Over the last few months, I’ve had to write dozens of basketball cards for every player in last year’s NBA Draft, as part of my writing gig with Topps. Well, not part of, all of. And while it’s kind of a challenge to find that many even ever-so-slightly different things to say about most players — there’s only so much one can say about Adam Haluska and his many high school track records or Al Thornton and his adolescent love for football — I’ve never really had a hard time coming up with stuff about Julian Wright. He was a lot of fun to watch in college, has a deep and abiding love for bowling, and generally seems full of interesting, weird traits that — at least relative to baseball and football players — are pretty unique among high-end professional athletes. I like him, although I’ve never seen him play in the NBA.
While I’ve been wrapped up in college ball the last week/four months — a reminder to those who want to enter the CSTBracket: it’s here, the password is cstb, it’s free and the games start tomorrow — Joey at Straight Bangin’ has been doing his NBA homework, and catches us up on the majestically weird spectacle that is watching JuJu Wright do his thing at the NBA level:
It usually starts with the arm waving. There is a lot of it. And the pointing. Lots of that, too. That stuff tends to be what catches my attention when watching the Hornets. If I happen upon a New Orleans game, I just wait for a dead ball, or maybe a slowly developing offensive play, watch for the guy waving his arms, and then I’m all set. That’s how I find Julian Wright.
Why am I looking for him? A more appropriate question would be, Why aren’t you? A quiet story of this NBA season has been Wright’s emergence as one of the league’s most fascinating players. And I don’t write that trying to sound all you-should-be-up-on-this cool. It’s not an affectation. I am completely serious. Watching him is mesmerizing.
I suppose that describing how he plays might begin to validate my argument. I’ve begun taking notes when I watch the Hornets because Wright is unique. Here’s a sequence I jotted down from a game against the Nets played a little more than a week ago. I think it’s instructive:
Julian sets a pick at the top of the key; sprints to the elbow to whiff on a second pick; catches the ball and rifles a pass; then he runs down across the lane just to elbow a defender who is trailing another Hornet; then he leaks out to the corner before sprinting and leaping to crash the boards.
…He can run, albeit with an odd form, his legs churning, his arms waving, and it all seeming a little disjointed. He is a willing passer and a good one, throwing a soft ball even when he looks as though he’s hurling something too hot to hold. He’s energetic, he’s hungry, and he is always trying. He jumps, he flails, he sprints, he dives. He is constantly doing something. And most importantly, he never stops orchestrating. He points and he waves and he directs. He’ll hold the ball at the top of the key and wait for his point guard to spot up on the wing. Or he’ll dribble around the arc and throw an entry pass. Or he’ll seemingly carry out an entire offensive set all by himself. It’s a melange of disarming activity and idiosyncratic behavior, ultimately manifesting itself in something ill-defined but highly effective. You can’t really explain it, but you know it when you see it.