Preseason Game 4: Mavs at Cavaliers

Mavericks vs. Cavaliers

Chandler Parsons finished with 19 points as the Mavericks knocked off the Cavaliers 108-102.

Mavs’ center rotation features more athleticism, depth this season

DALLAS — Utilizing a three-center rotation for much of last season, the Dallas Mavericks filled the position by committee.

Using starting center Samuel Dalembert for 20.2 minutes an outing, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle then turned to the bruising style of DeJuan Blair and the athleticism of Brandan Wright. Carlisle also used the interior defensive presence of second-year big man Bernard James for spot minutes off the bench. The combination proved to be a position of strength last season, helping the Mavs push the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs to the brink of defeat during their seven-game playoff series in the first round.

But, even with Dalembert and Blair both dealt away during the summer in separate trades, Carlisle figures to have more athleticism at his disposal this season in the form of projected starter Tyson Chandler.

“I think it just sets up well for our team,” Carlisle explained shortly after the reacquisition of Chandler on the eve of the draft back in June. “He complements Dirk [Nowitzki] extremely well. He’s a great runner, screener and rim protector, and he has that exuberant enthusiasm that’s infectious and it just rubs off on everybody.”

Headlining the new-look Dallas front line will be Chandler, who rejoins the organization after helping to lead the Mavericks to the 2011 title. The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year spent the last three seasons with the New York Knicks before being involved in the six-player trade that saw Chandler and Dalembert flip-flop spots on June 25.

Last season, Chandler battled nagging injuries but still averaged 8.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in his 55 games. He now hopes to be the missing piece to a championship puzzle, looking to once again hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy by season’s end.

“I watched the team compete in the playoffs last year and give San Antonio everything they could handle. And I thought they had a shot,” Chandler said after the trade was made official. “I thought a couple of plays here or there that series was the difference, and we know what San Antonio went on to go do. If you can challenge the champs like that and be a play or two away from actually advancing, that means you’re close. So, I think this team is close.

“I think rim protection and finishing and a lot of second opportunities were just little key things that I saw that was missing in that series, as far as San Antonio breaking them down at certain points and being able to get easy baskets. And, obviously, the lack of getting extra shots, whether it was offensive rebounds or easy rebounds and outlets. I think that was the biggest thing that they lacked that hurt them getting over the hump. But, like I said, they gave [the Spurs] everything that they had and I think they had no reason to hold their heads down after that year.”

Chandler won’t be alone in helping to fortify the center position, however, as the Mavs plan to feature depth once again at the five spot with Wright, James and new addition Greg Smith.

Like with Chandler, the Mavs will have an above-the-rim finisher to lob the ball to in Wright, who is expected to reassume his customary role off the bench. Coming on strong at the close of the ’12-13 season to finish averaging 8.5 points on 59.7 percent shooting to go along with 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots in his 18.0 minutes per game, Wright was an offseason priority for the front office before re-signing with the Mavs last summer. He then found himself quickly sidelined after sustaining a left shoulder injury during the preseason.

Making his long-awaited season debut on Dec. 14 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Wright didn’t wait long to show why he was so coveted by the Mavs’ brass while scoring 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes of work during a 106-93 home win. The efficient Wright then went on to connect on a team-best and career-high 67.7 percent shooting from the field, averaging 9.1 points and 4.6 boards a game in 18.6 minutes of work.

Wright figures to now be the perfect backup behind Chandler, adding stability to the second unit while also sliding down to power forward to sub in for Nowitzki when needed.

“I just want to go out there and help this team win and do what I do best,” Wright modestly said last season. “That’s what it comes down to, and then it will help our paint scoring out, getting myself playing above the rim and just getting another piece that can help this team elevate.”

With Wright certain to be on the floor more this upcoming season, he’ll likely play alongside Smith at times while the newcomer looks to fill the void left by Blair’s sign-and-trade exit to the Washington Wizards.

In July, the Mavericks announced that they had acquired the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Smith from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for the rights to Tadija Dragicevic. Smith comes along with averages of 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 14.4 minutes in 89 career games during his three seasons with the Houston Rockets while providing depth behind perennial All-Star Dwight Howard and fellow big man Omer Asik.

