Last summer, Blazers GM Neil Olshey was tasked with improving one of the least productive bench units in recent league history. Via trade, center Robin Lopez and forward Thomas Robinson were brought in to bolster Portland coach Terry Stotts' reserves. Olshey also signed free-agent guard Mo Williams and Dorell Wright was inked to a two-year, $6 million contract.
The general consensus at the time among many Blazers fans was that Wright was a solid value, especially at $3 million a year. Starting small forward Nicolas Batum logged 38.5 minutes a game in 2012-13, and Wright appeared ready to be a three-point threat off Portland's bench, allowing Stotts to play Batum fewer minutes going into the 2013-14 season.
Wright, who's shot 42.6 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from deep over his 10-year career, was coming off a season in which he hit almost 40 percent of his total shots and 37.4 percent of his threes in Philadelphia. In the 2010-11 season with the Golden State Warriors, Wright started all 82 games and led the NBA in three-pointers made and attempted while connecting on 37.6 percent of his outside shots.
At the time, Wright explained to CSNNW.com's Chris Haynes why he was excited to sign with the Blazers:
"It was a great opportunity to play with a good team that has great players in Damian Lillard, LaMarcus [Aldridge] and Nicolas Batum. Coach [Terry] Stotts' style of play was one of the biggest things that enticed me. They run up and down and shoot a lot of threes. It reminds me of my days in Golden State."
With 2013 offseason expectations for Wright set somewhere between "contributing role-player" and "super-sub," he delivered his worst statistical season as a pro (excluding his first two seasons in which he played a total of 159 minutes and 2008-09, when he played in only six games due to injury). In his first year with the Blazers, Wright shot just 37.4 percent overall and made a pedestrian 34.2 percent of his threes in just over 14 minutes a game, even collecting a handful of DNP-CDs as a member of what was once again one of the league's worst benches.
What went so wrong for Wright last year? Let's compare his three most productive seasons -- coincidentally, they were the three previous campaigns heading into 2013-14 -- with last season and try to figure out how he's functioned in four different offenses since 2010. We'll look at PER as a guideline for Wright's production. Although it's not a perfect stat, PER can serve as a reference point and illustrates Wright's statistical drop-off since joining the Blazers. We'll also look at what percentages of his shots were either two or three-pointers, and also whether or not they were assisted. This is helpful to see where Wright's shots have come from and how many of them he created on his own. Finally, Wright's field goal and three-point percentages are on display for reference:
|% 2-PT ATTEMPTS
|% 3-PT ATTEMPTS
|% 2-PT ASST'D
|% 2-PT NON-ASST'D
|% 3-PT ASST'D
|% 3-PT NON-ASST'D
From this table, it's pretty clear that Wright has increasingly relied more heavily on outside shooting as his career has progressed, going from 45 percent of his shots in 2010-11 taken from beyond the arc to 68 percent last season. About half to almost two-thirds of his two-point field-goal attempts have been assisted by teammates, and Wright is clearly a catch-and-shoot three-point specialist, never shooting more than 5.7 percent of his threes off the dribble since 2010.
Given Wright's skillset and proclivity to attempt mostly assisted three-pointers, you'd have to figure he could find those kinds of shots aplenty off the bench for Stotts. For the 2013-14 season, Portland launched about 25 threes a game, converting on 37.2 percent of them. Almost 82 percent of the Blazers' made three-pointers last year were of the catch-and-shoot variety.
Batum required assists on 90.3 percent of his threes and he canned 36.1 percent of his outside attempts, while guard Wesley Matthews was assisted on 94.5 percent of his threes and made 39.3 percent of them. Outside of point guard Damian Lillard -- who is known to create his own offense from deep -- most of Portland's threes came in catch-and-shoot situations, with Batum and Matthews able to cash in on solid percentages this past year. Wright, who figured to thrive in Stotts' offense, was unable to deliver the goods and finished the year hitting 34.2 percent of his outside shots.
Wright's shooting struggles last season could be chalked up to a number of factors -- getting used to a new system and new teammates, attention from opposing defenses, etc. -- but those variables are speculative in nature and conjecture at best. Instead, let's compare Wright's minutes played, field-goals attempted and three-point field-goals attempted per game over the last four seasons to see if we can draw any conclusions:
There are certainly some glaring factors that could explain Wright's poor 2013-14 outing here. First, he played the fewest minutes per game of his career (again, excluding his first two seasons and an injury-riddled 2008-09 campaign) last season and got up far fewer field-goal attempts than he had in his most successful seasons, including fewer three-pointers.
From this data, you could probably surmise that Wright is at his best when allowed to be a fairly high-volume shooter in extended minutes. Last season, Stotts gave Batum 36 minutes a game, even with the improved bench depth. When forward LaMarcus Aldridge went down with a late-season injury, Wright filled in as a stretch-four but otherwise floated in and out of the rotation all year.
With the expected improvement and expanded role of wing Will Barton next season, backup minutes at the small forward may be even harder to come by for Wright. If Robinson continues his upward trajectory and big man Joel Freeland stays healthy, backup minutes at the power forward spot will be situational at best for Wright. In short, he'll have even more competition for minutes next season, which doesn't bode well for the 10-year veteran.
Of course, Wright may have just had a bad season, an outlying year in a career that's otherwise been marked with some degree of consistency -- at least when considering his role as a three-point specialist. He may be able to bounce back next year, but the numbers show that Wright performs much better when given more minutes and shot attempts.
All hope is not lost for the 28-year-old forward, however, as guard Mo Williams -- Portland's sixth man who took over 9 shots a game in 24 minutes per outing last year -- has indicated that he'll be opting out of his contract with the Blazers and will test free-agency this summer. If Williams is not re-signed by Olshey, Stotts will have to find offense off the bench somewhere next year, and Wright could very well see his role in the offense increase. But again, consider Barton and Robinson will both be entering their third seasons and will likely command more touches. Similarly, backup guard C.J. McCollum will be entering his second season coming off a rookie year that was largely limited by injuries and could get an increase in minutes and shots off the bench. Olshey also (likely) has two open roster spots to fill and two exceptions to use in signing free agents, so Portland's bench will probably get another injection of talent this Summer.
Is there hope that Wright can have a bounce-back 2014-15 season? Sure -- the shots and minutes may be there for the taking, but he'll have to compete for them with a host of younger players who look to have a long-term future with the Blazers. He could also adapt to a more limited role off the bench, but in seasons past, his production has been tied to the amount of game time he receives.
If history is any indication, a squeeze on Wright's minutes and shot attempts would likely prevent him from being the 37.1 percent three-point shooter he was the three seasons prior to signing with the Blazers. Still, there are plenty of catch-and-shoot threes to be found in Stotts' offense, and if Wright can buck his career trends and convert more on fewer attempts next season, he'll be a valuable member of Portland's rotation.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter