Tony Wroten is very good at basketball.
He can blow by slower defenders with a vicious crossover. He can whip no-look dimes to rolling big men. And he can yam all over slow, oafy white guys.
Every Wroten highlight seems to be immediately followed by a silly unforced error, though. There are just as many turnovers, dumb fouls and bricked jumpers as there are Shammgod crossovers. His nickname of "Junkyard Dog" is entirely accurate: he plays with an entertaining, reckless abandon where the opposing defense and his teammates equally have no freaking clue what he's going to do next.
The problem is that, of all the top point guards in the NBA, that definition exclusively describes only Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. This might be a little obvious, but Tony Wroten isn't in the same stratosphere as those two titans of the position.
With Michael Carter-Williams still recovering from off season shoulder surgery, Wroten has an opportunity this preseason -- and what looks like a few games into the regular season, as well -- to prove his style of play can work in this league.
"At 6-6 and 205 pounds, he's just physically gifted. He also goes at just a breakneck speed a lot and he's at the rim a lot. That's just what he does," Brett Brown said before the Sixers' preseason opener against the Boston Celtics. "And trying to include others while taking advantage of those gifts himself, is part of his progression this year as a point guard. And without Michael for a while, he's got a tremendous opportunity to be given the ball and have the responsibility of running the team and seeing what it shows in intellectually handling the position."
At this juncture, it's important to remember he still is just 21 years old -- Wroten's only been able to legally consume alcohol for six months. The Grizzlies selected him in the first round in 2012 for a reason: he's an uber-athletic, lengthy guard that can score at will -- 13.0 points per game a year ago -- against almost any opponent on the planet. The question is now whether he can utilize his physical gifts and morph into a serviceable backup point guard with an assist to turnover ratio greater than 1 to 1.
"Can you make others better?" Brown said. "Because he is gifted. He can do a lot individually. But he needs to be we, and we need to play through him and with him. That's being a point guard."
Wroten is now in the third year of his rookie contract, set to earn a fully-guaranteed $1.2 million this season. All of a sudden, and even though he is still just 21, Wroten is at a crossroads in his NBA career. Wroten has a $2.2 million team option for 2015-16, an extremely inexpensive price you'd have to imagine Sam Hinkie will be more than willing to pay. Still, without Wroten taking a major step forward this season, can you justify keeping him around for the entire duration of this rebuild in Philadelphia?
Like most of Brown's projects, the future of Wroten's NBA career depends on whether he can dramatically improve his jumper.
Last season, Wroten shot 56.5 percent at the rim. He can finish among the trees. Outside of three feet, though, Wroten converted on just 25.1 percent of his attempts. Yikes.
On the other hand, he does play like an efficient offensive weapon. Of his 808 field goal attempts, 79.4 percent of his shots came at the rim (56.1 percent) and from behind the three-point line (23.3 percent). Per 36 minutes, he also found his way to the free throw line 6.6 times a game. That sounds like a player Darryl Morey would be interested in acquiring.
Now it's up to Wroten to simply improve on his production. He's approaching the game the right way and the coaching staff has been impressed with his vocal leadership and defensive intensity this preseason.
Tony now has decide if he wants to break ankles in China for the next decade or become G-r-r-eat!
*All 2013-14 statistics used in this article are per basketball-reference.com.