During the 2012-13 campaign, Smith made 10 starts and suited up for the Rockets in 70 games, averaging 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 62.0 percent from the field. Those numbers compare to Blair’s production last season, when the undersized big man started 13 of his 78 appearances while averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds an outing, connecting on 53.4 percent from the field.

Hampered by injuries of his own last season, Smith was released by the Rockets on April 10 before signing four days later in Chicago but never playing for the Bulls. So, it comes as no surprise that the former Fresno State standout is chomping at the bit to get back onto the court this upcoming season.

“I’m looking forward to it a lot, playing with Tyson Chandler,” Smith told Mavs.com while watching Dallas’ summer-league squad in Las Vegas back in July. “I’ve learned a lot playing with Dwight and Big O [Asik], so playing with [Chandler] I’m going to learn a lot more. He’s a great guy. And even playing with Dirk, I’m going to learn a lot on the offensive end. And just being in Texas, the fans there are wonderful. So, I’m going to go out there and just fill that void of DeJuan Blair and bring that toughness and bring that big body every night. Just show people that I’ve been working out for the past five months and I’m ready to prove that I’m healthy.”

Meanwhile, James hopes to crack Carlisle’s rotation after re-signing with the team earlier this month.

Appearing in 76 career games and making 11 starts during his first two seasons as a pro, the 6-foot-10 James holds averages of 2.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 7.9 minutes a contest. Still, despite playing in just 30 games last season and once again entering a contract year, James believes he can contribute much more while looking to battle for playing time when training camp begins on Sept. 30.

“You know, I just want to go out and play hard,” James said while preparing with the Mavs’ summer-league squad in July. “And I just want to win, really. That’s the goal. I feel like, if you have that mindset, everything else will take care of itself. You’ll get a contract and you’ll stay in the league, so that’s really the way I’m going about it.”

And with plenty of options to utilize at the five spot, Carlisle should have no problem getting production from the center position once again this season.

Comprehending Brandan Wright’s statistical compendium

Barring injury, Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki will soon be seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The German has done it perhaps more efficiently than any other player in the top-10 and undoubtedly is one of the best players in the league’s history.

But for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Nowitzki’s steady climb up the all-time leaderboard, one of his teammates is also making waves around the league and is even more efficient. It’s not Monta Ellis or Chandler Parsons or even Tyson Chandler. It’s Brandan Wright.

Just how efficient is the Mavs’ backup center? After three seasons in Dallas, Wright is the franchise’s all-time leader in four major offensive categories and is second in two more significant areas. Just look at the numbers below. Not only is Wright in first place on these lists. He’s in first by a mile.

Numbers Never Lie

Stat Wright Second Place
FG% 62.9% 59.1%
TS% 64.3% 61.1%
eFG% 62.9% 59.2%
Off Rating 126.2 118.1

What’s more, Wright trails only Nowitzki in career PER and win shares per 48 minutes — the first number measures efficiency while the second approximates a player’s value.

Compare and Contrast

Stat Nowitzki Wright Third Place
PER 23.5 22.1 20.8
WS/48 .208 .203 .154

How is this possible for a player who’s only on the floor for 18 minutes per game? Typically metrics like PER tend to favor guys who play heavy minutes, as the more time they spend on the floor, the more time they have to fill out their statistics. Wright’s insanely high PER is more a testament to his own efficiency and the way he’s used than it is to a weird quirk within the stat itself. Wright is absolutely in elite company despite playing fewer minutes per game than all but one player in the top 50. Among players behind Wright on the PER list: James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, and Joakim Noah — and each of them played at least 35 minutes per game, or nearly twice as much as Wright.

Again, how is it possible?

For starters, Wright is used in such a way that highlights his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. He’s almost exclusively a catch-and-shoot player and excels in rolling to the rim off a screen. He was assisted on seven of every eight made field goals and almost 73 percent of his FG attempts came from within five feet, per NBA.com, and 61 percent of them came from within three feet. It’s generally considered pretty easy to finish at the rim in the NBA, but Wright has better hands and a softer touch around the basket than just about every other big in basketball. He’s also got a sweet stroke from 10-14 feet away, as well, where he hit exactly half his attempts in 2013-14.

