Yesterday, the Sixers made a rare late-August transaction, scooping up 2012 first-round draft pick Tony Wroten in exchange for what most likely will amount to nothing. It's a low-risk move that provides the University of Washington product with a much greater opportunity to play than in Memphis.
It's important to note -Sam Hinkie-based hysteria aside - that the Grizzlies are run by a savvy front office, one that isn't in the business of giving away sure things for free. Despite showing flashes of potential and becoming somewhat of a League Pass favorite, Wroten really isn't guaranteed to become anything as an NBA player. His rookie numbers were downright ugly, and he followed the underwhelming campaign with a disappointing showing in this year's summer league, shooting a measly 25 percent from the floor.
Still, there's a lot to like here as a "buy low" move (well, it's not really buying when the cost is nothing, but you get the point) for the Sixers. Wroten's athleticism and skillset are intriguing and while the numbers were bad, age (he only turned 20 in April) and sample size (he played a whopping 272 minutes, which is basically nothing) are factors that suggest he could reasonably improve. Additionally, I have two more specific thoughts on the move and Wroten as a player.
1. This move fits in with the Sixers' newfound "player development culture."
Much of the excitement surrounding Wroten is that at 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds with decent hops and a quick first step, he possesses some athletic chops. While not gifted with the truly elite explosiveness of Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, his combination of size and athleticism is certainly an asset at either guard position.
Wroten's major problem is the same one facing Michael Carter-Williams, the player he'll most likely back up to start the season: His skills, specifically the outside shot and ability to take care of the basketball, are not currently at a high enough level to where he can leverage that athleticism into consistent offensive production.
Enter Brett Brown, who was hired largely for his ability to develop young players. In the coming months, I imagine there will be some extremely intense workouts at PCOM. At these sessions, Carter-Williams and Wroten might be paired together at the same basket, working on their very similar weaknesses. The two young guards will shoot jumper after jumper, work on dribble move after dribble move, until hopefully (key word, as this is far from guaranteed) they show improvement. Then they'll keep going.
Wroten will undoubtedly struggle in the games, but unlike in Memphis, he'll have the freedom to figure out what Brown calls a player's "road map," loosely defined as "the plan of attack that a player needs to utilize in order to maximize his offensive success." How much will Wroten shoot the jumper to keep the defense honest? Will he try to set up the defender with a specific move involving his weaker right hand? Is there a specific spot where he has the most success operating from? These are the types of questions Wroten will try to start answering.
2. Wroten's defensive potential might be higher than his offensive potential.
It wasn't only Wroten's offensive numbers that were subpar. Whether you chose to look at the rookie's defensive rating, Synergy numbers, or on/off splits, none of them were very good. Again though, with such a small sample size and many of Wroten's precious few minutes coming during inconsequential garbage time, it's probably best to ignore those numbers.
From what little I've seen on Synergy, Wroten is at his best playing off smaller guards. With such a long frame for the position, he can grant the offensive player a small cushion and force them into difficult jumpers, similar to the way Shane Battier famously defended Kobe Bryant.
Conversely, Wroten needs work on defensive positioning, both at the individual and team levels. He has a somewhat nasty habit of getting out of his stance and overplaying an offensive player's right hand, surrendering an easy driving angle in the process. Also, like many young players, he could stand to improve helping off the ball. On one particularly glaring possession, he decided to leave the dangerous Marcus Thornton alone behind the arc to take away a Thomas Robinson 15-footer.
In Philadelphia, Wroten will get the opportunity to improve in all of these areas. Now it's up to him to seize the opportunity.