Zachariah Roberts is a basketball connoisseur of sorts and runs AllOutPress in his spare time. If you wish to see more than just his analytical musings of the game, then feel free to watch him ramble on Twitter @TheZRoberts.
After the 2011 season, the Dallas Mavericks elected to let Tyson Chandler walk. He was a key cog in Dallas’ championship run, but was cut loose for the sake of cost effectiveness. His presence was sorely missed in the 2012-13 season; Chandler moved to New York and subsequently won the Defensive Player of the Year Award and remained an effective offensive force, all while Dallas struggled to find stability with its own center rotation.
But the Mavs did an excellent job of finding an economical — if incomplete — replacement for Chandler in Brandan Wright. Wright is currently making less than a million dollars for his services for the entire season, yet he ranks fourth in the league in offensive PPP (points per play) at 1.21 on 54 opportunities while shooting an astonishing 64.8 percent from the floor, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And, while this is all drawn from a small sample size, one can point to last year’s production of 1.18 PPP on 293 opportunities as evidence that this isn’t merely a fluke.
Wright, like Chandler, isn’t the beneficiary of set calls or designed play action. Less than 10 percent of Chandler’s scoring attempts came out of isolation or off of post-ups in the 2010-11 season, and the same goes for Wright this season. Pick-and-roll situations are the most organized approach at getting these two players shots, and they both go about navigating those sequences in a different manner.
You can see here that after Chandler sets the screen he immediately runs straight to the basket, even when he slips the screen. This often led to Chandler getting an alley-oop for a dunk, or enables him to catch and go straight up for a dunk.
Wright, on the other hand, has a slight delay on his roll. This might be because he has a smaller frame than Chandler (making it tougher to release from the screen) or because he is trying to make sure he makes solid contact, but either way it often makes him a trailer for the ball handler and he catches the ball on the way to the basket as opposed to at the basket.
Wright’s other primary source of scoring opportunities is off of cuts. Thus far this season, Wright is producing 1.93 PPP on cuts and shooting 92.9 percent on those opportunities. The impressive part of this is that not all of Wright’s cuts are leading to dunks or layups. This is also a downside in that his effectiveness is sure to drop. But having the ability to take and make close-range jump shots and runners allows the Mavericks to space the floor and leaves the rim open to attack with a safety valve.
Chandler was also effective in his time in Dallas off of cuts, but like pick-and-roll situations, he goes about it in a different manner than Wright. Where Wright often floats around the basket, Chandler is more precise, staying close to the rim at all times and making sure to get to the open area of the floor.
Staying this close to the basket has also helped Chandler in another regard: offensive rebounding. Wright scores well after cleaning the offensive glass, but those possessions only register as 9.1 percent of his scoring situations, while Chandler had a whopping 19 percent of his scoring chances created via offensive boards during his time in Dallas.
As you can see here (courtesy of Basketball-Reference), Chandler produces much better as a rebounder, and gets to the free throw line far more often than Wright currently does on a per-minute basis:
And a per-possession basis:
A big reason for this is the sheer size of the players. Wright just doesn’t have the girth that Chandler does, and isn’t able to fight through the contact as well as Chandler does on his bee-line to the rim. Thus he has fewer opportunities from which to collect boards or even attempt shots around the basket, all because his earlier movement was derailed by physical defenders.
Still, Wright is flourishing in an expanded role for the Mavs offensively. His ability to shoot from further out means that he plays differently from Chandler, but it’s to the Mavericks’ benefit that he can score efficiently in spots without being force-fed the ball.