Delon Wright poses a curious problem for the Raptors: they like him but don’t know where to fit him. It’s early days in Wright’s career so we have some time to figure it out. Wright was either consigned to the D-League or playing in garbage time last season, with the dilemma being that he’s too good for the D-League, and not good enough to usurp the incumbents on the main roster.
His path to the starting shooting guard spot was always blocked by DeMar DeRozan and his own inability to shoot, and last season saw Norman Powell jump ahead of him in the pecking order, which nobody saw coming. The point guard position might be even tougher, as the Raptors best player currently occupies it, and Cory Joseph has cemented himself as the designated, unquestioned backup. Joseph also seems to have little aspirations to start given how well he performs his backup duties, meaning that even an unlikely Lowry exit would mean the backup spot being retained by Joseph, much to the chagrin of Wright.
At 6’5”, Wright is a traditional “big guard”, a role played to varying degrees of effectiveness by the likes of Shaun Livingston or Dante Exum. Essentially, a defensive even or plus who can see over the defense when pressured or running high-screen action. There is value in this skill, especially if the player can post-up, because it adds a lost dimension to the backcourt. Wright is some time away from doing that. Effectively popping the mid-range jumper is also a must because these types generally don’t have the quickness to slip their way to the rim, and this is Wright’s area of struggle.
Assuming he develops to compete at an NBA level, his foreseeable future with the Raptors will be the third guard who can play either position, something like Lou Williams. Even that requires above-average offensive production which Wright is a ways away from, so it becomes a Catch-22: For him to develop into a steady offensive player, he needs to go up against NBA defenses but his path is blocked by firmly in-place incumbents. Basically, he needs the type of playing time Norman Powell will get next year.
He has the potential to peg back Powell in the fight to spell DeRozan, but Powell has surprised everyone with his strong defense, which is supposed to be Wright’s calling card, So, even the main category where you’d have given Wright the edge, Powell has it. This is the underlying story line for summer league for me – to see which of these two players showcases themselves and makes the Raptors raise an eyebrow. Powell is definitely in the lead, for now.
One projection that I’m hesitant to make but is too tempting is Tony Allen. Powell is an inch taller, however, has an inch and a half wingspan disadvantage. They’re both wiry players with strength in their bones, and can push off defenders outside their comfort zones, while having the quickness to track them once they put it on the floor. This seems like a lazy comparison which could be made against any athletic wing, but it carries merit because Wright’s strong-suit is defense. It’s still a grandiose projection for a rookie who has played a handful of meaningful NBA minutes, but is something he could aspire to.
Ujiri had to be hoping that just like the emergence of Norman Powell made James Johnson redundant, Wright’s development would allow him some leeway in the trade market. This could happen one of two ways, 1) he becomes a decent player at a position of strength which you could trade out, or 2) he makes someone else redundant and you parlay them. With the Raptors limited by the cap, we often look at “internal organic growth” to come to the rescue and elevate the ceiling, and that paradigm is usually applied to DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas. However, it runs a little deeper because the development of Wright, Norman Powell, and even Bruno Caboclo is what could indirectly net the Raptors their next marquee player on the market.
The most ‘ready’ prospect?
The most NBA-ready of Wright, Bebe, and Caboclo is Bebe. By a mile. And we even cringe at the thought of him playing extended minutes because he’s so unproven. Going into the season with him as the official backup center is scary, and it doesn’t appear that Ujiri is comfortable with that scenario either.
Bebe was relegated to being the fourth big behind Jason Thompson/Anthony Bennett last season, and next year it looks like he’ll get himself up to being the third big behind Jonas Valanciunas and whoever else we acquire.
We already discussed Wright’s readiness, which leaves Bruno Caboclo, who is still a minimum of two years away from getting a sniff of real NBA minutes. The Raptors want to make him a three-point shooter because of his high release/wingspan which makes his shot difficult to block. He shot 33.5% while attempting almost 7 threes a game in the D-League last season. The footwork improved which meant his defense got slightly better (still below average), and next season is more about seeing if he can inch that three-point percentage closer to 40, because if he does that, there’s an NBA spot waiting for him.
Now that Norman Powell is up with the big club, Caboclo is singlehandedly retaining whatever interest people had in the Raptors 905. Should be another enjoyable D-League season to watch on YouTube.
Prospect trade value
I’m inclined to think that the trade value for our three prospects goes something like: Bebe, Caboclo, and Wright.
Bebe’s got a bit of a resume and his excellent passing could be seen as something desirable by a team that’s trying to improve ball movement (I do recognize the irony of the Raptors being one of the worst at assisting offloading a good passer). The problem with Bebe is that you can’t often afford to play him on the defensive side because he suffers too many lapses. You could argue they are attributed to lack of consistent NBA minutes, but nevertheless, the man will finish on a lob on one end, and get back-cut twice on the next play.
I ranked Caboclo ahead of Wright because of the potential tease, no more. Wright is the undoubtedly the better player, which doesn’t always translate to trade value. In either case, the return value here would be so low that either, 1) you better construct a pretty big trade package where these guys are the sweeteners, or 2) may as well just stash them since there’s very little opportunity cost lost.