It's that time of year for us at Bright Side of the Sun to hand out our final grades to the Phoenix Suns following a disappointing 2014/15 campaign. We start with Brandan Wright, who will be heading into unrestricted free agency.
The 2014/15 Phoenix Suns offered very little in the way of reliability, and have created a myriad of polarizing questions. Is Eric Bledsoe worth his contract? Is Alex Len destined for greatness or injury-plagued mediocrity? Will Archie Goodwin ever have a breakout season? Is Ryan McDonough a one-hit wonder? What exactly happened on deadline day?
Ask ten people those questions and you might get ten different answers per person. However, there are two things I think everyone can agree on.
Wright was acquired from the Celtics (who acquired him from Dallas via the Rajon Rondo trade) on January 9, as the Suns were looking to shore up their frontcourt in light of the regression of Miles Plumlee. In exchange, Boston received a top-12 protected first-rounder that was obtained from Minnesota during the Robin Lopez trade of 2012 (the Suns also sent out Hakim Warrick and received Wesley Johnson).
Also worth noting is that the Minnesota pick will become two second-rounders by the time of the 2017 draft, which is the likeliest scenario unless the Wolves hit an unexpected acceleration in their current rebuilding period.
All this is to say, the Wright trade was what you call one of them "no-brainers".
On an enigmatic team characterized by baffling inconsistency and questionable behavior, the quiet Wright could be always be counted on to deliver his trademark mixture of sneaky scoring, heady defense and highlight-reel alley-oop crushes. The insane efficiency he became known for during his years as a Maverick dropped a bit with increased minutes in Phoenix, but he was one of the few positive takeaways from the moribund post-trade Suns.
Wright notched 11.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2 blocks per 36 minutes. His advanced numbers contribute a 17.8 PER with a .600 TS%. Ranked among his teammates (including those departed at the deadline fiasco) he comes in at 13th in points per 36, behind the likes of Tyler Ennis and Marcus Thornton.
On the contrary, he comes in with the third highest PER, only bested by Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, and boasts the highest TS% of anyone to suit up for the Suns this season, though he is hardly the type to boast at all. His 12.4 Total Rebounding Rate is only topped among regular frontcourt players by Alex Len, as is his Block Percentage of 4.2 (equaled by Miles Plumlee).
Furthermore, he is the leading Phoenix Sun in the category of Win Shares Per 48 Minutes with a score of .170 (Isaiah Thomas was the runner-up at .162), despite a minuscule Usage Percentage of 12.8. Only Reggie Bullock and Plumlee scored lower in the USG% category, and the likes of Shavlik Randoph, Anthony Tolliver and A.J. Price actually used more possessions than did Wright.
To recap, Wright held true to his claim as an uber-efficient big man despite the fact that he bore more minutes per game (21.5) than he did during any season in his NBA career. His efficiency dropped from his days as a Maverick, but that should have been somewhat expected given the fact that his numbers with Dallas came alongside Dirk Nowitzki, who is probably the greatest-shooting big man the league has ever seen.
Beyond the advanced stats, Wright's value to the Suns was obvious due to his unique skillset. For a team that infamously struggled to generate assists, Wright's style of play was a godsend. He is very nimble for a 'big man', and is constantly moving to create passing lanes for his team's ball-handlers. While many big men tend to set up position on the block, Wright constantly keeps himself in an attack-minded position in which he can see both the rim and the ball-handler, and uses his lithe frame and quick hops to generate assist and scoring opportunities that otherwise would not exist.
He isn't particularly adept at creating his own shot -- 73% of his field goals were assisted -- but perhaps this epitomizes exactly what the passing-challenged Suns need. He has a number of unorthodox shots in his arsenal, from flips to hooks to shotputs to floaters, but his real magic lies in his ability to create passing lanes that any point guard worth his salt can find.
Watch the 2014/15 Phoenix Suns for one quarter and tell me they couldn't do with a few passing lanes.
On defense, he squeezes every inch of ability from his 208 pound frame. He'll always be too lightly-built to hold his own against the Gasols and Howards of the world, but he uses his sprawling length to function as a decent rim protector, at least for a second-string center. He also shows considerable instincts and is rarely caught out of position.
If by chance my words are failing you, here is his best game as a Sun that basically encompasses everything I've already said.
If Wright held true to his levels of efficiency as a Maverick, he'd be getting an A+ for sure. However, I must factor in the unfortunate fact that his tenure as a Sun produced the lowest TS% of his career. On the other hand, in this maddening season full of inconsistencies, it was rather nice to depend on at least one player to deliver what you might envision on practically every night.
Wright delivered exactly what the Suns were hoping for when they traded for him, if only at slightly less than superhero levels. He leaves very little to be desired from the backup center position, and if the Suns are looking to shoot for playoffs in 2015/16, that is a pretty important box to check.
And hey, it's pretty bitchin' to be able to say that the Suns unequivocally won this trade in light of the curious moves made at the trade deadline.
He gets a B.