How about some Wednesday Mailbag fun?
Either I'm missing some stories, or why is there no mention of Dorell Wright by the Blazer media or players? While he is on the team, it seems like he isn't part of the team. Am I off here?
Zoinks! Like, you figured out the conspiracy, Shaggy! And we would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids.
Seriously, I don't think there's a big mystery to this. We just don't know what to do with Dorell Wright. He's the first free agent to spend a second season with the team in the Neil Olshey era. We're not used to that.
Statistically, Wright is right down the middle. Per minute he ranks 10th on the team in points, 8th in rebounds. He ranks 7th in offensive and defensive rating, 7th in offensive win shares, 8th in defensive win shares. He skews low in field goal percentage, 11th on the team, but makes up for it with a 5th-place finish in true shooting percentage. Those are his extremes. He's 7th in three-point percentage, 7th in minutes played, 7th in minutes per game...if his stat box were a three-reel slot machine you'd be hitting the 7-7-7 jackpot every second spin. Writing about good and bad are easy. Writing about the center of the bell curve isn't nearly as fun.
Wright plays behind Nicolas Batum. Plenty of players get mentioned in trade rumors but Batum isn't that high on the list. Wright can't really slide down to shooting guard comfortably when Will Barton and C.J. McCollum are waiting in the wings. Barton is a sexier choice when debating reserve small forwards too.
Wright's contract expires in a year. With 92,000 more important decisions ahead of him, he'll probably be an afterthought in re-signing discussions. If things go right he'll be replaced by a younger player. If things go wrong he might not make enough of a difference to keep.
Add it all together and you have a player who's doing what he's supposed to and doing it reasonably well. Wright gives the Blazers a little shooting, a little defense and no trouble. Guys who keep their nose to the grindstone and fill their job description don't tend to get noticed. If Wright does get noticed over the long run, chances are something went wrong. Thus, he gets no ink.
That said, every team needs its Dorell Wright types. The Blazers are no exception. He's an example, a safety valve, and his 3-D approach fits the team concept. Whether you notice him or not, Wright is a great guy to have in your back pocket, ready to pull out at a moment's notice. If he played in San Antonio or alongside LeBron James, people would be nodding and calling him a money-move player. Portland's infrastructure doesn't let him fill an obvious role like more established teams would, but the Blazers should still be pretty happy to have him.
I think that offensively the Blazers already have the pieces needed to get to the finals. However, something must be done about their matador-type defense. How would you turn their defense into a finals-type defense without hurting their fine offense?
We went over this plenty last season but we've picked up new readers since then, so let's recap.
The Blazers actually do pretty well in the areas they want to do well in. They don't like giving up easy buckets or extra points. They basically want to out-stat you, making each of their shots average more points than each of yours. They'll give up a two-pointer as long as it's the right two-pointer. They don't like giving up threes, extra points on free throws, or preventable points. Other than that, you get to take your shot.
Portland ended up 12th in the league in three-point percentage allowed last season. They were 10th in free throws allowed per game, 17th in fast break points allowed per game. There's room for improvement but those numbers aren't awful. Their 7th-place finish in true shooting percentage allowed pretty much tells the story. They're not letting the opponent produce points easily.
The Blazers fell down defending the paint, finishing 28th in the league in points in the paint allowed. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers fared worse. But this is the poison they picked. They could commit long, rangy defenders to the middle, helping out Robin Lopez. The cost would be leaving the arc uncovered. So far they've gone with the theory that giving up 2 inside pretty often is better than giving up wide open shots outside.
It'd be nice if the Blazers didn't have to pick their poison at all but it's a function of personnel. Lopez is fine watching the lane but he's neither intimidating nor a game-transforming defender. Portland's starting shooting guard and forwards trade on size and skill, not quickness. They're great if you put them on a spot or assign them to a man. They won't be darting in and out like waterbugs. The Blazers are more brick wall than slashing dagger on defense. Brick walls are effective but you can only set them up in one place.
Absent a radical change in personnel, the Blazers might be able to adjust where they place the wall but they're not going to extend its range much. They do need to get better in the paint even if it ends up costing them a few more open shots from range. They might be able to squeeze out a couple more defensive rebounds. Both of those would argue towards shading inside, maybe a bit more rotating. But it'll amount to trading one thing for another, not fixing everything. Portland will still depend on offense to win games. They'll try to keep the "D" steady enough to make that job easier most nights but they won't be challenging the Pacers on that end of the floor anytime soon.
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