LaMarcus Aldridge Damian Lillard Nicolas Batum Robin Lopez Wesley Matthews Arron Afflalo
When Dorell Wright joined the Portland Trail Blazers in 2013, he was expected to upgrade a historically bad bench as an affordable small forward/stretch power forward. His job description was hitting the corner 3-pointer and providing veteran leadership while doing it.
After the 2013-14 season, Wright was asked how his first year as a Blazer went.
"For me, it was a success as far as being able to contribute on a winning team, but I wasn't satisfied nor happy with my play overall. I feel like I took a few steps back from previous years. It was a season of ups and downs for me. A lot of it had to do with being comfortable in my role in limited time. Going into this summer, my focus is getting better and becoming a lot more efficient. Next season when I get in the game, I want to be as efficient as I can be. It's a big summer for me."
Despite his vow, Wright had another rocky season this year, struggling from the field, earning limited minutes, and finally breaking his hand on April 1st against the Los Angeles Clippers.
On the surface, Wright put up virtually identical numbers compared to last season, as seen here
While he improved his 3-point shooting considerably, Wright's shooting from inside the arc led to a second straight season with a field goal percentage below 38%. Wright shot 28% from 10-15 feet, and a positively atrocious 14% from 16 feet to the 3 point line. Thankfully, attempts from these zones only accounted for 14% of his total shots.
More troubling, Wright's 3 point percentage from the corners, where he often camps out as a stretch 4, fell for the fourth straight season, slipping to 36%. That's not a terrible number in a vacuum, but he shot 42% on corner threes in 2010-11. Plus he was brought in is specifically to hit those shots.
Though he struggled overall, Wright's hidden value came from his ability to pick up multiple consecutive DNP's, walk into a game cold, and give the team what they expected from a "3 and D" bench player. Adjusting to inconsistent minutes isn't easy but Wright never seemed out of sorts or cavalier even though he appeared in only 48 games at 12 minutes per.
Aside from a rough patch in March, Wright increased his scoring productivity every month, blooming as minutes came more consistently. He showed signs of life as a defensive rebounder and even started to get to the rim effectively. He even picked an opportune time to break out of that March slump, averaging 8.5 points over the last 6 games of the month. His best game of the season was a 15 point, 5 rebound, and 2 assist performance on March 25th against the Utah Jazz. The Blazers had lost 5 games in a row and were trailing after 3 quarters when Wright spoke up in the huddle and told the players that they all needed to settle down and execute. He then let his play do the talking in the 4th quarter with back-to-back clutch 3's to help solidify the comeback.
The intangibles of vocal leadership are immeasurable but significant. The Blazers have had excellent chemistry over the last two seasons, and Wright's presence has been a big part of that. When Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles tendon, Wright stepped up and helped right a rapidly sinking ship, if only for a short time.
Just as he was starting to hit his stride, Wright became the fourth and final Blazer to suffer a serious hand injury this season, breaking the 4th metacarpal of his left hand during the aforementioned game against the Clippers. Replays didn't show any obvious impact, just Wright tangling with DeAndre Jordan as they rolled to the basket, then wincing in pain and grabbing his hand.
Though he said he would try to play through the pain if the doctors would let him, Wright was done for the season and would not see the court in Portland's first round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Would Wright have made a difference in the playoffs? Maybe, though it certainly wouldn't have been enough to change the course of the series. He could have pulled Zach Randolph out of the key on defense but would have been over-matched in the paint on the other end. Wright's absence might have been a blessing in disguise, since Meyers Leonard took the bulk of the backup power forward minutes, stretching the floor while still showing he was able to check Randolph and/or Marc Gasol.
Leonard's growth will force Wright to think carefully about his role with this team should he hope to return tnext season. Barring catastrophe, the younger, taller, and suddenly-sweet-shooting Leonard makes a more enticing option at reserve power forward. Unless the Blazers believe he can be the first small forward off the bench, Wright would continue to rack up DNP's.
Wright was paid $3.1 million last season. The Blazers might not be willing to invest that amount of money again for the production he's shown so far. If Wright is truly interested in being a Blazer, he might have to accept the veteran's minimum, continuing to act as a peer leader on the team while staying ready in case his number gets called. Otherwise, expect him to pursue an opportunity to earn more playing time with another team.