On February 7th, 2019, the Memphis Grizzlies traded franchise icon Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors for Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, and a future second rounder. At the time of the deal, the return for Memphis was thought to be reasonable and fair, though many had hoped for more valuable future draft assets. The most visible name in the deal for Memphis was Valanciunas, who in time would prove to be the prize of the deal. However, at the time, many felt the most intriguing part of the Grizzlies’ return was Wright.
Wright frequently fueled that intrigue during his time in Memphis. In 26 games to close out the 2018-2019 season, Wright averaged nearly 31 minutes per game, along with 12.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.3 apg, and 1.6 spg. Though his overall FG% was slightly down from earlier in his career, Wright found success at the rim and on the run. He showed significant playmaking potential through his ability to pass and create steals, as well as being a good rebounder for a guard. He also could not have ended his season on a better note, as with three triple-doubles in a four game span, Wright joined Marc Gasol as the only Grizzlies to every record multiple triple-doubles (at that time).
Once the season ended, Wright entered restricted free agency. There was plenty of logic supporting a return to Memphis. He certainly had a short but successful stint with the Grizzlies. There was also plenty of indication that the Grizzlies would be exploring trades for Mike Conley over the summer. As a result, Memphis would need some sort of continuity and experience at point guard, and Wright seemed like a good choice to invest in.
Or so we thought!
The Grizzlies did follow through with the expected trade of Conley. However, they were also unexpectedly very fortunate when they landed the second overall pick in the 2019 draft and picked Ja Morant. Along with several other trades and plenty of roster turnover, the Grizzlies entered July with a significantly different roster. Then, on July 7th, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Wright to the Dallas Mavericks for two future second round picks. Wright signed a three year, $29M extension with Dallas.
The initial reactions were favorable for the Mavericks and a bit underwhelming for Memphis. Kevin Pelton gave Dallas a B+ and Memphis a C-, basically questioning why Memphis allowed Dallas to fill a need that the Grizzlies also clearly needed to address. Over at Mavs Moneyball, they suggested the Mavericks had long had interest in Wright, and though he may not have been their first choice last summer, he was another intriguing addition to their roster.
The clear motive in trading Wright to Dallas for Memphis was right in line with the growing trend from their other moves, which was acquiring future assets. However, they still needed a trustworthy backup to support their new franchise cornerstone in Morant. The wait to find the answer to fill that need did not take long, as on the same day Wright was traded, the Grizzlies signed Tyus Jones to an offer sheet for $28M over three years. The Timberwolves declined to match two days later, and the deal was made official.
In the end, though they were separate moves, Memphis essentially exchanged Wright for two second round picks and Jones. Both Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian and Peter Edmiston of the Athletic provided a thorough understanding of the Grizzlies’ mindset of showing a preference for Jones over Wright:
The youthfulness, the more efficient passing and decision-making, and the ability to elevate the play of others with Jones was more valuable going forward than the higher chance of immediate impact, defensive potential, and combo guard versatility that Wright would have provided.
Though there were some who preferred Wright due to having seen him play in Memphis and his potential to play with Morant, the Grizzlies clearly felt Jones was better a fit for the future development of their roster.
What We Know From This Season
Both Wright and Jones further validated their skill set profiles as both thrived in expanded roles on their new teams.
However, for expected and unexpected reasons, it became clear that Jones was a more sensible addition for Memphis in the present and future than Wright.
Wright continued to show out across the board potential in Dallas. Though he shot less frequently, his shot selection improved as he became more reliable at the rim and from three. He also provided good value as a playmaker on both ends of the court and proved to be a reliable reserve as a combo guard supporting Luka Doncic and others in Dallas.
Jones also verified the strengths of his game despite taking on a larger role. He maintained his historic assist to turnover ratio, and also became a more versatile scorer. On a per-36 minute scale, Jones had similar steal and turnovers rates as Wright did. However, he also had a significantly higher assist rate, averaging 8.3 assists to Wright’s 5.6. The significance of that trait for the Grizzlies is the better chance to remain consistent offensively when Morant was off the court.
Beyond the reasons that were known as to why Memphis decided on Jones over Wright, a few lesser known details that further justified Jones as the right decision emerged. For one, Jones showed a higher potential from all three levels of scoring than Wright, especially from distance. Overall, nearly 70% of the shots both Jones and Wright attempted last year were within the arc. However, 37% of Wright’s shots were at the rim, compared to just 17.5% of Jones’s shots.
Overall, Wright attempted 207 field goals from five or more feet away from the basket, making 34% of his attempts. Jones attempted 327 shots five or more feet away from the basket, making 42% of his attempts. Though Wright was more accurate in pull up situations from three, Jones was more accurate overall in pull up situations as well as in catch and shoot situations this season.
Just as Wright was at his best as a scorer at the rim, Jones was at his best with his floater in the short mid-range. However, Jones was the more accurate and versatile shooter from distance compared to Wright. For a team such as the Grizzlies with a roster that already was among the best in the NBA in terms of paint production, Jones’s higher shooting potential and production away from the rim was a better compliment than Wright.
The development of De’Anthony Melton, as well as the chemistry and productive play that the combination of Melton and Jones produced this season also supported the Grizzlies’ decision to choose Jones. Similar to Wright, Melton displayed the ability to make a difference on defense and in transition while playing alongside Jones and Morant. However, it is hard to imagine Wright would have elevated the overall play of Melton and others like Jones did this year.
It seems Memphis felt its roster would be more likely to replace the skill set of Wright than it would be able to provide a talent like Jones, and the play of Jones, Melton, and others proved that assumption to be correct.
WHAT WE KNOW GOING FORWARD
Beyond the individual reasons as to why choosing Jones over Wright made sense, the overall impact Jones made on the roster this season was most clear during the bubble when he did not play. Before the suspension of the season, Jones was a major reason the Grizzlies bench was among the best in the NBA, as some of the Grizzlies most advantageous offensive lineups involved Jones and other key reserves. Without him, the bench was not as big of a benefit in the bubble. Going forward, maintaining a productive and advantageous bench will be critical in supporting the Grizzlies starters as they continue to progress toward contention.
Though Wright certainly is a valuable player, Jones proved the Grizzlies were right in the decision they made in filling the backup point guard position to support Morant last summer. His efficiency and development as a shooter strongly supports the vision head coach Taylor Jenkins has for the Grizzlies’ roster. With Jones signed for the foreseeable future, he will continue to play a major role in the development of his teammates and helping the Memphis bench remain one of the best in the NBA.