Julian Wright vs the Conservatism of Byron Scott
Julian Wright had a bit of a breakout game on Saturday against the Thunder – something every Hornets fan has rather desperately wanted to see all season. I can’t express the joy I felt watching Paul run a break multiple times that game with players filling both wings – and not only did Wright and Butler fill the wings, they frequently outran our fast-breaking point guard. It was a sight to warm the heart.
However, although I loved every minute of that game, I’m trying to curb my enthusiasm for several reasons.
- First, it was one game, against the bottom-feeding Thunder, and Julian Wright was guarding Damien Wilkins. Who? Exactly.
- Second, despite lots of blame being shifted to Byron Scott for Julian not having a good game before this, I’d like to point out that Scott hasn’t been responsible for the excruciating 16.5% turnover rate Julian posts on the offensive end. Scott is also not the one who makes Julian turn down open shots to dribble into traffic or forget that when he’s guarding a shooter in the corner, he shouldn’t watch the ball and fade into the paint, leaving his guy wide open. Wright has had chances this season. When trying to determine a rotation, Scott always gives his players a set of games to hang/prove themselves. If they play well, he keeps them in the rotation, if not he tries something else. If he still doesn’t find a good fit, he comes back about a month later and tries again. Julian was given a twelve game stretch in November/December and a ten game stretch in January/February. Neither time did Julian light the world on fire. Sure, he wasn’t playing with the starters – but that doesn’t mean he should be terrible either, and he was terrible. Before Friday, he had posted a PER of 11 over the course of the season – a decline of 4 points from last year to well below average, and mostly that was based on his refusal to take shots(lowest usage rate on the team) and the aforementioned turnovers. Yeah – he’s got the talent, but he hadn’t done much with it in the minutes he’d gotten.
- Third, Julian is a small forward. He’s not strong enough to play Power Forward, and he’s not a good enough ball handler to play shooting guard. ((Yes, I know everyone from here to Kansas says he’s a great ball handler, but he’s not. He regularly loses control of the ball doing simple maneuvers like accelerating in the open floor. In Saturday’s game he made beautiful moves, but twice had to go back to get the ball and three times almost lost it. So he’s not a shooting guard.)) The problem is Peja Stojakovic and James Posey are also small forwards. Neither have the footspeed to be regular shooting guards, and neither the strength to be real power forwards.
While the first two items are important, that last item is what Julian will really struggle to overcome, because Byron Scott is a conservative coach. He values consistency above almost all else, and a player who can’t produce at a consistent level will not get minutes from him. Julian is not consistent. James Posey and Peja Stojakovic are consistent. Their defense will be about the same from game to game, their offensive output may change as it does for all players, but the shots they take and usually make will not. He knows their sweet spots on the floor. What is Julian’s sweet spot on the floor? What go-to play can Byron run that will consistently generate a shot that Julian can hit? It’s hard to say right now.
When faced with three players of that sort, Byron Scott typically goes with the known quantities. The rosters of teams that Scott has coached are littered with consistent veterans that got significant minutes: Marc Jackson, Aaron Williams, Anthony Johnson, Bobby Jackson and Desmond Mason to name a few. Rasual Butler is one of those players as well. Two years ago, the Hornets went into the off-season with Butler, Kirk Snyder and JR Smith on the roster at the wing. JR Smith and Snyder were sent packing, and Butler resigned for three years. The reason Byron Scott gave at the time for Rasual’s signing? He knew what Butler would give him.
Now, there is little question that dependable players are a requirement for team success.(Tim Duncan anyone?) A coach has to know what a player is capable of doing nightly in order to put them in a position for success. Scott understands that and is actually quite good at putting that sort of player in positions to succeed. He can run a veteran team. However, that is also Scott’s glaring weakness. Those dependable players may be consistent, but their ceilings are no higher than those you’d find in a Hobbit’s home.
JR Smith, Kirk Snyder, Brandon Bass, and now Julian Wright? Those players all have the tools to be much more than dependable yet minor role-players. Their fundamentals, however, were terrible when they joined the Hornets – and as a result their consistency was awful. JR Smith was the antithesis of what Byron wanted in a player – capable of going for 20 points one night and 2 the next – and Byron could never be sure what sort of shots JR would be taking. So JR was shipped out.
So here we are again, with an exceptional athelete in Julian Wright who also is inconsistent as hell. Even during his big Friday game, I counted no less than eight times when either Paul, Chandler or West got in Julian’s ear, barking at him about some mistake he had made. He’s one of those players that need minutes to develop. Will Byron Scott give him the minutes he needs to reach that consistency?
I doubt it will come this year. I’d love to be proved wrong, or even see it happen next year, but as long as Peja and Posey are available, I’m not holding my breath.