Grizzlies Trade Tony Wroten for 2014 Second Round Pick


Adrian Wojnarowski broke some more big news earlier today, announcing via twitter that Memphis PG Tony Wroten was being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for a future 2nd round pick.

What’s most interesting about this news, though, is that the second-round pick that the Grizzlies are receiving from the 76ers is a 2014 pick protected for the first 50. So, unless the Sixers are exponentially better than everyone is certain that they’ll be, the Grizzlies literally just traded Tony Wroten for nothing. After all, if the Sixers tank, their second round pick will be past 50, and they’ll get to keep it.

There was a lot of negative reaction to this trade, along the lines of  “holy sweet lord of all that is good and holy, the Grizzlies got rid of ANOTHER prospect guard?!?!? FOR NOTHING?!?” That’s probably fair. On the other hand, I predicted this after the Fab Melo trade (or at least mentioned it in a list of probable contingencies). It’s just not that surprising, or even particularly damaging, for the Griz.

Despite being relatively insignificant — and despite him being very not good — the Fab Melo trade came along with a pretty decent amount of baggage, the foremost of which being that Melo put the Grizzlies uncomfortably close to the tax line. Given the room for error, too, that most people give to amateur capologists, the Grizzlies might have even been a little over the tax (though probably not).

Regardless, with such a cap conscious team coming so close to the tax line, it’s not surprising that the Memphis Front Office felt compelled to deal a guaranteed player who would clean up more of the salary sheet. Instead of a buyout or a similarly costly operation, the Grizzlies simply traded Wroten for nothing. Money came off of the sheet at no financial cost to Memphis, and the front office essentially just bought breathing room for the price of Tony Wroten.

Wroten made by far the most sense to deal out of all the available options, as well. The second major consequence of the Fab Melo trade is that, with Melo’s $1 million guaranteed, big man Willie Reed and newly signed and highly valued sharpshooting guard Josh Akognon were going to have to be cut.

Some noises have been made to the tune of Wroten being the real cost for Fab Melo. I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think that the front office looked at the current situation, understanding that two players had to go. Willie Reed was an obvious one, and given that the PG position is 4 deep, either Josh Akognon or Tony Wroten was going to be the last cut.

Maybe if the cap situation was as neat as it was pre-Melo, the Grizzlies could have looked at that and decided that Wroten was more valuable. However, when they were hurting for a little flexibility, they looked at Wroten’s guaranteed $1.1 million, then Akognon’s unguaranteed $880,000. Then they saw that Wroten is still a project, while Akognon has a known value as a shooter, and they decided on Akognon, ultimately, because he has a known value for cheaper cost, with a built in opt-out option for Memphis.

So what exactly is Memphis losing by losing Wroten and keeping with Akognon?

Jan 25, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies point guard Tony Wroten (1) brings the ball up court during the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the FedEx Forum. Memphis Grizzlies defeat the Brooklyn Nets 101-77. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

For one, Wroten is still only 20 years old with a lot of raw talent. Akognon is 27, and not likely to get any better. Everyone has known that Wroten is not an “immediate value” player; he’s a guy that teams are going to need patience with to build up. He has loads of athleticism, great court vision, and a remarkable ability to carve up defenses and get inside. For a guy going into his second season at 20 years old, that’s exciting.

But, as I mentioned in a lot of pieces during Summer League this year, he also has a lot of warts that have to be pretty concerning. Paramount of which, to me, was his really godawful defense. His understanding of angles on pick and rolls was horrific, and he occasionally hedged so hard on picks that the ball handler was so wide open that even they were surprised. The second major concern was his weird inability to actually finish and score the ball once he’s near the rim. It’s a flaw that you really want to be able to excuse, but just can’t.

To be fair, Akognon’s defense isn’t really much better than Wroten’s, and Akognon’s isn’t likely to improve that part of his game, at this point. However, for all of Akognon’s major faults, we do know that he can do one thing well: score. Wroten has a bigger problem in that department.

However, Akognon also can’t pass particularly well, and that’s one thing that Wroten has displayed a surprising gift for, despite being primarily a scorer in college. Given that Akognon is likely to be a three-deep guard, at most, though, it’s not like the Grizzlies are going to be particularly desperate for a brilliant floor general that far off the bench.

What the Grizzlies are really losing in this trade is perceived future potential. Wroten is imagined to have at least a relatively bright future waiting for him, and by trading him, the Grizzlies are giving up the potential to capitalize on that future. A lot of people are really put off by the lack of foresight, but personally, I don’t mind this decision at all.

Wroten really does, after all, have some serious warts. What good is a score-first PG who only can’t shoot but only registers a 39% FG% because he can’t finish around the rim? Even if he is showing much better court vision, his turnover problem is still rampant. His Pick and Roll defense is still atrocious.

I think Wroten is a case of people’s expectations from college outweighing the player in front of them. What are the odds of Wroten fixing all of these relatively deeply inset problems? Probably not high. I’m sure that the Grizzlies were expecting to see major improvement from him this offseason and just didn’t, and that probably weighed into the decision to deal him.

At any rate, the decision to deal Tony Wroten has a lot of origins — between the fear of the Tax, the Fab Melo trade, and the desire to add some shooting off the bench in Akognon — but in the end it probably won’t have much of an impact on the Grizzlies, regardless. Wroten was never going to be more than a 3-4 minute per game player for the first three years of his career, in all likelihood, and Akognon probably won’t see any playing time anyway.

In the end, this is a trade that is nominally more irritating and interesting than it really is. Ultimately, we’ll just have to watch Wroten’s improvement (or lack thereof) in Philadelphia before we’ll be able to say whether this was a good trade or not.

Though, it’s also probably in our best interest to remember that Wroten is much more likely to get the playing time and trust that he needs to improve in Philly than he would have been in Memphis.

At any rate, good luck Wroten. You were exciting while you lasted.