Dorell Wright delivers career-best performance
By keeping the still very young and greatly improved small forward at the trade deadline, the Heat showed a surprising and welcome commitment to 2004 first round draft pick Dorell Wright. The irony is that the more he pays off that commitment with success on the court, the more difficulty it causes.
On Tuesday night, Wright scored a career-high 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including an amazing 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also had 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals. It was far and away his best ever N.B.A. game. And he did it all in just 30 minutes of floor time.
Despite coach Spoelstra’s strange (to use a kind word) player rotations, Wright has become the unquestioned best small forward on the roster. Yes, he has struggled through inconsistent play at times – a natural result of inconsistent minutes – but he is proving to be exactly what Pat Riley has been searching for.
When the Heat signed James Jones in July 2008, he was dubbed as “a perfect fit” – a player who could space the floor for Dwyane Wade with his deadly 3-point shooting. But injuries have robbed him of precious floor time (and, apparently, nobody stopped to consider the awful 5-year, $23.2 million contract that eats into the Heat’s cap space this and the following two summers).
Wright has stepped up in a big way. He is the strong perimeter defender the Heat have for so many years been searching for, with the height and quickness to guard both guard and forward positions. He has shown flashes of the playmaking that had head coach Erik Spoelstra utilizing the 6’9″ player at the point. He’s always been an excellent rebounder and great natural athlete. And now, after years of hard work to improve an ugly shooting stroke that used to be released from well behind his head, he is becoming the Jones-like 3-point shooter that so well complements the slashing game of close personal friend Dwyane Wade. After converting a grand total of twelve 3-pointers in 55 attempts through his first five N.B.A. seasons, Wright has knocked down 37 this season, on 41.1% shooting.
To be fair, his season numbers don’t jump off the page. Statistically speaking, his offensive production is about average. And Tuesday’s performance is, after all, just one game. But if it is any indication of what Wright could produce with extended playing time, the future looks bright for the 24-year old.
Teams have begun to take notice. Memphis offered its 2011 first round draft pick in exchange Wright’s services for the final 26 games of the season. And there are undoubtedly several other teams that will show an interest in the off-season if the unrestricted free agent to come continues to perform at a high level.
So, what is free-agent-to-be Dorell Wright worth on the open market? Given the salary restrictions of the rookie scale as well as the many bloated contracts of former contributors turned salary cap drains, it’s tough to come to any conclusions by drawing comparisons from around the league. Jamario Moon is earning $3.0 million per season in a backup role for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rasual Butler, a solid perimeter shooter whose main calling card is his defense, is earning $3.9 million in a starting role for the Los Angeles Clippers.
At the end of last season, third on the depth chart behind Jones and Moon, Wright was nothing more than a minimum contract player. This season, he is perhaps fairly valued at his $2.9 million. A salary in the $3 million range would feel reasonable to me in the first season of a new contract. But with the Heat desperately pursuing two A-list free agents in free agency, is Dorell worth the precious cap space?
One thing is clear – his stock is rising. And as it does, much like that of Jermaine O’Neal, it becomes more and more difficult to picture him in a Heat uniform beyond next season.
Now matter what ultimately happens, it is a joy to watch him healthy and performing well.