Julian Wright was the first in a run of several Kansas big men in recent years that have had their name called on NBA Draft night. How has his career progressed and what does it mean for Kansas?
In the 2011 NBA draft the Kansas Jayhawks were once again well represented seeing three players taken and two selected in the lottery. Marcus and Markieff Morris represent the most recent big men out of Kansas to find themselves falling into favor with NBA teams, something that has happened for years. The most recent run of selections started before the arrival of Bill Self with players like Nick Collison and Drew Gooden finding their way into the lottery followed by Wayne Simien who played the majority of his career under Williams before wrapping things up under Self.
As we dive a little further into Bill Self's tenure the list grows in leaps and bounds. Julian Wright, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich and now Marcus and Markieff Morris. Thomas Robinson sits a year away from joining that list but overall the message seems to be that if you put in the work and develop on par with the rest at Kansas, you stand a good chance of finding yourself getting paid to play on some level.
With that in mind, it makes sense to take a closer look at the transition, where these players are successful, what makes them attractive and perhaps even what areas they have struggled at in making the transition. Certainly the level of success has varies, but the value placed on these players coming out of Kansas is at a level that has earned many the opportunity to make a living playing the game of basketball.
Today we look at the first early entrant and a player that missed the 2007-2008 National Championship season by one year after departing early for the NBA, that player is Julian Wright. While Wright's versatility puts him in the category of "tweener", his athleticism and his ability to impact the game in different ways is something that has become a common trait for Kansas bigs and a skill-set that earned him a lottery draft spot in 2007.
If we flash back to Wright in high school it was the same upside and versatility that had scouting services drooling over the 6'8" 215 pounder out of Chicago. Wright was a five star talent, the top player at his position and the number eight player nationally. For all the talk in recent years regarding one and done's Josh Selby and Xavier Henry, it's interesting to look back at Wright's class and see that Wright, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush were all top 15 players on a National level and all three stayed two to three years. In fact, one and done wasn't even a phrase at that point in time.
Moving back to Wright, he was a raw player with tremendous upside, great physical tools and Kansas was his chosen destination. While he didn't necessarily fit Bill Self's traditional, physical big man mold Wright would play a position similar to that of Marcus Morris from this season. Simply put Wright played the four spot the majority of his time at Kansas and in his two seasons with the Jayhawks Wright went from a player that was a little sporadic, a little spastic, to a player that had a better grip on what his talents were and where he could fit in the system.
In his first year with the Jayhawks Wright averaged 8.5 points and 4.6 rebounds while playing 20 minutes per contest. During his sophomore year those minutes bumped up to just shy of 28 per game and the scoring average approached 13 while his rebounding production ticked up to 8 per contest. Wright had shown improvement during his one season at Kansas, he had done so on a high level with National exposure and he still had the all important "upside" that seems to be the most important thing for NBA scouts.
The result was Wright's declaration for the NBA draft. This would be Bill Self's first early entry and an entry that came as a little bit of a surprise. Wright had stated consistently throughout the season that he would return, but when you have a player that is a projected lottery and his stock is high you have to push them to make the right decision and that's what coach Self did with Wright. Wright would be the first in what has now become a series of Kansas big men to take that leap and the Jayhawk staff has rightfully earned the reputation of developing talent at the three, four and five positions and placing that talent in the NBA.
For his part Wright has spent four seasons in the NBA. Three of those with the New Orleans Hornets who drafted him and one with the Toronto Rapters following a trade. The "tweener" status has gradually proved to be more of a hindrance for Wright however and the opportunity to provide major minutes just hasn't been there. Over his four year career Wright has averaged just shy of 14 minutes per game while supplying spurts of offense and solid defense.
It's not the greatest success story in the NBA, but in a league where the average career spans just 3.7 years Julian Wright has surpassed that mark and should continue to contribute for a handful more. Combine that with the fact that Wright was able to cash in on a lottery draft payday and Bill Self and Kansas has certainly helped accomplish what any program should hope to do and that's putting their player in a position to secure a financial future. Wright was the first in a growing resume for Bill Self, a resume of big men drafted early by NBA teams. It's a positive trend for the Kansas basketball program and one that should continue to attract talent to Lawrence Kansas.