Tony Wroten Jr., 19, has gotten to the NBA as quickly as he planned. He served his one season at the University of Washington. He impressed NBA scouts in his workouts with his athleticism and made it into the first round of the league's draft. Now the dream is real.
LAS VEGAS — His first attack of the basket was the same kind of quick, explosive move that Seattle hoop mavens have been seeing from him since Tony Wroten Jr. was in junior high.
He spun once to his left, got his right shoulder ahead of the Washington Wizards’ Tomas Satoransky, elevated at the rim, missed the shot, but pogo-sticked back up for the rebound and scored.
That snapshot from last week’s Las Vegas Summer League game was exactly the reason Wroten was drafted with the 25th pick by the Memphis Grizzlies.
“We saw someone who had size, strength, was very athletic and who could get to the basket. Had a lot of talent, but also needed a lot of work,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said before a recent game.
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This has always been the plan for Wroten. This is the dream, the place he has aspired to since eighth grade. This is where mentors and advocates like local NBA players Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy, Will Conroy and cousin Nate Robinson were pushing him to land.
Wroten, 19, has gotten to the NBA as quickly as he planned. He served his one season at the University of Washington. He impressed NBA scouts in his workouts with his athleticism and made it into the first round of the league’s draft. Now the dream is real. But …
“Now I have to work on being good. Being great,” Wroten said. “And doing whatever it takes to be great.”
Even the future of a first-round pick isn’t guaranteed. Questions need to be answered. There are areas that Wroten needs to address — his shot, his decision-making and his defense. He doesn’t yet fit comfortably into the pick and roll, which is Memphis’ predominant offense.
Patience is important. Now that he is in the league, nothing is going to come easily. Every improvement will take time.
In his first Summer League game against New York, Wroten was 5 for 9 from the field. He made 2 of 3 from behind the three-point arc. He scored 19 points in 24 ½ minutes. He also shot the ball very well in a scrimmage against Sacramento.
“In just a few short days, we’ve already seen improvement,” Hollins said. “His shot was flat when he first got here. (Assistant coach) Henry Bibby has been working with him on that, and Tony has been willing to work.”
The league has been loaded with point guards who came into the NBA without a jump shot. Gary Payton was one. Rajon Rondo and Memphis’ starter Mike Conley didn’t have jumpers when they arrived. They were willing to put in the lonely hours in the gym to find their shots.
“Coach Bibby has helped me a lot already,” Wroten said. “He told me every time to be consistent with my jump shot. That’s helped me a lot. Helped me big time.”
Memphis’ plan for Wroten’s role is much less demanding and much less glamorous than the plan in Toronto for his former Huskies teammate, Terrence Ross.
The Raptors need Ross immediately. They need his offense. They need his energy. Toronto is a team that is rebuilding. Memphis is a team full of good, young players that merely is tweaking its roster. Wroten was picked for tomorrow, not today.
In Conley, the Grizzlies have a very good, veteran starting point guard who averaged 12.7 points and 6.5 assists last season. They recently signed Jerryd Bayless as Conley’s backup.
They also have ex-Gonzaga guard Jeremy Pargo, who has started ahead of Wroten in the Summer League and had several dazzling drives in the game against Washington.
Josh Selby, another explosive second-year guard, scored 35 in that game. And, Hollins said, former Husky Quincy Pondexter occasionally can slide from two-guard to point.
Wroten won’t be rushed.
“We’ll see how fast he progresses,” Hollins said. “It will be difficult for him because we’re deep there. If he doesn’t make it, there’s a chance he could spend time in (D-League) Reno.”
Hollins is the perfect coach for an aspiring point guard. He was one of the smartest players I ever covered when he was with Portland and Philadelphia. Hollins can be demanding, but he’s fair. He rewards hard work.
“Like a lot of one-and-done guys, Tony still has a lot of work to do on the defensive end,” Hollins said. “He’s never been called on to play defense the way we will want him to play at this level. It’s a big adjustment.
“It’s entirely different here. It’s not like AAU or high school, where you can be the focus and you can play the game the way you like to play it. Here there are a lot of sacrifices to be made. This is a business. Already he’s seeing that. Practices are 2 ½ to three hours long. Every day.”
Aside from that move on Satoransky, Wroten struggled in his second Summer League game against Washington. He shot only 2 for 9, had five points, three turnovers and no assists. He played only 15 minutes.
“Obviously, I don’t want to be in the D-League,” he said, speaking softly and staring past his interviewers and onto the floor where another game was beginning. “So I have to come in and work hard so I don’t have to play in the D-League. From now until November, I have to work on everything. From now on, I can’t take no days off.”
This is Tony Wroten’s new frontier. These are the challenges he faces. This is the most difficult assignment of his basketball life. And for a rookie, there are no vacations.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com