Shotchart_1408922260226

Wright is also regularly used in combination with perimeter guys who can play off his screens. Last season, for example, he was assisted by Vince Carter 53 times, Monta Ellis 45 times, Devin Harris 40 times. When defenses played the Mavericks last season, they tended to focus more on the ball-handler off a pick-and-roll than they did the roller (unless the roller was Dirk). And after checking Wright’s shot chart from the last few seasons, it’s safe to say the Mavs will happily prefer to see that coverage again this season, when Wright will be backing up fellow elite roller Tyson Chandler. Between those two and Nowitzki, Dallas will trot out perhaps the best collective set of hands at the power forward and center positions in the league. Each of them are huge targets going toward the basket — and to the three-point line, in Dirk’s case — which is a huge luxury to ball-handlers like Ellis, Harris, and new signing Chandler Parsons.

The catch-and-shoot strategy with Wright also limits his turnovers. The big man has the best career turnover percentage in team history — his 7.6 percent mark sits ahead of second-place Nowitzki’s 8.8 percent. Again, having big men who can consistently catch the ball and get a shot off without turning it over is nearly an unquantifiable luxury, but in Wright’s case you can at least start with wins and losses to gauge his value. When he played last season, Dallas was 36-22. In games he played in that Dallas won, the team put up a 116.6 offensive rating and an equally impressive 101.2 defensive rating while he was on the floor.

He was also a part of the Mavs’ best five-man unit last season — the group of Harris, Jae Crowder, Carter, Dirk, and Wright was possibly the best lineup featuring mostly reserves in the entire NBA, and the Mavs bench figures to be just as deep, if not deeper, this season. If Wright can remain as efficient next season as he’s been these last few seasons, the Dallas bench will continue to fill it up and, more than likely, the Mavs will continue their winning ways.

Is the time right for Brandan Wright to ascend to another level?

DALLAS — Although he saw limited action for the Dallas Mavericks during their first-round playoff series against the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs, big man Brandan Wright still managed to show glimpses of budding stardom this season. 

Hampered by a nagging left shoulder injury during the preseason, Wright would finally make his long-awaited season debut on Dec. 14 against the Milwaukee Bucks. And with 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle both sidelined due to illnesses, Wright would quickly proceed to make up for lost time and the absences of the team’s two leaders while scoring 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes off the bench during a 106-93 home win.

Wright would go on to provide several highlight reel finishes off lob passes from reserve guard Devin Harris, who instantly seemed to form a bond with the former North Carolina standout in the Mavericks’ second unit. However, according to Wright, that offensive production and efficient play was just a small sample of what’s to come next season as the 26-year-old continues to patent his skills.

“That’s the baseline,” Wright said. “I’d say that’s the minimum standard. I think I can go well beyond that.” 

Coming on strong to close the 2012-13 season, Wright re-signed with the Mavs last summer after averaging 8.5 points on 59.7 percent shooting, grabbing down 4.1 rebounds and registering 1.2 blocked shots in his 18.0 minutes per game. He then found himself in a three-man rotation at center this season, coming off the bench in all of his 58 appearances and averaging 9.1 points and 4.6 boards a game in 18.6 minutes of work.

Connecting on a team-best and career-high 67.7 percent shooting from the field, Wright would continue his efficient offensive production throughout the season. His uncanny ability to get the ball in the basket was also on full display on April 4 when Wright set a team high for makes without a miss, going 10-for-10 from the field and finishing with a season-high 23 points as the Mavs stormed through the Los Angeles Lakers with a 107-95 road victory.

“You know, no one wants to miss shots,” a modest Wright said after the performance. “I want to make them all, but to have a night like this is a credit to my teammates, putting me in a good position. I can’t do anything but praise those guys.”

But can Wright ascend to another level?

Seeing most of his time at the center position in three seasons with the Mavs, Wright could be asked to expand his time at power forward next year if the front office cannot successfully re-sign free-agent-to-be Shawn Marion. The six-year veteran will also have to atone for a pedestrian playoff series against the Spurs, averaging just 5.5 points and 2.0 boards while fellow big man DeJuan Blair leapfrogged him on the depth chart.

