Washington Wizards: the unsung brilliance of Delon Wright

Delon Wright of the Washington Wizards looks on during game against the New York Knicks. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
Delon Wright of the Washington Wizards looks on during game against the New York Knicks. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images) /

The Washington Wizards are once again mired in mediocrity, trying to hold on to a play-in spot in the Eastern Conference with a 30-34 record. They have been playing sub-.500 basketball for almost the entire season. However, there has been one Wizard whose play has been a silver lining from this season: Delon Wright. A player who signed with the Wizards as a free agent in the summer for a bargain of a deal worth $16 million over two years. He has been a revelation whenever he stepped on the court. It is time to give him much-deserved praise for his brilliant under-the-radar season.

Delon Wright, the 30-year-old combo guard, has bounced around the league since being drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2015. The Wizards are his seventh team in eight years, but considering that he is having a career season, he may have found a long-term home here.

One of the more under-discussed storylines from Wizards this season is how good Delon Wright has been, and how much better the team has been when he plays. Due to the right hamstring strain that has cost him 29 games this season, Wright has only played in 35 games so far. The Wizards are 21-14 in those games. In that 29-game stretch in the middle of the season when Wright was unavailable, the Wiz went 9-20, basically sinking their season.

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If we look specifically at the minutes Delon is on the court, it is clear that the Wizards are a completely different team. When he is out there, the Wizards have a net rating of +3.5, meaning they outscore opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions. That is the equivalent of the net rating of the New York Knicks this season, a 39-27 team. And when Wright is not on the court, the Wiz have a net rating of -1.5, which is the equivalent of a surefire lottery team.

Where is Delon Wright’s impact coming from if he only plays 24 minute a night?

Most of Delon Wright’s value comes on the defensive end. Despite long being considered one of the best defensive guards in the league, he has hit a new level this year. He averages 2 steals per game, leading the league in that category. This is especially impressive considering he plays far fewer minutes than any of the other candidates. His steal %, as measured by the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player according to Basketball-Reference, of 4.1% is the highest mark in the league by a significant margin. He is the premier ballhawk in the NBA today.

As a result of this, the Wizards defense has been very good when he is on the floor. The Wizards’ defensive rating with him on the court is 112.3, a number that would rank 5th in the league for the season. Right now, they are instead sitting at 20th.

The advanced stats are also loving what Wright is doing this season. His defensive box plus-minus of 3.9 is 2nd in the entire league and 1st among guards.

The fact that Wright’s defense has been so spectacular all season shouldn’t make his significant offensive contributions overlooked. Yes, his usage rate of 12.7% is very low for a guard, and yes, he needs to shoot more three-pointers. However, he has also been incredibly efficient and productive despite his minor role in the offense.

He is easily having his most efficient season with a true shooting percentage of 60.4. He is shooting 38.8% from three, 48.2% from the field, and a ludicrous 91.9% from the free throw line, all career highs. On a team with a lot of mouths to feed like Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, and Kristaps Porzingis, Wright knows he is not going to have a lot of opportunities to shoot the ball, but he is making the most of it when he gets the chance.

He is also creating his own opportunities. What do you do if you don’t get a chance to shoot often? Go and get the rebound. That is exactly what Wright is doing. He is averaging 1.2 offensive rebounds per game. His offensive rebounding percentage is 5.6%, leading all guards in the NBA.

Delon Wright is the perfect example of a veteran doing whatever it takes for his team night in and night out. He sacrifices his body on the defensive end, on the offensive glass, and in hustle plays. He takes care of the ball, sets his teammates up, and doesn’t take anything off the table on both offense and defense. The Wizards are lucky to have him, especially on that contract.

If Wright hadn’t missed those 29 games in the middle of the season, the Wizards’ season might be looking very different right now. A better position in the Eastern Conference standings would be in play and therefore higher playoff aspirations.

Yet, it may not be too late. The Washington Wizards are a good bet to make the play-in. If they have a healthy team and a healthy Delon Wright as a one-man wrecking crew out there, they will have a chance to win in the play-in tournament and make the playoffs. Let’s hope that’s the case for the sake of the man who has saved the Wizards’ season.

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