In what might have been the biggest road test of his young college career so far, Brandan Wright
helped carry his extremely talented North Carolina squad to an important victory over arch-rival Duke at Cameron Indoor. In only 24 minutes of action, Wright led the Tar Heels in scoring with 19 points and 9 rebounds, coming up with quite a few important baskets in key moments. Hes been steadily improving all season long despite not having nearly as many plays called for him as his frontcourt mate Tyler Hansbrough
, but has regardless responded by producing consistently and efficiently and shooting over 64% from the field. Against Duke, Wright again showed his ever-expanding arsenal of moves in the post, scoring effortlessly from the field and doing an excellent job keeping his team in the game.
When considering what makes Wright such an intriguing NBA draft prospect, you have to start with his physical attributes. A solid 6-10 with a gigantic 7-4 ½ inch wingspan, he is an incredibly smooth guy for someone his size. He runs the court fluidly and effortlessly, and has a tremendous burst of initial quickness that most college big men just have no idea how to deal with.
More than just an athletic marvel, though, Wright also has excellent instincts despite his obvious lack of experience, being capable of executing a handful of moves that automatically separate him from nearly every other big man prospect in the country. His feet are incredibly quick, enabling him to hedge screens on the perimeter or display superb response time reacting defensively in the post. This allows him to cover an unnatural amount of ground in very short spans. That, combined with his tremendous length makes him a potential terror down the road on the defensive end, and even despite his quite obvious rawness on this end of the floor, he still blocks nearly 2 shots per game just purely off his physical gifts and instincts.
Offensively, Wright has become an absolute rock for UNC in the mid to low post this season. His outstanding hands allow him to catch nearly anything that is thrown his way, making him an incredibly reliable threat to convert easy baskets while running the floor in transition (stride for stride with UNCs speedsters) or cutting to the basket off a pick and roll play. This is how he scores most of his points at the moment, but as Coach Roy Williams begins to trust his superbly talented freshman more and more, hes getting more plays called for him and is being allowed to show off the finesse part of his game.
Wright lacks the upper body strength to back defenders down in the post with his back to the basket, but his incredible quickness gives him the opportunity to surprise his man with a quick spin towards the basket to get off a beautiful jump-hook shot. A natural lefty, he releases this lethal jump-hook shot with either hand and from an extremely high point of release, making it nearly unblockable considering how quickly he sets up and gets it off. Wright has been nearly automatic for Carolina all season long close to the basket, showing phenomenal touch off the glass and great awareness of where he is on the floor. Lately, hes been mixing in a very effective one dribble pull-up shot from 8-12 feet that he looks very confident in and gives him just another weapon to go to when facing the basket.
Beyond 12 feet is where Wrights range appears to abruptly end, though, shooting just 56% from the free throw line due to his extremely ugly looking shooting mechanics-- elbow flailing out to the side and everything. Considering his slender frame, which can surely take more weight, but might always remain on the lanky side, it will be important for him to develop a real skill-set facing the basket from the perimeter. His long arms make it difficult for him to handle the ball in tight, half-court situations, and his terrible shooting mechanics need serious work before hell be considered any type of threat to stretch the defense.
The biggest beef we have with Wright, though, has more to do with his lackadaisical approach to the game. He seems like a pretty laid back kid by nature, not showing too much fire or emotion, but that also shows up in his inconsistent focus and intensity level at times as well. He certainly doesnt go after every rebound with the kind of passion the great glass-cleaners in the NBA do, and he can be quite tentative at times making rotations within the team defense. Some scouts we talked to have already begun to question his heartbeat to a certain extent, but its hard to tell how much of that has to do with his youth and secondary role on North Carolina and how much is a real reason for concern. Wright could help dispel those notions immediately by hitting the glass with more enthusiasm and being more of a beast on both ends of the floor. Regardless, hes having a phenomenal freshman season and will likely continue to improve and see his role expand as we move into the NCAA tournament.