When the Dallas Mavericks take the floor, the natural eye wanders toward the dynamic European duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
On one end, you have the Slovenian Wonderboy dissecting defenses with ridiculous passes to set up teammates and unguardable stepback threes of his own. On the other, you have a 7-foot-3 Latvian Unicorn boasting rare athleticism for his size, throwing down emphatic dunks and denying any opponent that dares step foot in the paint.
For as much of a show as the pairing has put on, it only makes sense that those in the stands grab their popcorn and enjoy what’s in front of them. But is it fair to ask whether or not their teammates get caught watching as a fan would?
“Nah, ain’t no fan. But they’re doing a good job of doing what they do,” Mavericks guard Delon Wright told Basketball Insiders after a 131-111 win in Cleveland. “They’re playing to their abilities. They’re big-time players, so that’s what they do.”
That’s the third road win for the Mavericks on the season if you’re keeping count, and it very well could’ve been the fourth. In case you didn’t know, they had nine total all of last season, so they’re already one-third of the way there.
“We want to win everywhere, but we take the wins whenever we can get ‘em,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “Probably, we should be undefeated, but that’s the way the season has been going so far.”
This past summer, Wright requested that the Memphis Grizzlies trade him, to which the organization obliged.
After spending the first three-and-a-half years of his career with the Toronto Raptors and a quarter of the season in The GrindHouse following a deadline deal, he wanted to come to Dallas, joining an upstart core with a healthy mixture of young veterans and on-the-rise talent. Through seven games, it’s easy to see why.
According to Cleaning The Glass, when Wright is on the floor, the Mavs are scoring 116 points per 100 possessions. He’s assumed combo guard duties running the offense at times, but he’s also spent time away from the ball where he’s made teams pay. Compared to players who have his average minute load — and the rest of his teammates in Dallas — his production is among the highest while his usage is the very lowest.
Efficiency is the name of the game, and Wright is abiding by that. On the season, he has taken exactly one mid-range shot, while the rest have come in the restricted area or beyond the arc. His 68.6 true shooting percentage is among the league leaders in the Association.
Wright’s balance in how he’s gotten his own is impressive. Thus far in transition, his 1.69 points per possession average ranks in the 95th percentile (min. 2 possessions). He’s 5-for-6 on catch-shoot threes, most of which have come above the break.
He’s adept at making the correct play for the team, whether that’s via the score or the pass in read-and-react situations. On drives, he’s dishing to cutters and those on the perimeter. In pick-and-roll scenarios, he’s thrived with the ball in his hands. Being a creator is his forte, as is being aggressive without turning it over.
Arguably the most redeeming quality Wright has in his skill set, though, is his defensive prowess. Using advanced box score data through NBA.com, his opponents have shot a paltry 37.5 percent when matched up against him (min. 1 minute total). These assignments included Jrue Holiday (0-for-2) and an always high-motored Will Barton, who didn’t even get a shot attempt off on him while he was on the floor.
The job Wright did to help secure a Mavericks victory in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago received legendary praise from head coach Rick Carlisle.
“We haven’t seen defense like that since Jason Kidd,” Carlisle said postgame in NOLA.
“That’s cool to be mentioned with him,” Wright told Basketball Insiders a week later. “Yeah, I just try to do my role, whether that’s to play defense or playmaking.”
If there’s an aspect about Dallas this season that is sure to throw the opposition off, it’s the constant tinkering of lineups. Carlisle has thrown out five different starting units in seven games already. Still, no matter where Wright has been inserted, the positive results have certainly outweighed the negative ones.
Maybe the most intriguing of these combinations are the three-guard sets. Minimum 35 minutes of court-time shared together, the trio of Wright, Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. is the top net-rated lineup at plus-34.2. Substitute Doncic for Brunson and there’s a *slight* drop-off, but another outstanding net rating nonetheless.
As estimated by Basketball Reference, Wright has spent one-fifth of his minutes at small forward. There’s clearly a trust between him and his fellow guards when they play alongside and off one another, which is why Carlisle has constantly gone back to it.
“I feel like we’re all interchangeable,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “So whether I’m playmaking or off the ball, I’m very comfortable.”
Wright said his preference is to make plays with the ball in his hands, but when he doesn’t have the opportunity he’ll adapt to whatever the team needs him to. When asked about areas of his game he’d like to improve, Wright stopped short of specifics and responded, “everything.”
He pays attention to the details. He does the little things. He just plays the game the way it’s meant to be played.
If his start of the season is a sign of what’s to come for himself and the Mavericks, Wright should make himself comfortable in The Big D.
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