The Memphis Grizzlies needed to shed salary over the summer when they forfeited Tony Wroten, the former 25th pick in the 2012 Draft, for a top-50 protected second round pick in the 2014 Draft. They essentially gave up something for nothing, and ironically are now complaining about a lack of perimeter athleticism. The 20-year-old lefty combo guard is quick, fearless and full of potential. While only playing in 35 games with an average of 7.8 minutes per game in his rookie season with the Grizzlies, he has quickly established himself as the 76ers’ sixth man of the future.
Sam Hinkie has been both lauded and criticized for his reliance on advanced analytics in evaluating players. Seeing how Wroten plays, mainly his ability to attack the basket and draw contact, it conjures a scene from "Moneyball". Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) pleads with Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to play Scott Hatteberg at first base, because ‘Hatteberg gets on base’. This was a statistic that Beane valued heavily. Well, Tony Wroten gets to the line. He is currently 16th in the league in Free Throw Attempts per 36 minutes (6.24), and climbing. In his lone season at the University of Washington, Wroten took 264 free throws (5th in the country). There is no doubt that this must have stood out to Hinkie.
Although analytics demonstrated that Wroten had the ability to get foul calls, his ability to succeed as a playmaker was suspect coming into the season, prompting Sam Hinkie to sign Darius Morris as insurance at the point guard position. Those concerns would soon fade. Although more suited to play the sixth man role with a scorer’s mentality (not all that dissimilar from former team sixth man Sweet Lou Williams), Wroten demonstrated that he indeed has the ability to find the open man, prompting the 76ers to waive Morris soon after the season began (Wroten might have also been aided by the fact that the best part of Morris’ early season performance was his facemask).
Wroten has also performed admirably as a starter. When Michael Carter-Williams has missed games due to injury (including a skin infection of the knee in which MCW spent three nights in the hospital – it’s time for new knee braces MCW), Wroten has posted averages of 18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. In his first career start against the Rockets on November 13, Wroten posted a triple-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) in the overtime win. This was the first time since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 that a player posted a triple-double in his first career start, albeit in overtime.
Brett Brown has talked about even playing Carter-Williams and Wroten together in the backcourt at the same time. Defensively, this could be quite potent as Carter-Williams has the height and length to match up with shooting guards. Offensively, floor spacing would be a problem in the half court as neither player possesses a reliable jump shot. However, their potential on defense would aid to more opportunities in transition, which would play to their strengths.
Regardless of what Wroten’s future role is with the team, he is the perfect example of what can happen when the right player is simply given an opportunity. He is reminiscent of Nikola Vucevic last season and Miles Plumlee in this one – players thrust into larger roles and producing beyond expectations. He still needs to improve his shooting considerably, but his aggressive and gritty play has already endeared him to a fan base that is often categorized as aggressive and gritty.