Still, Wright and the Mavs’ front office believe he has not come close to reaching his ceiling, committing to coming back even better next season.

“He’s one of the best players we have,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said last season while praising Wright. “Based on our personnel, there will be times when he’s the 4 man. But he’s one of those guys, he’s a basketball player. His position is ‘on the floor.’”

“I just want to go out there and help this team win and do what I do best,” Wright modestly added. “That’s what it comes down to, and then it will help our paint scoring out, getting myself playing above the rim and just getting another piece that can help this team elevate.”

Mavs’ three-man center rotation proved to be area of strength

DALLAS — With a strength-in-numbers approach, the Dallas Mavericks found themselves in a rare situation this season when it comes to the center rotation.

Led by starting center Samuel Dalembert, the Mavericks featured a three-man rotation inside as backup big man Brandan Wright and newcomer DeJuan Blair lent assistance off the bench. However, with none of the three averaging more than 21 minutes a game, getting production out of the position became a shared responsibility.

“I mean, for the time being, considering that you’ve got to split and sure the time with each other, I think we really managed it well,” Dalembert said after the Mavs fell in seven games at the hands of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

He added: “You know, me, B-Wright and D.B., we really managed the situation and we made the best of the time out there. We were able to contribute and be a positive thing for the team. … You know, it was a tough thing, but it was for the best for the team. We really put our [egos] to the side and we went out there and made the best with what we had. And I was very happy and very proud to see how the guys responded to it. You know, I was happy.”

Anointed the starter during training camp, Dalembert pulled down a team-best 6.8 rebounds an outing and registered 1.2 blocked shots while averaging 6.6 points during the regular season, starting 68 of his 80 outings. He also stepped up his presence on the glass during the postseason, averaging just 4.6 points but pulling down 8.4 boards a game.

But it was Dalembert’s close to the regular season that showcased his value to the Mavs the most, recording seven double-digit rebounding performances over the final 16 games to help boost the team into the playoffs.

“You just have to wait for your time to be out there,” the 12-year veteran explained, “and go out there and make the best of it. You know, I want to be out there consistently, but it was a three-big rotation. The times you get something going and you’re really in the zone, you have to wait another 14 minutes to get back in it and it was tough. You know, it was tough, but overall I’m kind of happy to see the outcome. We really stepped up and we really made the best of the situation. I want to play like that all the time, but you know, you’ve got to play.”

Meanwhile, Wright had to battle back from a preseason shoulder injury that forced him out of the lineup until his season debut on Dec. 14, when the former North Carolina standout posted 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes of reserve work as the Mavs sprinted to a 106-93 home win over Milwaukee.

All told, Wright would go on to be the Mavericks’ best offensive contributor at the 5 spot, averaging 9.1 points on 67.7 percent shooting while suiting up in 58 games. But his injury would create an opening for Blair to step into the rotation, providing the Mavs with interior toughness in the process.

Blair started 13 of his 78 outings, posting season averages of 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in 15.6 minutes of work a game. He came on even stronger in the playoffs, emerging as the team’s X-factor while averaging 6.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals during six games against his former team. However, he now enters the offseason as a free agent, hitting the open market on July 1 and possibly creating a hole in the middle of the Mavs’ lineup after the three-headed center position proved to be an area of strength for the team.

“I think I did a good job this season and this series, playing hard and playing how I know how,” Blair said after the Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs. “Hopefully I can come back to Dallas and we can get another shot at it.”

Game 82: Mavs at Grizzlies

Mavs vs. Grizzlies

The Mavs fell to the Grizzlies in Wednesday's season finale, setting up a first-round playoff matchup against old foe San Antonio.

Brandan Wright’s undeniable impact on the defensive end

One-on-One with Brandan Wright

Mavs F Brandan Wright comments on the impact he's had on the defensive end, accomplishing the goal of making the playoffs, the importance of winning 50 games and more.

Each member of the Mavs’ three-headed monster at center has a very specific role. Sam Dalembert starts, sets hard screens, grabs rebounds at both ends, and protects the rim. Brandan Wright flies high and uses his length to bother pick-and-roll point guards. DeJuan Blair brings the energy.

