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Wright the Answer Off Hornets' Bench?

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John Reid wrote an intriguing piece for the Times-Picayune on Friday regarding one of the non-Posey members of the New Orleans Hornets' bench who will be expected to take a big step forward this year: Former Kansas Jayhawk Julian Wright.

The 21-year-old Wright enters his second season in the league after playing 11.2 minutes per game as a rookie for the Hornets a season ago.  Reid reports that coach Byron Scott is expecting big things from Wright this season, an expectation the youngster needs to uphold because this New Orleans team cannot afford to see its second unit become entirely reliant on the summer acquisition of Big Game James.  

Having had the privilege of witnessing Julian Wright's greatest collegiate performance in person, I've long been curious to see just how much this guy can do with a bigger role at the professional level.

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Back in February 2007, Wright and his hated Jayhawks came to Columbia, Mo., and smacked the rival Missouri Tigers by a count of 92-74.  Wright was the afternoon's unquestioned star as he went for 33 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks on 14-of-21 shooting from the field.  He was absolutely dominant that day.

He wasn't quite as dominant throughout the course of his college career, although he averaged a respectable 12 points and 7.8 rebounds during his second and final year at Kansas.   Inconsistency seemed to be a big part of Wright's game at school as he seemed just as likely to be held inside of double-digits as he was to go for 20 points in a game.  In fact, the 33-point effort in Columbia was sandwiched by two performances in which Wright totaled 17 points.  A precursory glance at his game log from college indicates that sort of vacillation to be quite normal for him.

That day in Missouri, Wright was without doubt the best player on the floor.  He tore up the Missouri frontcourt with an array of dunks, put backs and baby jumpers in and around the paint.  For much of the day, he served as Kansas' de facto big man as well as at power forward as well.  He crashed the glass hard and embarrassed Mike Anderson's team by nabbing eight rebounds on the offensive end.  It was a superb all-around performance.

But it was also the sort of performance that called his prospects for the future into question.  Wright played the best game of his college tenure while functioning as a big man, but it bears noting that the guy is 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds.  Wright dominted inside against an undersized and not-actually-any-good Missouri frontcourt, and he played similarly well at various times throughout his collegiate career, but he likely doesn't have the body to a be an effective big man in this league.  At 6-8, Wright isn't going to be doing much of any moonlighting at center.  With his 225-pound frame, Wright may not have the bulk or strength to consistently bang with power forwards.  

His physique makes Wright far better suited to be a three-four combo than it does a four-five combo.  The question then is if Wright has the skill set to make that work.  His lack of bulk may prevent him from being a full-time power forward, but he also may not have the speed, the ball-handling or the outside shot to play the three regularly.   

Reid reports that Wright has been putting in plenty of extra time at the gym and that he is committed to making himself a solid cog for the Hornets.  Wright did hit 41.7 percent of his threes last year, but he only took 24 of them, so he has been doing a lot of work on his outside shooting.  But Reid also notes that coach Scott has checked in on a couple of these workouts and doesn't think his forward has attained a high enough level of conditioning yet to make the expected contributions.  The neophyte still has a ways to go.

Julian Wright comes from a solid college program and knows how to play this game fundamentally.  Finding out if he can use his second year in the league to make a successful transition to gaining the skill set to serve as a versatile reserve forward will be one of the most intriguing stories of the Hornets' march deeper into Western Conference contention this season.