When Julian Wright’s name is called on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, the Chicago Heights native will take the next step toward realizing a childhood dream.
Labeled a lottery pick by most, it remains to be seen which team will select the talented KU sophomore. His “ceiling” has been praised by NBA Draft experts but not every team in the lottery appears to be a perfect fit for the talented 6-8 sophomore. The type of franchise that selects “Ju” could go a long way in determining how successful his NBA career might be.
“A team like Phoenix would be great, and really any team that gets up and down the floor, like Golden State. Probably somebody in the west. He’s best in an up tempo game and best in transition,” according to college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who is already in New York preparing for the upcoming draft.
But Phoenix doesn’t pick until 24th, and it’s unlikely that Julian will be around when Golden State picks at number 18. The Chicago Bulls, who have the number nine pick, would provide a double-bonus for Wright – the All-Big 12 selection would be going home, and he’d fit in nicely with the Bulls who certainly aren’t Phoenix, but they do prefer to get it up and down the court. KU fans would love to see Wright on the receiving end of a Kirk Hinrich pass in transition. After Chicago, Sacramento is the next best option at number ten.
This doesn’t mean he won’t succeed at a place like Milwaukee or Boston, but the verdict is unanimous that Wright would prosper in a system that plays faster.
“He’s a broken floor, broken play, quick twitch type player that excels in a game where there are a lot of possessions. So I think being in an up tempo system would help him,” said Self who concurred with Bilas’ assessment. “I think he’ll be a very good pro – I think his best ball is well ahead of him.”
Julian is just 20 years old and is still learning about himself and the game. After only two years of college, the Homewood-Flossmoor standout will focus on adding even more dimensions to his growing game. Soon he’ll become much more than the big play, highlight reel dunker he was at Kansas.
“I also think he’s big enough and long enough that he could become a very, very good perimeter defensive player,” said Self who praised Wright’s skill level. “His ball skills are so much better than what he’s probably shown at this level because at that level everybody’s the same size. There’s going to be very few people his size that handle it or pass it better than him.”
Self draws a comparison between Wright and a player he recruited heavily while at Illinois – Philadelphia 76ers swingman, Andre Iguodala. Both are versatile players, though their games are different – Wright is taller, Iggy is a bit quicker and more polished with the basketball in his hands – Self sees Wright developing much like the former Arizona Wildcat.
“Starting out you’ve got a guy who’s a terrific athlete and he’s growing into his athleticism and learning how to play, and Julian is going to be like that too,” stated Self. “If I’m not mistaken both of them had just two years of college. I think there are similarities there.”
Another Andre Iguodala would certainly make a lot of teams smile. After completing his third year with the Sixers, Iggy’s numbers improved in nearly every statistical category. His field goal percentage was down, but he attempted more shots in more minutes of play. His assists, steals, and points all got a boost after his third year in the league.
That’s the hope for Wright. Time is on his side but he will need to get stronger, and develop consistency in order to see his game progress like a guy like Iguodala. There’s plenty of work in front of him and a more dependable jump shot would certainly help boost his minutes with any team.
Bilas, who definitely believes Wright is a top ten talent, also believes Julian’s “J” is the one thing that could possibly hold back his growth as a player.
“I think he’s going to be a really athletic three-man – a guy that can make plays. The one thing that hurts Julian is shooting consistently, that’s one thing he has to improve upon,” according to Bilas. “But outside of that he does everything. I think he can be very, very good in the NBA but he’s gotta be a more consistent shooter.”
So does Julian have what it takes to be an impact player in his first year?
“He can be a valuable piece to a really good team. He’s still really young he’s only played two years so he’s really still trying to figure it out,” Bilas continued. “It’s going to be awhile for him. The draft isn’t about immediate help anymore. It’s great if you can get it but usually you’re dealing with guys you’re going to have to wait on a little bit, and a lot of these guys are worth the wait.”
For Self, who had one of his more memorable recruiting experiences landing Julian two years ago, Wright was well worth the two years in crimson and blue. Julian produced jaw-dropping plays, flashy passes, and stuffed a stat sheet like no other. But there’s one half of basketball his head coach will remember most.
“The first half of the Florida game is probably the best half I’ve ever had anybody play -- ever. He dominated every way imaginable in that game,” said Self who was referring to the 17 points Julian put up against Florida in the first half of an 82-80 overtime win in November.
Not to be forgotten, Self also fondly looked back at how Julian has represented Kansas.
“I think all our guys represent the program very well. And certainly Ju Ju has very well. When he jumps into something he usually goes head first. And he did that as a student here and really enjoyed all aspects of college, not just the basketball aspect,” Self continued. “He’s a young kid that came here and said he was going to get the most out of college and he certainly did that.”
And now it’s on to the next level.