All season long, head coach Rick Carlisle has juggled their minutes, often sticking primarily with the hot hand at any given time. Blair received the majority of the minutes early in the season, then they shifted to Wright, and finally to Dalembert. During the last eight games, though, it’s been Wright who has once again separated himself from the group. The offensive-minded center has had a larger defensive impact than even Carlisle could have asked for, and Dallas has reaped the benefits.

In the eight games following the Mavs’ tough home loss to the Clippers on March 27, Wright has taken his defensive game to another level. His game-sealing block Saturday on Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe was just the cherry on top of a superb last two weeks. During that time, the Mavericks have allowed 104.9 points per 100 possessions when Wright mans the middle, the best mark among Mavs big men. What’s more, the Mavericks have gone 6-2 in those eight games.

He’s also averaging 1.25 blocks during the stretch, and all of his season-high 11 rebounds against Phoenix were of the must-have variety. Carlisle has taken notice of Wright’s impact on the defensive end lately.

“It was huge on some of those plays in the fourth quarter,” the coach said after the win against the Suns. “The block was huge. He had some other big rebounds in traffic. We needed every ounce that everybody gave us tonight.”

Block of the Night: Brandan Wright

With the game on the line, Eric Bledsoe drives strong for the layup and Brandan Wright gets the big block to keep the points off the board.

“He was great,” Monta Ellis added. “He got a lot of rebounds that we needed. He played a heck of a game.

If Wright obliged Carlisle’s request of leaving it all on the floor, then he used all of his remaining energy to swat Bledsoe’s game-tying layup. After the game, Wright wondered whether it might be one of the biggest plays of his career.

“It’s right up there,” he said. “He probably hits that layup if I don’t come over. It pretty much clinched a (playoff) spot. It’s one of those things you look back on.”

During the past eight games, opponents are only grabbing offensive rebounds on 25.4 percent of their missed shots when Wright is on the floor, 2.9 points lower than the team’s average during that time, and 3.9 points lower than any other Mavericks center. Rebounding is obviously a collaborative effort, but Wright’s presence on the floor lately has generally meant good things for the Mavs’ defensive rebounding, which has been something of a weakness this season.

His defensive impact has been even more noticeable. During the last eight games, Wright is a member of each of the Mavs’ best three-man units in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions (with more than 10 minutes played).

Brandan’s Boost

Lineup Games Played (Minuted Played) Defensive Rating
Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright 8 (39) 87.8
Jae Crowder, Monta Ellis, Brandan Wright 8 (31) 89.1
Jae Crowder, Devin Harris, Brandan Wright 8 (59) 90.8

For reference, the Mavs’ defensive rating as a team (the points they allow per 100 possessions) is 107.5. That means each of those three-man units is outperforming the team average by at least 16 points. Even if it’s only for four or five minutes per game, those units are suffocating opponents’ second units, and more often than not it results in a big run for the Mavericks.

Wright has bewildered stats guys throughout the past few seasons, as his Player Efficiency Rating has constantly been near the top of the league. This season, for example, Wright’s 23.69 PER is 11th-best among active players, according to ESPN. He falls right behind Blake Griffin and one spot ahead of Dirk Nowitzki. That isn’t to say Wright is any better or worse than the players behind him, but that he plays just 18.6 minutes per game and is still able to make a large enough impact to produce a PER higher than 23 is nothing short of astonishing.

The big man is mostly known for his offense, and he’s earned the reputation. Among players who have appeared in at least 50 games this season, Wright’s 67.2 field goal percentage ranks third in the NBA. His 10-for-10 performance against the Lakers on April 4 stands out as one of the most efficient performances of the season in the entire league. Only Serge Ibaka (12) hit more shots in a game this season without missing a field goal attempt.

But, as Carlisle and Ellis alluded to, his defense and rebounding have stood out down the stretch, when every single game has mattered. Wright’s contribution on both ends is a huge reason Dallas is in the playoffs.

“We’re happy to get in,” Wright said. “We don’t know who we will play, but I think we’re a dangerous team. We’ve got a lot of players capable of making plays, a lot of veterans over here who want to win. It will be exciting for us.”