Trae Young was the main character in the Hawks improbable run to the 2021 Eastern Conference finals while playing the most impressive stretch of basketball in his young career. But even in a wildly successful set of postseason series there is much for a team to learn about themselves especially when it’s their first time navigating the postseason.
In retrospect the New York Knicks didn’t really challenge the Hawks in any way that they couldn’t overcome without simply throwing more Young at them. But the seven game series versus the Philadelphia 76ers, ultimately won by Atlanta, revealed a certain type of depth issue that would need to be addressed.
With starting shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic limited by an injury, Hawks coach Nate McMillan needed to find someone that could play extended minutes in the back court with his starting point guard. In the minutes Lou Williams played with Young, the offensive worked well enough but it was a consistent struggle on the defensive end.
The solution ended up being a heavy workload for Kevin Huerter, who used the playoffs as a sort of a coming out party of his own. His production on both ends of the court was wildly impressive considering how much they were asking him to do as a two-way player.
Creating on offense when Young was off the court or being taken out of a play by multiple defenders, working into a quality midrange shot when the Hawks couldn’t get into the action they wanted and chasing Seth Curry over a million screens. In win after win, Huerter seemingly did it all.
But the workload, including 44 minutes in Game 6 and 39 minutes in Game 7, is too much to build into a strategic plan, too much to do on purpose.
Another option was needed that didn’t present defensive issues that persisted in the Williams minutes and that offered additional ball handling and shooting that didn’t put so much pressure on a single player, Huerter in this case.
Enter Delon Wright.
It was a much anticipated offseason for Atlanta. John Collins was a restricted free agent. Young was eligible for an extension, as is Huerter. A question dominated the analysis about whether the Hawks could and should keep their young core together, which they did in the end, while also bringing back the veteran Williams.
The move to turn Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando into Wright almost went unnoticed. But the decision to add the versatile guard could end up having a profound impact on the Hawks 2021-2022 season if not beyond.
Wright is a 29-year-old combo guard having spent six seasons in the NBA playing for five teams. He has started only 62 of his 334 career games. He has nice size (6’5, 185 lbs) for a guard that can play on or off the ball. He’s a reliable if not dynamic perimeter shooter, 37.1% from the three-point line over his last two seasons. And he is a solid secondary creator.
Also an important aspect of his acquisition is that he isn’t good enough and doesn’t have enough equity in the league to push him ahead of players like Huerter, Bogdanovic and (potentially) Reddish in the rotation. But the things he does well offers value in both a regular season and postseason context.
He is a reasonably efficient scorer in the pick and roll (50th percentile last season). Importantly, he relies on an ability to get downhill towards the rim to produce points, similarly to how Young and Huerter attacked opposing defenses in the playoffs. He’s not a reliable pull up shooter, rather he uses his length to finish at the rim (64.5% last season).
When potentially playing off of the ball with Atlanta’s stronger creators he offers value as a spot up shooter. Wright connected on 43.8% of catch-and-shoot threes last season.
That type of relocation on a drive will work well when playing with Young.
Further, his ability to put the ball on the floor and finish in traffic is useful against team that prioritize closing out on perimeter shooters, a combination that is at a premium in the postseason.
He is confident attacking the opposing defense after a switch.
This is a skill that was in demand in the conference finals versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
Ball security was an area of play that was heavily determinant for Atlanta in terms of postseason success. Wright brings a very secure handle into the mix for the Hawks. He regularly posts one of the better assist-to-turnover ratios in the league by way of keeping it simple and not trying to do more than that which he is capable. He’s not flashy, rather consistently making the right play within the offensive rhythm of the team.
Defensively, he’s not a stopper by any stretch. But he’s competent whether he is defending on the ball or off of it. Similar to how he performs as a ball handler, there is nothing flashy but he’s sound and reliable as a team defender consistently being in the right spot, helping teammates,
After the defense gets a bit unorganized by the dribble penetration he helps on both Montrezl Harrell and Anthony Davis.
Even when dealing with a good screen he keeps working to contest the play.
Wright also contributes as a rebounder, in fact bringing a track record of being one of the better rebounding guards in the league. This could be a key if the Hawks use heavy lineups of John Collins or Danilo Gallinari at center while Onyeka Okongwu is recovering from injury. Those lineups offer a lot offensively by tend to struggle, at times, on the defensive glass.
When thinking beyond this season, Wright could offer a bit of Huerter insurance. The three-year veteran is extension eligible and will be a restricted free agent if he and the team can’t reach an agreement before the season starts.
With the Hawks being in range to start bumping up against the salary tax already this season, there is no guarantee that Huerter will fit in the way they’d like on the cap sheet beyond this season. If, for some reason, they have to move on from him, Wright would help offset a decent bit of the impact.
Wright is on an expiring $8.5 million contract this season but Atlanta will hold his full bird rights next summer and they wouldn’t need to create cap space as to retain him.
The likeliest path of Wright maximizing his value this season will be his ability to serve as an alternative to Williams when they need a better defensive solution and to help provide depth and injury insurance behind Huerter and Bogdanovic.
To have added a player of Wright’s experience and skill without having to move on from a rotation player from the previous season is a win for the organization.