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Dec 13 2013

Tony Wroten, Driving Extraordinaire

Moonlighting as the Sixers starting point guard in the absence of Michael-Carter Williams, Tony Wroten has registered some impressive numbers as the team’s primary ball-handler. Across eight starts—admittedly a small sample size—he has amassed averages of 18.5 PPG and 5.4 APG on 44 percent shooting.

(Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Devoid of context, those numbers would be fairly impressive for a player the Grizzlies practically gave away, and the assists tally seems to indicate Wroten is suited to be a floor general, at the very least in a complementary role. But is it possible the 6-foot-5 guard is better suited as a scorer than a distributor?

The NBA’s SportVU tracking data suggests his strength lies in getting to the hoop, not creating for his teammates. Wroten is sixth in points per 48 minutes on drives (now there’s a mouthful) with a healthy average of 9.4, checking in behind scorers like Monta Ellis and Tyreke Evans, and slightly edging out teammate Evan Turner.

The assist numbers, on the other hand, don’t paint as pretty a picture. Wroten is creating 15 points off assists per 48 minutes, which sounds like a decent figure… until you look at the names surrounding him. Aaron Brooks and Jarrett Jack are decent players, but opponents aren’t game planning around their their passing wizardry. Each are known more for their capability to bring some scoring off the bench, a role Wroten seems destined to fulfill.

Though two isolated figures aren’t enough to draw any conclusions, they mesh with what most fans see from Wroten on a nightly basis. There are two areas where his frenetic pace is most evident—on defense, and drives to the bucket. It’s become a nightly ritual watching Wroten throw his body into defenders with reckless abandon, often resulting in violent crashes to the floor. No player since Allen Iverson has turned more Philadelphians into concerned parents.

For the Sixers’ sake, that’s a good thing. Wroten’s style lends itself to generating free throws, something that analytics-minded teams like the Sixers can’t get enough of. One of the major flaws of now departed guard Jrue Holiday was his inability (or indifference) to get to the charity stripe. So far this year, Wroten is getting to the line 5.1 times per 36 minutes, which would put him in the league’s top 30 per game. It may seem like a small thing to just get to the line, but a look at the league’s current top 10 reveals otherwise:

 

RK PLAYER TEAM GP PPG FTM FTA FTM FTA FT%
1 Kevin Durant, SF OKC 21 28.4 9.2 10.5 193 220 .877
2 Dwight Howard, PF HOU 22 17.0 5.6 10.1 123 222 .554
3 James Harden, SG HOU 18 24.6 7.8 9.1 141 164 .860
4 DeMarcus Cousins, C SAC 19 22.5 5.6 7.9 107 150 .713
5 Kevin Love, PF MIN 21 23.9 6.3 7.7 133 161 .826
6 Carmelo Anthony, SF NY 21 25.6 6.4 7.6 134 159 .843
7 LeBron James, SF MIA 22 25.0 5.7 7.3 126 161 .783
8 Ty Lawson, PG DEN 19 19.3 5.4 7.2 103 136 .757
9 Brook Lopez, C BKN 14 20.9 5.6 6.8 78 95 .821
10 Blake Griffin, PF LAC 23 20.6 4.2 6.4 97 148 .655

That list is a who’s who of impact players around the NBA. Other than Howard, whose numbers are inflated by the Hack-a-Dwight, these players are all considered some of the league’s top offensive players. Wroten is still a ways off from approaching their free-throw attempt numbers (he’s also not making teams pay at the foul line, shooting a Dwight Howard-esque 56.4 percent), but he’s getting there more and more.

Speaking of poor shooting, Wroten’s stroke is holding him back from being an even more effective scorer. And by holding him back, I mean he might as well be wearing an anchor around his neck—19.4 percent from downtown is not going to cut it. That trend continues, well, basically everywhere:

If not for his anemic shooting, Brett Brown would be able to experiment more with a Wroten-MCW backcourt. As it stands, the duo has been pretty bad during the 109 minutes they’ve played together. Their ORTG sits at 99.1, which means they’re failing to score a full point per possession when sharing the floor. Carter-Williams has actually proven to be a pretty reliable spot-up guy—he’s shooting 43.5 percent on spot-up 3-pointers, according to Synergy—so the slashing ability of Wroten is a nice fit theoretically. But he has to prove that he can make teams respect his jumper when the ball-handling roles are reversed, lest they create spacing issues that are hard to overcome.

Still, that Wroten has been this effective with one of the league’s worst jumpers is a testament to his talent. Employed by a franchise more concerned with the future than current results, the 20-year-old will be given every opportunity to fix his weaknesses. Just try to stop hitting the deck with such force, Ton’. You’re starting to worry us.