It started for me at the Twin Cities ProAm (TCPA) this summer. I made the pilgrimage to Minnehaha Academy to watch Josh Okogie and newly-signed McKinley Wright play amateur basketball. I was desperate. Aside from the fact that my partner and I were the only two masked individuals, it was an enjoyable event. From the onset, it was clear that Wright had control of the game. He played with a steadiness you’d expect from a vet.
The TCPA uses the Elam ending to finish their games. The first whistle after four minutes left in the game stops the game clock. Then, teams play to a target score eight points higher than the leading team’s score at the clock stoppage.
The target score was 104. The game was tied at 102 for what seemed like forever. Both teams were chucking shots trying to win the game, but no one could ice it. That is until Wright decided it was time for the game to be over. He brought the ball up the court, maneuvered his way into the lane, and pulled up for a contested mid-range jumper. Splash.
Just like that, Wright won his team the game.
That game came to mind after Wright played lockdown defense during the waning moments of a summer league game against the San Antonio Spurs, forcing fellow Minnesotan Tre Jones into a shot that had no chance of going in. It came up again when he had a game-saving block against the New Orleans Pelicans to put an emphatic end to their late-game surge. It seems that in the game’s biggest moments, Wright thrives.
Beyond the physical tools and high-level skills, there are certain intangible qualities that great NBA players have in their basketball DNA. Leadership, feel, vision, etc. Some of them are easy to name and analyze. Others, like feel, are much more abstract, and their ethereal nature makes them hard to define. If you’re interested, here is an excellent piece about feel. The most elusive of these intangible traits is “it.” No one knows what “it” is, and yet when a player has “it,” it’s clear to see. Whatever “it” is, Wright has got it.
Of course, I should’ve known that before he came into the league. If you take a quick scroll through his college resume, you’ll find an impressive list of accomplishments. He made the All-Pac 12 team three times, a Pac-12 All-Defense team, and two All-Pac 12 Tournament teams. His counting stats may have been subpar, particularly his 3-point percentage, but Wright knows how to play the game.
So, what is “it”? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the topic. In arguments with friends or Twitter bots, often the discourse moves from “Well according to DARKO, LEBRON, RAPTOR, and SHABAZZ blah blah blah” to “LISTEN, THE GUY IS A HOOPER.” I think there is something there. The term hooper has entered the basketball discourse lexicon as what I believe to be the replacement for “it.” A hooper — regardless of percentages or highfalutin analytic methods like SHABAZZ — has an inherent physical and mental understanding of the game of basketball deeper than any non-hooper could ever hope to achieve.
OK, full disclosure, SHABAZZ is not a real analytic system. I made it up. It’s just an homage to my favorite Timberwolf of all time, Shabazz Muhammad.
A hooper steps up in the biggest moments of the game. When it’s winning time, a hooper comes through. A hooper sees things on the court that other basketball players can’t. Most guys play basketball, but hoopers make magic.
Simply, Wright has the stuff that the greats are made of. That’s not to say that Wright will be one of the best guys in the league because that would be a wild prediction from me. I am prone to wild takes; this will not be one of them. I do believe that Wright has a place in the NBA. The journey from a two-way player to an NBA mainstay isn’t easy, but don’t be surprised if Wright earns himself an NBA contract by next season. The man has got “it.”
A question from Twitter
Quickly, before I go, I need to answer a question from Twitter user @Gnirps9. He asked if there was a chance that the Wolves would cut Wright or Jaylen Nowell to make room for another big to add to the roster. The answer is most likely no. There is no reason to cut a two-way guy.
It’s a contract that is so friendly to the team and doesn’t take up a roster spot. If anyone were to be cut, it would be Nowell on his non-guarantee. But I think the Wolves are fine going into this season being small. I don’t see them adding another big to the roster unless a trade is made to free up a roster spot. Plus, I think the Wolves like Nowell as a Beasley replacement if they choose to trade him.