stop eating at IHOP? These are the questions I want you to answer.