Other than the perpetually helpless franchises that seemingly lack the ability to add positive players, every team eventually deals with a difficult roster decision. Has the recently drafted prospect done enough to supplant the entrenched veteran? Or has the big budget free agent signing struggled to the point of moving him to the bench?
These are just the realities of being an NBA franchise, or even of participating on a sports team of any kind. Heck, I remember crappy intramural teams I played on in university that dealt with this same type of controversy.
Toronto has dealt with this numerous times, most recently the pre-season debate over whether Norman Powell or CJ Miles should start at small forward. Norman Powell one initially, only to be easily supplanted by OG Anunoby. And prior to Serge Ibaka’s arrival at the trade deadline last year, the debate of choice for several years was who should start at power forward.
Minutes are a highly sought after NBA commodity, because minutes lead to production, and production leads to larger contracts and hopefully more success.
As tiring as the “should Patrick Patterson finally start” conversation was, historically it seems like just a blip on the radar compared to the near decade long search for a starting point guard before Kyle Lowry ended the conversation in 2012-13.
(Side note: As we should every day, I’d like to thank James Dolan for being afraid of Masai Ujiri. Your fear kept Lowry a Raptor and helped create the most enjoyable years in franchise history. If not for you, the point guard debate in Toronto may still be going today.)
Now a three time All-Star (likely soon to be four), Lowry has become one half of the engine that drives the Raptors. He has been dominant on the court, and has been one of the clear emotional leaders on the team (mostly for the better, sometimes for the worse).
Although the point guard controversy wasn’t always fun, it was at least something entertaining to watch while the Raptors struggled? Is Roko Ukic someone who can make an impact in the NBA? (Answer: No) How will minutes/starts be split up between TJ Ford and Jose Calderon? (Answer: RIP TJ) Despite him being an absolute sieve on defence, can Jose Calderon remain undefeated when challenged by another point guard? (Answer: watch your back, Isaiah Thomas…)
It got to the point last year when I tried to start up a new point guard controversy for the back-up minutes, in which I advocated for Delon Wright to take minutes from Cory Joseph.
That article was mostly written because I was out of other ideas, and due to my personal enjoyment of Delon Wright. As much as Joseph had struggled to that point in the season, it’s tough to advocate for a player to take someone’s role when they hadn’t even seen the court yet due to injury, and had seen a total of 229 minutes as a rookie the previous season.
Delon made his season debut last year on February 14th, and for the second year in a row ended the season playing just 27 regular season games. Through his first two season he played a total of 54 games and just 675 minutes, which is a tough way to start a career for someone who was viewed
For a point of reference, there are 20 NBA rookies this season who have already exceeded the 675 minutes Delon played through two season, and it is only January 22). This list even includes Mike “Not that Mike James” James (669 minutes), who spent the majority of the season on a two-way contract and is on his second NBA franchise already.
When drafted it was expected that Delon would handle the back-up point guard duties as a rookie, but no one expected Joseph to become a free agent in San Antonio. He would go on to see spot minutes as a rookie, while being developed with the Raptors905 when not with the big club.
While age was one of the main reasons he fell to Toronto on draft night, his experience with the 905 helped show why the Raptors were so happy to draft him. His shooting needed improvement, but he moved like silk across the basketball court, with a smooth handle and an eye for creating shots for teammates.
Entering the 2016 NBA Summer League it sounded like Delon was making serious improvements on his three point shooting, and would force his way into the conversation for minutes his sophomore year. Instead, Delon’s shoulder was separated in his first half of action and he would require surgery.
Hence the 27 games played for the second year in a row.
It’s now year three for Delon Wright, and what we are seeing now is well worth the wait. Delon was bumped up to second on the organizational depth chart at point guard when Joseph was traded to the Indiana Pacers in July, with Fred VanVleet being the only other contender for the position. It became his to lose.
VanVleet himself has done more than enough to earn his own minutes but while I tried to start one last year, there is no back-up point guard controversy this year. After playing in the first 14 games of the season for Toronto, Delon went on to miss the next 12 after reinjuring his surgically repaired shoulder. Since his return on December 15th he has been a man on fire and has been indispensable.
On the season Delon is shooting 47 percent from the field, which puts him behind just four Raptors: Bebe Nogueira (75 percent, on just 0.8 attempts per game), Jakob Poeltl (62.5 percent), Jonas Valanciunas (53.2 percent), and Demar DeRozan (48.1 percent). In summary, that’s three centres who are each at least 7ft tall, and one of the league’s best scorers in DeMar.
One key way in which Delon has been so efficient in scoring is on drives to the basket. For players who have been the ball handler in at least 2 pick and roll possessions per game (minimum 5 games), Delon currently sits fourth in the entire NBA for points per possession at 1.05 on 3.1 attempts per game.
Just ahead of him is Kyrie Irving at 1.10 point per possession. Part of his efficiency in this area is that he completes an and-one on 6.9 percent of his attempts, good enough for the highest rate in the league. Kevin Durant is second at 5.9 percent, with Giannis Antetokounmpo rounding out the top three at 5.7 percent.
But Delon has been far more than just a pick-and-roll scorer in terms of offence. Since his return from injury he 3pt shooting has been a revelation, all the more important due to the recent struggles facing many other Raptors. Since his return to the line-up has shot 43.9 percent from three point range on 2.2 attempts per game, which only helps to open up further driving opportunities and forces defenses to scramble.
This recent downtown shooting success hasn’t just been on catch-and-shoot attempts though, where Delon is shooting 40 percent since his return (1.3 attempts per game). On roughly one attempt per game (0.8 to be exact), Delon has shot 50 percent from deep.
He has also shot 90.8 percent from the free throw line on the year, bringing him surprisingly close to the vaunted 50-40-90 club (has shot 48.6 percent from the field, 37.7 percent from three, and 90.8 percent from the line). No, this doesn’t put him on the verge of joining the club, but it is impressively close to a player not thought of as a shooter, and one who remains one of the smartest/quickest passers on the team.
This simple size is still a small one this season, and even still when looking at total career minutes played, but Wright is having the type of offensive impact that would have been hard to predict entering the season.
Add in his defensive impact (1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks per game), and great intelligence at how he uses his 6ft-6.5in wingspan while guarding opposing players, you have all the makings of the best back-up point guard in the NBA.