Realistic Expectations for Delon Wright's Rookie Season with Toronto Raptors

Christopher Walder@@WalderSportsContributor IIJuly 9, 2015

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 16:  Delon Wright poses for a headshot during the 2015 NBA Draft Combine on May 16, 2015 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Players selected outside of the lottery during an NBA draft tend to have a bit more leeway in terms of development and first-year expectations. 

The teams making those selections usually rank in the upper echelon of the league, not necessarily needing the (presumed) immediate payoff that comes from a top prospect. 

The Toronto Raptors won a franchise-record 49 games in 2014-15, but a four-game series sweep in the opening round of the playoffs to the Washington Wizards exposed enough flaws to raise legitimate concerns about their short-term future.

General manager Masai Ujiri needed to select someone with more of a proven track record rather than take another raw talent like he did with Bruno Caboclo in 2014. With several holes to fill, adding another project was out of the question. 

Drafting Delon Wright, a 6'5" point guard out of the University of Utah, with the No. 20 pick was designed to bring a defensive edge to the point guard position. It also came on the heels of a trade that sent Greivis Vasquez to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for the draft rights to Norman Powell and a protected first-round pick in 2017.

With Vasquez gone, Ujiri prioritized finding a replacement backup to All-Star Kyle Lowry who could offer something different for the rotation. 

John Wall torched Toronto's guards to the tune of 17.3 points and 12.5 assists over the four playoff games. His poor 38.9 shooting percentage can be attested to his incessant need to chuck mid-range jumpers, but when he elected to go iso and drive to the basket, Vasquez and Lowry never stood a chance. 

Wright may not be the perfect solution to stopping quicker, more athletic guards in the backcourt, but he'll certainly put up more of a fight, even as a rookie.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com wrote prior to draft night how Wright's defensive instincts should translate on the pro level:

Wright's best attribute from a NBA standpoint is likely his defense. He has quick feet, excellent instincts and a scrappy nature, putting outstanding pressure on the ball. His instincts for getting in the passing lanes and overall timing for making plays off the ball is extraordinary, helping him average an outstanding 2.6 steals per-40 minutes pace adjusted in his two seasons at Utah, with a ton of blocks and rebounds thrown in for good measure.

Wright's anticipation skills are off the charts, and he does it without gambling in the passing lanes excessively, but rather by simply sniffing out when to help out teammates, and when to make a reflexive play as a sort of free safety. He's big enough to guard either backcourt spot, which gives his team coveted positional flexibility that is very much in demand in today's NBA. ‎

Head coach Dwane Casey is no stranger to rolling with two-point guard lineups, which sometimes blew up in his face considering the defensive ineptitude of Vasquez, Lowry and Lou Williams. Wright's tenacity in guarding both the 1 and 2 spots should make those occasional spurts alongside Lowry far less painful.  

Wright must hit the weight room and add some girth to his slender 180-pound frame if Casey wants to play him more at shooting guard, though. As sound as he is defensively, larger 2s will eat him alive if they decide to face him head-on. 

Blake Murphy of theScore agrees that Wright's stature may hinder his ability to consistently defend multiple positions efficiently, writing: "While he's intelligent and effective at both ends, his lack of elite athleticism leaves a question as to how well his game will carry over against larger, smarter opponents. Though, that mostly just works to limit his high-end projection."

If his size doesn't handicap his "high-end projection," his age certainly will. Wright is 23 years old, which is up there by rookie standards. He'll likely be more poised than some of his younger classmates out of the gate, but his upside does take a hit. 

Wright may be nearing his physical peak, leaving little room for Toronto's training staff to work with. If this is as big as he's going to get, that could be a problem as well. 

Mar 26, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Utah Utes guard Delon Wright is interviewed during practice the day before the semifinals of the south regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A recent signing by the Raptors should alleviate some of the pressure, though, as Cory Joseph has agreed to a four-year, $30 million deal with the franchise, ESPN's Brian Windhorst reports.  

This moves Wright down a peg in the depth chart and perhaps away from the team completely—if only for a little while.

Raptors 905, the team's new NBA Development League affiliate in Mississauga, is scheduled to begin play this year. Prospects like Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira and DeAndre Daniels will certainly all head down at some point during the season to see the floor and play meaningful basketball, which will aid in hastening their growth. 

There's no reason to think Wright shouldn't join his younger teammates, especially now that Joseph is on board. The former San Antonio Spurs guard is more reliable insurance should Lowry, who sat 12 games last season, miss any action. With Lowry, Joseph, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross all needing their share of minutes, there may not be enough of an opportunity for Wright to make an impact. 

Rather than wither away at the end of the bench in search of playing time that may never come, some games with Raptors 905 will at least keep him fresh, motivated and spry. 

In 35 outings last season with Utah, Wright averaged 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals, winning the Bob Cousy Award for the nation's top point guard. He also earned himself a nod on the first-team All-Pac-12 and All-Pac-12 Defensive Team in the process. 

Wright won't come close to putting up anything like those averages with the Raptors in 2015-16, but that's all right. All Casey needs him to do is live up to his reputation as an elite defender and be a pest on that end of the floor when his name is called. 

“As the (draft) week went on and we studied more film and more film and more film, it came clear to us as far as what we needed defensively,” Casey said following the draft, per Doug Smith of the Toronto Star“Your defence starts on the ball…you’ve got to have guys to be able to defend the pick-and-roll and he’s a good start for us.”

His role, at least following the Joseph signing, is to play spot minutes, defend and help repair the reputation of a team that fell from ninth in the league in defensive rating during 2014 to 23rd last season. 

Just don't fret if his numbers during his rookie campaign don't blow you away. Stat sheets only tell one side of the story. 

Toronto doesn't need greatness from Wright. It just needs some added D. 

 

Projected line: 53 games, 9.2 minutes, 4.3 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.7 steals

 

Christopher Walder is a featured columnist for the Toronto Raptors at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @WalderSports.

Statistics and salary information provided by NBA.com/Stats,HoopsHype.com and Basketball-Reference.com.