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The Path to Take With Tony Wroten


By now the dust has settled on the 2012 NBA Draft, and with Free Agency beginning today, we need to assess where our newest Grizzly, Tony Wroten, fits into the squad. Most of us seem to be fairly happy with the 25th pick, but even those who are critical of the selection can at least agree that Wroten can bring something to the team, which means figuring what exactly that is and finding the most effective way to utilize him. This in turn will then dictate what our priorities need to be in offseason.

Wroten's strengths and weaknesses have already been thoroughly dissected here at SOV, but they can be summarized as such: he's a ball-dominant combo guard who excels at scoring near the basketball, passing, and roaming the passing lanes on defense. Unfortunately, he has no jumpshot to speak of, he's a bit turnover-prone, and his defense is often lacking because he gambles far too often Taking all this into account as well as the fact that the Grizzlies have let O.J. Mayo leave leads me to one conclusion: Wroten needs to be the second unit's ballhandler. To help my argument, I'll submit four comparisons: Avery Bradley, George Hill, Tyreke Evans, and O.J. Mayo. What is important to consider for these players is their respective situations.

More often than not, the best rookies are not always the ones with the most talent, rather they are ones whose teams make the best use of their skillset. Boston and San Antonio are two teams that always seem to have solid young players despite the fact that they almost never draft in the lottery. Some of this is due to good scouting departments, but a great deal simply comes down to player development.

George Hill played as a shooting guard in college, but his size relegated him as a combo guard in the NBA. Despite the fact that Manu Ginobili was injured for the majority of the season and the Spurs' badly needed a starting SG, Gregg Popovich continually played Hill as a backup for Tony Parker. Running the Spurs' second-unit, Hill was able to develop his point guard skills with the help of San Antonio's host of veterans. As he developed, Pop begin inserting him with the starters where he could play off-the-ball. By the beginning of his sophomore season, Hill was comfortable as a either a PG or a SG.

When Avery Bradley came into the NBA, he wasn't as developed as George Hill, so he didn't get nearly as much playing time during his rookie season. Instead, Doc Rivers wisely had him focus on his NBA-level skill--defense--while gradually transitioning from a ballhandler to playing off the ball. This season, Bradley emerged as one of the NBA's elite perimeter defenders and displayed a respectable offensive skillset.

The key to player development is making sure that the player is aware of what his role is, and then gradually adding more responsibility when he is ready for it. One major lesson I've learned from following the NBA is this: NBA players are sensitive. Drastically altering a guy's role messes with his head and can send him into a funk. Look no further than O.J. Mayo and Tyreke Evans. Both were talented, lottery picks who were pretty much given the keys to the offense the moment they joined their respective teams. While they were instantly productive (Evans won the 2010 ROY, and Mayo finished 2nd in 2009), as their teams acquired better players, they were asked to do less and saw their effectiveness decrease. Further, their roles were constantly changing. Mayo was a starter for two seasons and one of the primary options on offense, only to come off the bench in his third year. Evans has been forced into playing three separate positions and has started, but sometimes comes off the bench.

One the one hand, it's easy to criticize Evans and Mayo for not being able to adjust, but look at it from their perspective: they both were essentially annoited as "cornerstones" for their teams, only to have that title ripped from them a year later. They were told that their teams were building around them, but then they were told to adjust to their teammates. It's not hard to see why they often look confused as to what exactly they should be doing. What happened to Mayo and Evans, should serve as a lesson to the Grizzlies: have a clear long-term plan for Tony Wroten.

Right now the Grizzlies are lacking someone to run the offense and a scorer for their second-unit. Wroten dominated the ball in college (31.2% Usage Rate), and based on what I've observed from his play, he's not yet comfortable without the ball in his hands. That means he needs to be in the game running the offense every moment that Mike Conley is on the bench. As of right now, Wroten is at his best when he's running a drive-and-kick offense, meaning that he should be playing alongside guys who can hit a jumper. Darrell Arthur, Marreese Speights, and Marc Gasol are all ideal candidates. Gasol is an especially attractive option because he's a fantastic passer. Playing him alongside Tony Wroten means that Wroten isn't solely responsible for creating for the entire second-unit. Likewise, it would give him a chance to play off-the-ball some, as Gasol can run the offense from the high post.

As far as development goes, the coaching staff should emphasize two areas for Wroten to improve: his jumpshot and cutting to the basket. If he doesn't develop a jumper, teams will lay off him and dare him to shoot. If he can shoot above 30% from 3 and 40% from mid-range, teams will have to respect his jumper. As for cutting to the basket, that's something he can work starting in the summer leagues. It'd be a good idea to have him and Josh Selby alternate ballhandling duties in Las Vegas, and that would give the team a good idea of how far along he is in that area. Unfortunately, until he can effectively play off-the-ball, he shouldn't be playing alongside Mike Conley.

Regardless of how the Grizzlies intend to utilize their newest player, they need to have a clear long-term strategy in mind. Wroten may or may not be ready for a major role right away. Fortunately, Memphis is already a playoff team. Unlike O.J. Mayo in 2008, the team isn't in a position where it has to give the reigns to a rookie. However, the key to building a long-term contender like the Spurs or the Celtics is developing solid role players. Wroten gives Memphis a chance to redeem themselves after their poor handling of O.J. Mayo.