Julian Wright: Tough on D

I like to read ESPN’s NBA rumor mill every morning for possible story angles, and I came across this fantasy article by Brian McKitish that describes New Orleans’ Julian Wright as “a lock-down defender”, touting him as a potentially good fantasy pickup. McKitish’s theory is that he will rack up lots of blocks and steals because Rasual Butler’s departure opens the door for Wright to get a big bump in playing time, and I can’t argue with that. But I was interested in whether or not Wright, coming off of just his second NBA campaign, is truly a lock-down defender in categories beyond fantasy stats.

And as it turns out, Wright really is a great defensive player despite being just 22. As a rookie in 2007-08, the Kansas alum did not post a sterling on/off-court +/- (the Hornets were actually 1.3 points/100 possessions better when he wasn’t on the floor, and his adjusted DPM was essentially the same), but his counterpart numbers were strong (he held opposing SFs to a 13.1 PER when in the game), and was one of only 14 rookies ever to post a 15.7 DRB%, 1.5 BLK%, and 2.4 STL%. So the potential was clearly there even as an NBA newbie — John Hollinger even wrote of Wright after his first season that he was “a long, active defender who looks like future stopper material […] big for a wing at 6-8 but has the quickness and leaping ability to pester much smaller players.”

Last year, Wright delivered on that promise and took a big leap forward defensively. Not only did he hold counterpart SFs to a meager 13.3 PER, but the Hornets were also a strikingly better team defensively when Wright was on the floor — to the tune of about 5 points of defensive rating, which is huge. Not only that, but his box-score contributions placed him in some strong company: along with noted tough defenders Gerald Wallace and Renaldo Balkman, Wright was one of only 3 players to have a DRB% of 16.6, a BLK% of 2.1, and a STL% of 2.5. Given that Wallace is especially similar to Wright physically and has grown into one of the premiere defenders in the NBA, I’d say Wright’s future as a stopper is very bright.

Now, Wright admittedly had a tough season in 2009 at the offensive end, scoring just 11.5 P/36 on a dreadful 47.9 TS% with almost no fouls drawn, but he performed better on offense as a rookie, so there’s hope for him yet as an all-around player. And even if his offensive game never truly develops, he’s still going to be a worthwhile starting caliber-player for years because of his outstanding defensive ability. In this case, the term “lock-down defender” was not thrown around as casually as I had first believed.

About Neil Paine

I work for Sports-Reference.com. I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on August 24, 2009, in Analysis. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. He does have one major flaw defensively – he has a tendency to play help defense too much when he’s guarding perimeter shooters, and often gets burned because of that. But I’m sure he’ll fix that eventually, and when all his other defensive contributions are so good – its easy to give him some leeway.

    I hope he gets a lot of playing time this coming season. Byron Scott often gets frustrated with Julian and buried him on the bench for the first half of last season before the Hornets injury problems forced Scott to give Wright another chance. Wright can often look lost, especially on the offensive end – never sure exactly what he should be doing. He’s best when he doesn’t have to think before acting – grabbing a board and slamming it home, catching a lob, running the break with CP, etc.

    Anyway, he’s become a fan favorite with Hornets fans (exciting to watch on the court and seems like an *incredbily* nice good-natured guy off the court) and I’m glad to see these stas. If he gets more PT, keeps up his D and improves his offense (or atleast isn’t a liability on that end), he could be very important for the Hornets in the coming seasons.

  2. I think he has potential but he still needs to work on it a lot. I guess we’ll have to see whether he gets to play more and how he performs.

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