Christmas may have come early for the Dallas Mavericks, with them receiving a six-foot-ten present of energy in the form of Brandon Wright.
And not a moment too soon, in their minds. Going into Wednesday’s game against Memphis, the Maverics still stand at just a few games over .500 at 14-10, which currently hast them holding the eighth spot in the West and seven games behind front-running San Antonio.
It’s essentially the same story as before: The Mavs have played decently. But decent is not good enough in the Western Conference. They might be a top four team in the East, but they remain barely in the playoff window in their actual conference.
Still, Dallas has managed to tread water and stay in that window, despite playing the most back-to-backs of anyone in the league for the first six weeks or so, along with the same issue as last year – injuries.
But the latter of those is being solved much sooner than last year, and fortunately never was as serious. While the Mavs spent the first two months of 2012-13 without Dirk Nowitzki and at least another month with him struggling to get back into shape, they have simply had to deal with the absence of Wright and Devin Harris. Important pieces for sure, but not devastating losses.
However, it was this past Saturday that they saw how big one of those can be when Wright finally got on the court this year
The result: Nineteen points in 19 minutes, allowing Dallas to beat Milwaukee rather easily despite Dirk and Coach Carlisle being out with illnesses.
I said even during the off-season that Wright would be one of the most important pieces for the Mavericks, perhaps giving them what they have sorely lacked for the last two years on the inside.
The center position has evolved over the past few years for sure. The days of Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon are simply no longer in a time when zone defenses combined with the shot clock greatly reduce a center’s offensive effectiveness. This has put even more of a premium on the big man who simply provides defense and energy.
Unfortunately, that is a lot harder to find that one would like. When big men finally reach the NBA level, many are unable to accept that they simply can’t dominate at this level like they may have in high school or even college (although the dominance of centers in college was dropping before it was in the pros). Too often then, they become unmotivated and lackluster, like Brendan Heywood or Shawn Bradley – or Samuel Dalembert.
That more than anything is why Mavs fans can be disappointed their team could not hold on to Tyson Chandler, who, despite concerns for much of his career, became the emotional spark and defensive presence that Dallas had needed for so long.
But Wright could be just the guy the Mavs need to fill that hole in the middle, if he gets the minutes and proves he can give that effort on a consistent basis.
The next two weeks could be crucial to seeing how well this Mavericks team can really play, even as they still await Harris’ return. With Dalembert likely to be in Carlisle’s doghouse for some time, it’s Wright and Dejuan Blair’s job to hold the middle for Dallas now.
Whether or not they can do it is an unknown factor for sure. But it’s still a much better prospect than what they had a year ago.