Julian Wright

Note: This started out as a comment on the Game Preview, but obviously it grew.  I decided it was better off as a FanPost.

This is one of those things that you just don't see from the outside - you can't follow 30 NBA teams to the most minute detail; not and have a life/wife/widow.  But I'm just blown away by this.

Julian Wright, taken one position ahead of Al Thornton in the good and deep 2007 draft, has spent over a month mostly on the inactive list although he is perfectly healthy.  We're talking about a 21 year old freak of an athlete, and he played a total of 32 minutes in December.  Compare that to 33-year-old journeyman Sean Marks, who played 133 minutes in December.  Unconscionable.

Wright didn't get a lot of minutes last season (640 total), but that's a little more understandable for a 20 year old rookie.  When he did get burn, he looked spectacular at times, and his rookie season PER of 15.4 was outstanding for a rookie.  He shot 53% from the field, for FSM's sake! 

It all looked like it was moving along according to plan, as he had worked his way into the rotation by season's end, and he played a non-trivial 12 minutes per game in NOH's 11 playoff games, once again posting solid numbers.  I had him pegged as a major contributor for the Hornets this season.

But he's taken a place in Byron Scott's extra large doghouse - a seat previously occupied by J.R. Smith (say, couldn't the Hornets use a talented two guard right about now?) - and who knows when he'll get out.  Here's a month old post from at the Hive explaining the decision and expressing some mild displeasure.

This seems like a monumentally bad decision by Byron.  If the guy is careless and erratic, well, he is only 21.  And the simple fact is that he's going to figure it out MUCH MUCH FASTER by playing in NBA games.  You can't find 8 minutes a game for this guy?  You can't even be bothered to have him in UNIFORM!?!?!  (By the way, don't get me started on the luxury of having EVERY DAMN PERSON on your roster healthy such that last season's LOTTERY PICK is on the inactive list.  The Hornets had their injuries in 06 and 07, and apparently no one on that team is ever going to get hurt again - ever.  Doesn't seem to work that way for the Clippers.  They have one season when they are devastated by injuries and you think the odds will even out and they'll have a relatively injury-free season - only to find more devastation.) 

Is it possible that perhaps the Hornets should stop drafting teenagers - at least as long as Byron Scott is their coach?  Or maybe I should say, teenagers not named 'Chris Paul'.  This is the trap of the 'upside potential' lure.  John Hollinger likes to rail on Al Thornton for being an 'old' rookie and therefore not having as much potential for growth.  But isn't it MUCH more of a problem that 'young' rookies aren't ready, and that NBA coaches like Scott are too impatient to develop them?  From last year's draft alone, you have both of the Wright brothers (Julian and Brandan), both drafted ahead of Thornton, languishing on the bench, with their coaches talking about how they don't get it.  And the clock is ticking.  These first round pick rookie deals are 2 years guaranteed, and 2 option years.  Which means you have your first chance to give up on a player after a mere two seasons, when he's 21 (like Wright).  That's what the Clippers did with Korolev (correctly in his case - that was just a bad pick).  So isn't Bryon Scott tempted to just get rid of a guy who's taking up a roster spot, but isn't worth having in a game?  And if he can't crack the lineup at 21, can he do it at 22 or 23?  More to the point, can he develop the skills to be effective in games IF HE NEVER GETS INTO GAMES?  It's a Catch-22. 

So the team ends up paying the guy millions of dollars to sit on the bench and grow older - which John Hollinger tells me is a bad thing.  And a guy like Byron Scott can end up doing one of several things detrimental to the franchise. 

  1. He might give up completely.  See Smith, J.R.  (BTW, I'm not a huge fan of J.R. Smith, but Byron threw him away in the Tyson Chandler trade.  Clearly the Bulls didn't want him, since they turned around and traded him to the Nuggets for a second round pick.  Smith would have had trade value, if Scott hadn't ruined that trade value by not playing him and badmouthing him.) 
  2. He might wait so long that he develops the guy - for another team.  This happens less frequently now, but look at Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O'Neal, teenage rookies who became all stars when they left the team that drafted and developed them. 
  3. Even in cases where the player becomes a star for the team that drafted them, in Scott's approach they'll be commanding a huge salary about the time he's ready to play them.  That's very hard on your salary cap.  It's a question of ROI.  How much basketball are you getting out of these very young rookies?

Obviously the Hornets' off-season acquisition of James Posey is having an impact here.  With Stojakovic and Posey playing the small forward, there just aren't any minutes for Wright at his natural position.  That's where a poorly thought-out free agent signing can have unintended consequences.  With Peja and Posey (both 31) signed until 2011 and 2012 respectively, Wright could be a free agent before he rises above third on the depth chart.  I know that Posey won rings in Miami and Boston and he was brought in to win one in New Orleans - but is that really going to happen?  Wouldn't a star-level Julian Wright in 2010 be a more likely route to a ring than James Posey at 31, 32, 33 years old?  Posey's been great for the Hornets this season - but he may end up costing them quite a bit in terms of Julian Wright's development.

I didn't really intend to spend this much time on this subject, but I still can't get over this.  Julian Wright is spending his second season in the NBA on the inactive list.  Unbelievable.

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