I won’t admonish you if you’ve never heard of or seen Brandan Wright. That would be unfair to you, the fan. No, he’s not one of the throwaway players from last year’s 28-man squad, but if you don’t recognize him it’s because he played only 12 games for a total of 212 minutes.
The gangly Nashville native was meant to allow Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph a needed minutes reprieve after the duo logged an inordinate amount of minutes the preceding seasons. His skill set limited but extremely effective, Wright seemed to be a perfect match for Mike Conley in the pick and roll. Bouncy, long, and mobile, Wright could dart to the rim after setting a solid screen awaiting a Conley lob like a less developed DeAndre Jordan.
But injuries limited Wright’s action severely. At the prime age of 28, however, Wright should still be able to recover, rehab, and rebound from an injury-riddled 2015-16 campaign to play a part in the upcoming season.
2015-16 Season Overview
Here is what Wright did per game in the dozen games he did play last season (according to Basketball Reference): He put up 6.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 17.7 minutes on 67.3 percent shooting. These numbers are suggestive of a low volume, high efficiency player who is also a good defender, especially around the rim.
Here are what Brandan Wright’s numbers look like when extrapolating his production from 17.7 minutes per game over 36 minutes instead: 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and an assist on the same percentages. Unsurprisingly, these numbers doubled with a doubling of Wright’s minutes; they tell us the same story as the above.
Here are Brandan Wright’s advanced metrics from last season: 18.3 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), .147 Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48), 0.9 Box Plus/Minus (BPM), and a True Shooting Percentage (TS%) of 66.3 percent. These numbers tell a different story. They say that Wright is one of the team’s most efficient and under-utilized players. He ranks tied for second (excluding Bryce Cotton who was excluded because of his too-short stint in Memphis) in PER (behind Mike Conley and tied with James Ennis), third in WS/48 (behind Jarnell Stokes and Chris Andersen), fifth in BPM (behind Ennis, Mario Chalmers, Jordan Adams, Conley, and Gasol), and first in TS%.
Wright’s own small sample size may be skewing these numbers higher than they realistically should be. But I don’t think there’s any reason to believe Wright couldn’t hit those numbers if given the minutes...well, unless he can’t remain healthy.
Wright’s role is fairly simple: come in for Randolph or Gasol and play decently enough to allow them a fair amount of rest. That means doing what he does best—rolling to the rim in the pick and roll, getting put-backs, and dunking—while also not playing the matador on defense. He just needs to be a pretty average to above average big man.
However, don’t expect him to come in and play 20-25 minutes per night off the bat. In addition to serving as a replacement for the starting front court, Wright needs to pay attention to maintaining his health. He has been cleared to participate fully in training camp, but last December he underwent microscopic knee surgery in his right knee, then came back for four games before straining an MCL in the same knee. With a new training staff, hopefully Wright’s maladies can be spotted quicker and treated better, but Wright still needs first and foremost to take care of himself.
2016-17 Best Case Scenario
Wright fills the gap he was supposed to last year, teaming up with JaMychal Green for one of the most unexpectedly successful backup front courts in the league. He puts up averages of 10/5.5/1.3 on 65+ percent shooting while effectively guarding the paint.
2016-17 Worst Case Scenario
His right knee continues to be an issue and he plays less than 20 games again. In the games he does play, it’s obvious that his talent is being held back by his injur(y/ies).
All Wright needs to do to earn his keep in Memphis is to be a serviceable backup big. That seems like a reasonable expectation. He doesn’t have to be Darrell Arthur, and he doesn’t have to be Kosta Koufos. All he has to do is go in there and not suck, which is something I feel confident Wright will be able to do—provided he stays healthy (which is an addendum you can tack onto the end of every Grizz player’s 2016-17 preview).