Although he said all the politically correct things, Dorell Wright was dying for more playing time — or at least a clearer picture of what his role was on his new team.
Originally seen by 76ers coach Doug Collins as a key, versatile figure to come off the bench, Wright was thrust into the starting lineup early in the season when Jason Richardson sprained an ankle. When Richardson returned, Wright went back to the bench and, for some reason, struggled with his shooting, which led to his overall game suffering. He went on an eight-game stretch during which he made only nine of 37 shots. Worse, he became hesitant to shoot the ball, instead relying too much on a pump fake and then taking the ball to the basket, where his decision-making wasn't the best.
All the while, his minutes dwindled. Collins knew that playing time was the only way for Wright to work through his slump. Still, Collins had to try to win games with his best players on the floor. And quite frankly, Wright wasn't one of them at the time.
But through the past five games, Wright has righted himself. It's not only that he's scored at a 17.6-point clip during that time, or that he's shot 47.4 percent (27-for-57) from the floor, including 18-for-37 (48.6 percent) from three-point range. It's that his all-around game has returned. That was clearly evident in Wednesday's win at Memphis, when Wright led the team with 28 points, battled the bigger Grizzlies for six rebounds and blocked two shots. With Richardson again sidelined, this time with a back strain, the Sixers improved to 4-1 with Wright in the starting lineup, with all of those wins coming on the road.
Now that the playing time is ample — he's averaged close to 30 minutes over the past seven games — Wright, 27, is again become the player the team envisioned when it signed him during the summer after two solid seasons with the Golden State Warriors. Wright knows what he can do, if given the time on the floor.
"I think that's a lot of players. When you get the opportunity to get out there and work through your mistakes, miss a few shots, but get to stay with it and get a few minutes, it makes you feel comfortable out there," Wright said. "When you're not playing so much when you're out there, you're just trying so hard not to make mistakes to stay on the floor. When you're playing minutes and you're playing hard, it just makes you feel a lot more comfortable. Coach has been gaining a lot more trust in me, as far as playing big minutes. I just have to go out there and continue to play hard and do the things that I can to keep playing."
Wright's ability to rebound, get out on the break, hit three-pointers on that break, play defense and handle the ball are all so intriguing to Collins. And when Wright is on, his minutes surely will stay close to where they've been lately.
"With Dorell, when we had J-Rich out earlier, we started him and he has actually played well," Collins said. "We've won [four] road games with him as a starter, we've played well. Plus, he gives us a little bit more size. He's another ballhandler, another playmaker. We've really made a conscious effort to look for him on transition. We like to see him walking into those threes. Jrue [Holiday] has done a good job of that; Evan [Turner] has done a good job of that."
Wright's coming to a team with so many new faces led to a lot of the inconsistency in his play. Collins was still trying to figure out who belonged where, and with whom, and Wright was still trying to find his place with his third team in his nine NBA seasons.
"Offensively and defensively, it's just knowing the schemes and being in the right places, not turning the ball over and limiting your mistakes," he said. "It's not just about the offense, because you're getting graded on both ends of the floor. I just try to go out there and be solid and be in the right spot and help the team to win."
Though he is a veteran and has experienced just about all the NBA has to offer, his biggest competitor sometimes is still his confidence.
"For sure, because sometime you'll be a different situation where everything is new, so you struggle with confidence sometimes," Wright said. "This is new to me from the past 2 years, and when I got to Golden State, everything was new to me. Guys struggle with that sometimes. That's when you rely on your supporting cast — your family, your friends, your teammates and your coaching staff. They will all help you keep your head above water when things are down. That's what they're there for."
The Sixers held a light workout in San Francisco Thursday, and Jason Richardson participated in shooting drills. With his strained back, he walked very gingerly Wednesday night in Memphis after the game. The team will update his status Friday, when the team takes on the Golden State Warriors.