By mid-season, the typical NBA player starts to feel the wear and tear of the season. If someone has played quality minutes in every game, it’s not out of the question for him to step on the team plane with ice bags on his knees.
Fresh legs can be an inviting prospect this time of year, especially when they belong to someone who knows your system and your players.
That’s why the Dallas Mavericks were counting the minutes until Brandan Wright’s return to the lineup after a shoulder injury cost him the first 23 games. That first night back, against Milwaukee on December 14, Wright scored 19 points.
In one game Wright proved the value of fresh legs.
Wright’s presence on the floor is like hitting the accelerator on a test car at Texas Motor Speedway.
“His athleticism on defense, on offense, all of those in-between shots that we know he’s really good at — he showed us that again,” Mavericks assistant coach Monte Mathis said after that game.
The team sorely missed that athleticism during Wright’s absence, and it’s what prompted the Mavericks to re-sign him to a two-year, $10 million deal this past summer.
Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle calls the center position his “four-headed monster.” Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair and Bernard James are all cut in the mold of the more traditional, back-to-the-basket centers. Wright is the one center who can play above the rim offensively.
With his slender, 6-foot-10 frame he can run the floor, take an outside jumper, catch an alley-oop pass in stride for a dunk, and even come out and help defensively in the full-court press.
He can do things no other Mavericks center can do.
“[Defensively] I have the ability to get back,” Wright says. “The other guys we really don’t want to do that as much. I can recover, switch out, be aggressive and guard different types of people.”
Wright sees how the players in this quartet complement one another, even if casual fans don’t. He’s has never been a full-time starter, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
Set next to the more traditional styles of Dalembert and Blair at center, Wright’s presence on the floor is like hitting the accelerator on a test car at Texas Motor Speedway. Even Wright sees the value of the arrangement and places where he can offer help that the other centers cannot.
“Especially on pick-and-roll defense, I can be a big factor,” Wright says. “I can do a lot of disrupting point guards. These point guards are real talented coming off screens these days, and I think I can do a lot of damage.”
The hardest part of Wright’s recovery — aside from not playing — wasn’t offense, as his average of 10 points per game so far this season proves. It’s the intangibles like his rebounding and shot blocking, areas where Dalembert is clearly ahead of Wright at the moment.
But Carlisle says that who starts isn’t nearly as important as how the players match up in the lineup. One could envision Wright starting if the matchup is right.
Wright thinks he needs another five to 10 games to get right and get off the “up and down” roller coaster of inconsistency he feels he’s been on the past month. One night he will post double figures; another night he’ll score just two points but contribute in other ways.
The energy he brings to the Mavericks right now, as the regular-season starts to hit a lull, can’t be quantified on a stat sheet. This mature team needs fresh legs.
“This is the time when legs start to get a little dead and get a little weary,” Wright says. “We have to try and push through it.”