Free agency comes at you fast. In a somewhat unexpected move less than twenty-four hours into the free agency period, the Grizzlies inked Brandan Wright to a three year, $18 million deal. It's a terrific signing from a value perspective. When the cap increases significantly after next season, this deal will look even better than it does currently. Not only is this deal a winner for the Grizzlies from a value standpoint, but it's also great that they are adding a player to the roster who possesses an offensive skill set not previously found on the roster.
It is not so much a "skill set" Wright possesses on the offensive end of the floor as it is one elite skill: diving/rolling to the rim. It is the primary reason he has been in the NBA for seven seasons, and it is why he will likely end his career having played a decade-plus in the best basketball association in the world.
Wright's fit with the Grizzlies on the offensive end has already been called into question, and maybe concern is prudent here. Perhaps he will struggle to play alongside Zach Randolph due to spacing constraints, or maybe the Grizzlies won't ever be able to quite figure out how to use him properly like some teams that have employed his services in the past.
One of the biggest knocks on Wright is also what makes him coveted by so many teams — his ability to dive to the rim. That ability is elite, but it's arguably his only offensive skill he can use regularly with success. He is thought of as a bit of a one trick pony. It's a hell of a trick though.
As Wright's shot chart aptly demonstrates, he's not going to take many shots outside the painted area. That kind of limited range and role might seem detrimental, but the fact that Wright makes so many of his attempts around the rim mitigates the potential pain of his lack of versatility.
Of course, Wright's not creating most of his shots himself. 73.8% of Wright's buckets were assisted last season, and an ungodly number of those buckets came on easy attempts created after rolling to the rim. Even if he faces a stiff contest at the rim, his elite length and gargantuan arms allow him to finish over the top of an outstretched defender.
It's easy to say Wright will simply be able roll to the rim all the time while on the floor though and quite another to think about how the Grizzlies will strategically set up those opportunities with options built in so as not to be too repetitive. With that said, here are several ways Wright's knack for diving to the basket at the perfect moment and his ability to finish once he gets there could prove to be extremely useful for the Grizzlies.
The primary way Wright will be utilized in the Grizzlies offense will likely be as the roll man in the most basic play in the entire NBA: the pick and roll. In Dallas, Devin Harris and Wright in the two man game proved a lethal combination time and again.
In the play below, there are multiple ball reversals with the Mavericks looking to attack via a quick side pick and roll. As the ball is reversed to the right wing and Harris begins to dribble towards Wright, Wright sets a great screen with a wide base and perfect angle. Setting the pick is an essential element of a good pick and roll attack, but it often gets overlooked by guys who are overeager to begin their trip toward the rim. Wright rarely sets a poor screen, as he possesses great awareness that allows him to angle his body to best cut off the man trying to fight through the pick. The tremendous angles he sets his picks with set up his roll and a clearer lane for his teammate to run beside him as well.
As Wright's defender steps over to cut off Harris' drive to the lane while Harris' man recovers, Wright dives hard to the rim. His exceptional athleticism and quickness for a big man allow him to get to the rim in a hurry, and it's why the defense is unable to recover and contest Wright's layup after Harris dumps the ball off.
Imagine Wright in the pick and roll with Mike Conley. It's easy to envision that play ending in either a Wright dunk or a patented Conley floater.
One of the more creative ways the Grizzlies could use Wright is in sets that call for stagger screens. On this play, Chandler Parsons delivers the ball to Monta Ellis on the wing. That triggers stagger screens set by Parsons and Wright. The idea of stagger screens is to create so much misdirection that the defense can't possibly cover all of the options. That's exactly what happens here.
Parsons is first to make a move as he pops to the corner after Ellis utilizes his screen. Then Ellis continues his dribble towards the middle of the floor, utilizing Wright's screen to turn the corner. As soon as that happens, Wright rolls to the rim and finishes easily at the rim after receiving an easy pass from Ellis.
This play works because Parsons' man is initially confused by the action, causing Reggie Evans to stunt towards Parsons in a weak attempt to help. This stretches the defense just enough for the mid pick and roll to have room to operate. Once Ellis lays the ball off, Evans is scrambling too much to recover to Wright and contest the shot.
Imagine this working with a Conley, Wright, and Marc Gasol combination. Conley's deceptiveness and ability to change speeds make him tremendous in the pick and roll, and having a guy that can shoot midrange jumpers like Gasol could make this look incredibly problematic for teams. Having two all-star caliber players in the play will likely take some of the attention away from Wright on the roll despite teams knowing just how deadly he can be in that situation. If the play works as planned, the defense won't stand a chance.
The next play doesn't involve Wright rolling to the rim, but it does involve a dive of sorts toward the rim. Because of Wright's limited versatility, he might often set up on the weak side baseline to give ample room for the play to develop on the strong side of the floor. That doesn't take him out of the play though. On the contrary, if the ball handler turns the corner like Harris does here, this presents Wright with an opportunity to sneakily duck into the lane behind the play. Defenders' eyes follow Harris, so Wright perfectly executes a duck-in that creates an easy bucket. Wright might be a limited offensive player, but just because he's clearly not featured in a play doesn't mean the defense can leave him alone.
In Memphis, Wright on the weak side could work a number of ways. It could work just as it is shown below, but it could also work with Wright and another big man working in tandem. Say the ball is delivered from Conley to Gasol on a roll to the rim on the strong side of the floor. The defense is likely going to be so focused on Conley and Gasol that Wright will often find himself wide open by the rim if proper help doesn't come quick enough. All it would take is a slip pass from one of the best passing big men in the NBA for the Grizzlies to have a dunk.
Another way Wright can help the Grizzlies on offense by putting his head down and heading toward the rim that will be detailed here is the easiest way Wright can be used: in transition. Wright's speed gives him a real advantage over most bigs defending him if his team happens to get out on the break. He fills his lane well, usually taking on the role of front middle man or trailer, and it's harder for his man to keep up with him with each additional long stride he takes. Head coach Dave Joerger is constantly trying to find ways to get his team easier buckets, and having a big man that can run like a deer, thus maybe enabling the Grizzlies to run a little more, won't hurt.
At this point in Wright's career, there is a clear blueprint the Grizzlies can follow to get the most out of him on offense. If they follow it, which they likely will because Joerger's a smart coach with a good staff that does its homework, it's difficult not to see Wright making a positive impact in the Bluff City.