High flying, six-foot-five left-handed point guards don't come along the college basketball landscape often.
With that in mind, perhaps no power-six conference has taken more of a hit this season than the Pac-12, which has in turn, shielded the nation from Washington freshman Tony Wroten, Jr.
Since breaking out for 23 points against Duke this past December, Wroten -- a cousin of fellow Seattleite and former Huskies star Nate Robinson -- has exploded with seven 20-plus point games, while leading the team in steals and free throw attempts.
"We can't keep you in front of us," Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski told him after he almost single-handedly led UW back from a 19-point deficit.
Neither has anybody else since then.
Blessed with great quickness and a remarkable ability to hang in the air around the basket, Wroten has quietly become one of the more unguardable players in the country. His 17.1 points per game rank third among all Division One freshman and third in the conference, but it's his diverse and fearless ability to score that has resulted in his meteoric rise up NBA Draft boards.
With most teams now heavily overplaying the southpaw to his off hand, he still finds a way to get to the left side by starting drives right only to go back left, or by using his athletic ability to finish above the rim and/or draw the foul. For all the talk about him being left-hand dominant, Wroten is actually 14 percent more efficient when driving right in isolation scenarios, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He possesses tremendous body control and strength in the air, where he is able to absorb hits and invert his body. He is also an excellent rebounder (nearly five per game), particularly on the offensive end, where he ranks as one of the premier guard rebounders in the country.
Defensively, while still undisciplined off the ball, he has displayed all of the tools to become an elite NBA defender, capable of guarding multiple positions. Wroten uses his long arms, natural strength and quick feet all to his advantage. His defensive metrics are at times off the charts -- he has proven to be extremely effective in isolation situations, mostly forcing contested pull-up jump shots or turnovers.
Whether he stays in school another year or elects to enter the draft, the two main question marks surrounding Wroten are his shooting and general decision-making.
Wroten -- who is a very poor shooter, is not unlike many young guards, in that he is actually decent from distance when he can create his own rhythm by dribbling into his shots. However, when given catch and shoot opportunities either from three or 17-feet, he is abysmal, converting just 13 percent of his shots, according to Synergy Sports. And, for such a dynamic talent off the bounce, the 18-year-old is shooting just 55 percent from the free throw line. While a part of this can be attributed to inconsistent mechanics --in which the angle of his guide hand often changes or his shooting elbow flares to the side -- the main reason comes down to repetition. Shooting is all about muscle memory and right now, Wroten simply doesn't have it. But when the clock is winding down and his team needs a bucket, he wants the ball -- always a good sign.
The only other real concern with Wroten right now is his propensity to turn the ball over. To be fair, part of this comes from a super high usage rate, meaning he has the ball in his hands much more than anyone else on his 14-7 first-place team. At four turnovers per game though, he simply doesn't value the basketball enough, especially in transition, where he is surprisingly below average for such a gifted athlete.
According to Synergy Sports, Wroten only scores in under half of these situations. His feel for the game is sometimes dazzling and other times very poor. Too often, he over-dribbles as opposed to the stop-and-pop. He also misses two-on-one opportunities on the fast break, when the lead bounce pass is the correct play. The same can be said about the pick-and-roll, where he struggles to read the defense, either getting far too deep into the paint because he's not confident in his mid-range jump shot, or by missing his role or pop man.
As is the case with any talented young player, there is going to be a lot of bad that comes along with the good. Wroten isn't any different; he is still learning the game on both ends. But his abundance of talent is obvious, and when explored on a more intimate level, it's easy to see that this is a point guard with legitimate All-Star potential. He is a supremely confident playmaker who can create off the dribble with ease by changing speeds and direction on a dime, who has shown terrific vision at times, and who has the ability to become a shutdown type of defender because of his premier size and quickness.
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