Profiles In X-Factordom: Julian Wright

by October 31, 2008

Profiles in X-Factordom features unassuming talents whose services are imperative to their team’s success. If properly taken advantage of, an X-factor can boost a team to the next level. Now, we bring sophomore forward Julian Wight into the spotlight.

by John Krolik

Full Disclosure: This Profiles in X-Factordom (PiXFD) conflicts with its completely arbitrary rules–Julian Wright is not a major rotation player, has not shown he can be an effective player. He is essentially still a rookie in terms of total minutes played, and the Hornets are not a bubble playoff team.

But I must include Julian Wright.

For one thing, more than any non-rookie player in the League, I honestly have no clue what kind of player Julian Wright will be. None. I know he’s very talented. He seems cut out to be an undersized 4, and he likes the ball in his hands. Past that, I have no idea what heโ€™s capable of.

Maybe he’s supposed to be a Marion-esque universal solvent–incapable of making plays on his own but using his ridiculously long arms and lateral quickness to guard every position. On the offensive end, he seemingly materializes for alley-oops, cutters, and even the occasional open J and putting points on the board despite never seeming to create anything himself.

Maybe he’s a Josh Smith-esque constantly shifting polymer of seemingly infinite tensile strength, intermittently playing lock-down defense, taking over games offensively through sheer shock and awe tactics and even the occasional barrage of threes, flying down the court, and roaming as a shot-blocking force, but refusing to do any of the above with any sort of consistency. Maybe he is unwilling to commit to putting himself on the line and exposing himself to a singular pursuit. Maybe he prefers to hide behind the defenses of irony, using his unlimited skills in random flashes to seemingly satirize those who apply one of them with determination. Wright’s ball-skills and fundamental base suggest somewhat more of a willingness to compromise than Smith’s determination to make the game into a post-modern epic poem.

Maybe he’s supposed to be a Boris Diaw-like skill virtuoso trapped in the body of a power forward. Only Wright could be infused with a streak of old-fashioned willingness to mix it up with others and willingness to embrace athleticism’s raw power, like a mustang that gets 50 miles to the gallon.

Maybe he’s supposed to be a Blatche-like forward, representing rebellion against the yeoman work demanded of big men and make a case for the beauty of the big man with a series of uncanny moves facing up from the elbow, smooth-looking 20-foot jumpers, and a series of gorgeous mid-post dream shake moves with his back to the basket that make you wish forwards were judged on innovation and dramatic flair rather than rebounds and field goal percentage.

Maybe he’ll be Drew Gooden, constantly finding new and innovative ways to find mediocrity. Or maybe he’ll just suck–he’s coming off averaging 5 points and 3 rebounds. I honestly have no clue.

Reason No. 1 why Julian Wright makes PiXFD is I have no clue how to react to his game, as you can probably tell from the above words. I feel like Julian Wright should come with a reader’s guide to his box scores to inform us which baroque movement his previous game’s line was a reference to.

Reason No. 2 why Julian Wright makes PiXFD: The Rondo Dilemma. This term, which I just made up, refers to the issue of a player with very real strengths and abilities on the court with massive potential–the kind of player who would be the favored son of a team in a rebuilding phase or a bright spot on a borderline playoff team. This player finds himself on a team with very real plans to compete for a championship. Instead of being encouraged to master, develop and harness his strengths on the court, he is asked to find out how to hide his weaknesses.

The James Posey signing further complicates things and makes what I like to think of as a true ethical dilemma–was the signing of another 3/4 swingman for the kind of money that guarantees a spot in the rotation a signal that a player with no weaknesses but few top-tier skills, like Posey, is more valuable than the tortured young artist who sometimes cannot be trusted but is capable of doing seemingly anything with the basketball? Does being a championship-level team mean having a trust in your game plan so airtight that you believe all variables should be removed from play, or giving up the notion of control and putting your faith in the pure talent of your roster to guide you to salvation?

(If you’re wondering if The Rondo Dilemma’s namesake provides a path to its meaning, I’m not sure. From game-to-game, I couldn’t tell if the Celtics couldn’t possibly have won the title without Rondo or if they won it in spite of him. I imagine Rondo sitting in his hotel late at night, looking at his championship ring, and making a face like Don Draper in the last 5 minutes of every episode of Mad Men, trying to combat the nagging voice in the back of his head asking him if he really deserves all he has.)

Third and final reason Julian Wright needs to be in PiXFD: Chris Paul. Paul makes those around him better to the extent that others cannot make him better. Wright, who seems determined to make his own narrative, poses a question. Will Paul’s mastery with the ball spin Wright’s boundless abilities into effective scoring on alley-oops, well-timed slashes and open baskets? Will Wright’s strengths prove too cavalierly scattered for Paul to be able to fit them into the masterpiece he’s creating? Or will Wright steadfastly refuse to give up control and either turn the Hornet’s offense into an unpredictable and unstoppable terrifying hybrid of Paul making plays from the perimeter, and Wright making plays from the interior? Or maybe Wright will have Devin Brown take his minutes by mid-season. I have no idea.

And that seems like the right way to end an essay about Julian Wright. (Because he’s an unknowable cipher through which we hope to understand basketball but ultimately give up our quest to understand for our commitment to enjoy, not because of the bad pun.)