As one of their significant summer moves, the Dallas Mavericks acquired point guard Delon Wright from the Memphis Grizzlies in a sign-and-trade deal for two second round picks and the draft rights to Satnam Singh, their 2015 second round selection, who never actually played for the Mavericks and currently plays in Canada. (End of an era!) The reported value of Wright’s deal with the Mavericks is 3 years $29 million.
Before we get into the fit, let’s recap how we got here:
It has been an interesting summer, to say the least, (that’s a story for another day), in which the Mavericks misjudged the tambor with which the free agent market would move, as they watch as the majority of quality free agent targets fly off the board minutes after free agency opened on June 30th at 5 P.M. central time. After their top target, Kemba Walker, indicated that he would sign with the Boston Celtics, Dallas reportedly shifted their focus to other free agents to fill out their roster around Rookie of the Year Luka Dončić and 2018 All Star Kristaps Porzingis.
For the first six days of free agency, Dallas waited for the decision of Danny Green, who was waiting on the decision of Kawhi Leonard. Dallas hoped to pair Green, the second most accurate three point shooter in the NBA last season, with Seth Curry, the third-most accurate, who they signed to a 4-year $32 million contract. Leonard eventually shocked the NBA world by joining forces with Paul George on the Los Angeles Clippers, which led Green to spurn the Mavericks and sign across Staples Center with the Lakers on a 2-year $30 million deal. The Mavericks reportedly offered Green a 3-year $36 million contract, with the third year only partially guaranteed. (Again, we can discuss these questionable decisions later). Dallas immediately pivoted to Wright, who was a restricted free agent. Rather than prepare an expensive offer sheet, Dallas orchestrated a sign-and-trade with Memphis to allow them to acquire Wright on a more reasonable deal, by sending assets of limited consequence in return.
The Mavericks have long coveted Wright dating back to the 2015 NBA Draft in which he was selected 20th overall by the Toronto Raptors. Dallas, who had the 21st selection in 2015, would have reportedly selected Wright had he not been picked one spot earlier. Wright was traded to Memphis at the deadline in February in the deal which landed the Raptors Marc Gasol, and comes to the Mavericks with career averages of 7.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, and 2.7 apg. He averaged career highs of 12.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 5.3 apg in 26 games for the Grizzlies last season. This was a result of him playing a career-high 30.8 minutes per game, which was up from the 18.8 he was averaging with Toronto prior to the trade. During his stint with the Grizzlies, Wright posted three triple-doubles, including two consecutive against the Mavericks late in the season. In his short time with the team, Wright became third all time in Memphis Grizzlies franchise history for most triple-doubles. Wright’s per-36 minutes stats from the past three seasons, all show him as a player who can average over 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, giving the Mavericks another player who can impact the game in more than just one way.
Wright, at 6’ 5”, possesses good size for a point guard, and adds versatility to a team that has long employed undersized point guards. To put things in perspective, the average height of the Mavericks point guards last season, (not counting Dončić) was 6’ 2”. Adding Wright to their roster allows the Mavericks to move closer towards their goal of playing positionless basketball, now more than just a buzzword in the modern NBA. Those who have watched the team in recent years, have become accustomed to seeing the Mavericks’ point guards overmatched defensively, trying valiantly to stop larger opponents, to no avail. Wright gives the Mavericks backcourt the ability and confidence to switch more freely on defense, without fear of a potential mismatch. While Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle isn’t ready to commit to a full time starting lineup just yet, it’s safe to assume that Wright will start a significant amount of games for Dallas. In the games where Wright is a starter, he will be the shortest player in the starting lineup, representing a key shift from the philosophy in years past. Wright’s 6’ 7” wingspan should also help him generate steals on defense, as he averaged just under 2 steals per game per 36 minutes with Memphis last season. As discussed earlier, Wright has already proven to be a good rebounding guard, yielding the potential for he and Dončić to form one of the more effective rebounding backcourts in the NBA.
On offense, Wright brings a polished, smooth game to the floor. Wright possesses good speed, which allows him to be an effective player to lead transition possessions, as he is skilled at creatively finishing near the basket, or using his vision to find the high-fliers on the floor. Wright should hopefully allow the Mavericks to play at a faster pace, something which they have not done in the last few seasons, due to the relative lack of talent on the roster. Wright isn’t an explosive leaper, but he uses his length and quickness to his advantage, possessing mature ball handling skills, allowing him to snake through defenses and get to the rim. Once close to the basket, Wright is a skilled finisher in the lane, converting on 58% of his shots within 5 feet of the basket (stats.NBA.com). This should compliment Dončić, who was also a strong finisher in the paint, converting on 59% of such field goals on almost one more attempt per game than Wright had. Adding Wright to the improved Mavericks floor spacing, thanks to Kristaps Porzingis, should help Dallas convert more “easy” shots; in 2018-19, they ranked in the bottom half of the NBA in field goal percentage within five feet of the basket. Wright isn’t an elite passer like Dončić is, but like Dončić, his size allows him to see over defenses and make good reads, finding open shooters. This should hopefully allow the Mavericks to run more off-ball action with their top shooters such as Justin Jackson and Seth Curry. We know Dončić is going to find ways to get his teammates good looks, that’s his game. But if Wright averages around 5 assists per game next season, then you know the Mavs are knocking down their shots.
The main concern with Wright’s offensive game is his shooting. Dating back to college, it’s never been a strength for him, as his career average on three pointers is only 33%. He shot a frigid 26.5% during his stint with Memphis last season. His best shooting season came with the Raptors in 2017-18, where he shot a career-high 46.5% from the floor, which included a 36.6% rate from behind the three point line. However, a more detailed look of that season shows that the three pointer doesn’t figure to be a major part of his game, as he averaged less than one made three pointer per game, finishing the season with 153 made threes. Last season, his three point shooting was a similar story, however, he did make a career-high 168 threes between his time in Toronto and Memphis. At age 27, Wright isn’t going to significantly alter his game; as someone who spent one year in junior college, who then was a four-year player at the University of Utah, he is more or less set in his ways. Wright should certainly benefit from what figures to be more open offensive spacing from the Mavericks, however it is probably unrealistic to expect he’s more than a slightly-below-average (at best) three point shooter. Having Wright as a ball handler could motivate the Mavericks to try and use him in pick-and-roll situations where Dončić is the screener, forcing defenses to choose between staying with Wright as he drives the lane for the finish, or closing out on Dončić who is a much better three point shooter, and possesses the ability to further break down the defense off the dribble.
After it was reported that the Mavericks acquired Delon Wright using roughly $9 million of their $21.3 million trade exception, it became clear that he represented their significant off-season acquisition. While he probably isn’t what most Mavericks fans were expecting after they had heard months of optimistic comments about the team’s financial flexibility from the Mavericks front office members, Wright is still a sold addition to a team that looks to build on its young core of Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis. Does Wright represent an ascension to playoff-lock? Not at all, but they didn’t overpay for Wright, who is a player they had a history of liking, and at worst that he has a reasonable contract that could be used in a trade, should the right deal come around. The Mavericks obviously have higher hopes for Wright’s impact, and it’s certainly not misguided; his production doesn’t lie. The Mavericks will definitely be competitive this season, though likely won’t have enough to clinch a playoff spot in a historically-loaded Western Conference. However, this season will be about finding what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to surrounding Porzingis and Dončić with talent. Wright represents the next step in this process– one the Mavericks hope doesn’t take very long.