Our 2021-22 Atlanta Hawks Player Review series continues with a look at the season of guard Delon Wright
Put plainly, Delon Wright is a much more valuable player than traditional counting stats paint him to be. He’ll never go for 30 points or put up a monster double-double lines, but he will often impact the game in so many almost imperceptible ways.
He was acquired by the Atlanta Hawks as part of a three-team trade that sent rarely used Kris Dunn, Bruno Fernando along with a second round pick to Boston. Wright was seemingly targeted for his ability to play both the point guard and shooting guard spots as well as his ability to defend smaller perimeter at a high level.
For a team that had many defensive issues this past campaign, especially on the perimeter, Wright was one of the few bright spots in that regard. Wright was virtually the only addition to the rotation as compared to the 2020-21 team, but from the get-go he fit in nicely with the framework of the team.
Delon Wright is a veritable coach’s dream because of his willingness to do the dirty work on the court and shun the spotlight for the betterment of the team. His constant hustle and competitive fervor is immediately evident upon watching tape, especially on the defensive end, and advanced stats rate him highly in that regard.
When playing the point, he manages the game and rarely asserts himself as a scorer. His 8.7 points per 36 minutes was by far the lowest of the 14 Hawks this season who played at least 200 minutes. Delon Wright just missed out on qualifying for the USG% leaderboard by less than 50 minutes, but had he qualified, he would have posted the third lowest in the NBA at 10.3%, behind only Matisse Thybulle and Royce O’Neal.
But don’t mistake him for a passive or unassertive player. Rather, he prefers to let his defense do all the talking. Wright led the team in steals, steals per 36 minutes among players with at least 100 minutes played, and games played. If his 3.1% steals per 100 possession had qualified, he would have ranked second behind only the aforementioned Thybulle.
His highlights on the season are unsurprisingly mainly on the defensive end, and they typically spotlight his undying effort. Here, Wright is able to start a break with his quick hands on defense.
This next clip stems from the do-or-die Play-In matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wright deters the always dangerous Darius Garland on the baseline, then crisply dispossess Evan Mobley of the ball.
Opponents have to always beware of a lurking Wright, who can easily turn an ordinary inbound into three points for the Hawks.
For the first half of the season, Wright mainly featured at the wing next to Lou Williams or out of the rotation entirely. But down the stretch, Wright was the primary backup point guard who also featured next to Trae Young in the backcourt at times. About the rotation minutes frustration, he had to say this at exit interviews, “I just tried to do my best to be professional. Towards the end of the year, I was able to carve out a role that I was able to be impactful at. So it was a sigh of relief.”
But, of course, there is always the business side of the league, and along with that comes some uncertainty about Wright’s status for next year’s team.
There is, however, some significant movement toward Wright returning. President of basketball operations and general manager Travis Schlenk had nothing but praise for the guard, saying, “I’m a big fan of Delon’s game, always have been. He’s one of those guys that just knows how to play basketball. He’s got a great feel for the game, he’s got great natural instincts.”
Wright addressed his free agency directly, remarking, “I would like to get a contract obviously. If it’s here, that would be lovely. But I know it’s a business.”
With Wright an unrestricted free agent this offseason, he can always freely test the market. But the Hawks do own his bird rights by virtue of trading for him in the last year of a three-year contract before the season, a useful exception for retaining your own. He will have a sizable cap hold of over $10 million which could make him a priority in either signing or letting walk in free agency.
The Hawks are up against a salary cap and luxury tax crunch, however. And with many in the front office signaling an attempt to shake up the roster in the wake of a disappointing season, it’s possible Wright will get squeezed out of a competitive free agency offer from Atlanta. But his defensive disruption and easy locker room fit will make him a sought after player from just about any NBA team.