Monday, April 21, 2014
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Film review: The problems and promise of Tony Wroten

The struggle to shoot from the outside prevents Tony Wroten from realizing his full potential.

Film review: The problems and promise of Tony Wroten

In an off-season defined by a singular big-risk maneuver, Sam Hinkie’s August acquisition of Tony Wroten came at the expense of only a future second-round draft pick. Nationally, the move was under the radar, to say the least.

As Grantland’s Zach Lowe tweeted at the time, this type of move suited the Sixers perfectly. Wroten represented a “low-risk asset grab that wouldn't help them win this season.” Basically, the former first-round pick had the chance eventually to become a decent player, but needed to work through his problems on the court.

From a subjective standpoint, Wroten has added a lot of entertainment value to this Sixers team. The second-year lefty combo guard has been a ton of fun to watch, especially on his relentless attacks of the basket. Wroten is fearless and always plays really hard. There’s something to be said for that.

Unfortunately, Wroten has been a disaster statistically. The Sixers have been outscored by a whopping 16 points per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor. Of the players who have logged over 190 minutes (everyone except recent additions Elliot Williams and Lorenzo Brown), only Brandon Davies has a worse differential.

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The first and major reason that Wroten’s numbers are so bad has been his primary weakness since high school: He really struggles to make perimeter shots.

As you can see above, that struggle is very real. Wroten’s ability to get to the rim isn’t in question, but his ability to finish when he gets there is. The way that Wroten attacks sagging defenders and overloading defenses (to his weaker right hand) is by making these athletic whirling dervish moves only a few players are capable of: Eurosteps, spins, scoops, up-and-unders, you name it.

Wroten can pull those difficult moves off, but not at a very high percentage. For every elegant finger roll, almost two rim out. Wroten does a good job seeking contact, as he’s getting to the free throw line over five times per 36 minutes, but his poor outside touch nullifies much of the good work he does drawing fouls. Wroten is only shooting 55 percent from the line.

Everything outside of the lane on that shot chart is pretty brutal. On the season, Wroten is shooting 17 of 72 on shots outside of the paint, an ice cold 24 percent. Opponents have adjusted their defensive schemes to allow Wroten this shot.

In fact, Wroten saw firsthand how this phenomenon pretty much single-handedly ended the Grizzlies’ season at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs last year. Gregg Popovich instructed the players guarding poor shooting wings like Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince to help off them and pack the paint. As a result, it was tough sledding for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

The same is true for how opponents defend Wroten. Part of the reason that the Sixers only score 93 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, seven points under the team’s average, is because defenders aren’t afraid to help off him and completely seal off his teammates’ driving and passing lanes.

Take a look at how far Jarrett Jack is standing away from Wroten, more concerned with defending the pick-and-roll on the other side of the floor. Take note that the two players involved in the pick-and-roll are Darius Morris and Lavoy Allen, not exactly Stockton and Malone.

There’s little downside to forcing Wroten to shoot jumpers at this point. When a guard only shoots 7 of 23 on spot-up three-point attempts (per mySynergySports), defenses can live with surrendering that shot if they’re taking away more threatening options.

Wroten’s other major problem is his decision making. To make a cross-sport comparison, at times he reminds me of another smooth lefty passer, Michael Vick. When Wroten is on, he’s threading the needle with pinpoint passes, especially in transition with Thaddeus Young on the receiving end.

When the game slows down, Wroten, like Vick, sometimes fails to read the defense while attempting the perfect pass. These turnovers tend to be as ugly as the assists are beautiful. Wroten has done a good job slicing his massive turnover rate from 22 to 15 percent, but a 1.4 AST/TO isn’t particularly good.

It’s fair to wonder if Wroten has been better than 109 points per 100 possessions, his defensive rating. The team has generally defended better when he’s paired with the starters compared to Allen and Davies, and this is one area I’m not particularly concerned about. Wroten has all the physical tools to be a valuable defender in a strong system, which the Sixers (by design) don’t have yet.

Wroten’s poor numbers don’t mean anything without context. For example, they’d clearly be better if Brett Brown forbade Wroten to shoot three-pointers in general, much less off the dribble. The Sixers are more concerned with developing their players than wins and losses, and Wroten’s shooting will only improve if he works his way through growing pains.

I enjoy watching Wroten play and am generally excited that he’s going to be a major part of the Sixers’ plans for the rest of the year. Still, it’s also important to realize that at some point, he won’t be playing for a team that doesn’t care about wins and losses. At that point, Wroten will have to be better than he is now.

Contact Rich Hofmann Jr. @rich_hofmann. 

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About this blog
Bob Cooney has been at the Daily News for more than 20 years, working in the sports department for the past 15. This is his third season on the Sixers beat. He has covered just about everything, but mostly college basketball, where he was the La Salle beat writer for six seasons. E-mail Bob at cooneyb@phillynews.com and follow him on Twitter.

Bob Cooney
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