The draft is an inexact science that’s not for the faint of heart in NBA front offices, and deciding whether to take one first-round prospect in particular already has a few executives sweating. Most teams are “scared to death” of Washington point guard Tony Wroten, as Chad Ford wrote in an ESPN.com Insider piece last month. His poor decisions with the ball, deficient shooting and lack of ability to lift his team raise serious doubts about whether he can fulfill an upside that Ford says could be the best of any point guard in the draft. That Wroten once listed J.R. Smith, another questionable decision maker, as his favorite player of all-time, doesn’t exactly ease anyone’s mind. If he were judged on talent alone, Joe Treutlein of Draft Express believes the freshman would be a top 10 pick, while Ford says he would be in the top five. The doubts about him bring the official ESPN and Draft Express projections down to 21st, while NBADraft.net sees him going 26th.
It would be easy to dismiss the 19-year-old if he weren't so full of potential. His ability to get to the basket, draw fouls and make dazzling passes is hard to match. Making the difficult pass, however, means little if you can't consistently make the routine pass, and this year Wroten averaged more turnovers per game (3.8) than assists (3.7). That's as much of an indictment as any for a point guard. Treutlein points out that the lefty plays almost completely one-handed, an issue that may mitigate his penetration when facing tougher defenders and better scouting at the pro level. The same piece praises Wroten for his defense, though, noting that while he is prone to gambling for steals, he usually is effective in using his size, strength, length and instincts to his advantage. He measures 6'5", 204.5 pounds, with a 6'8" wingspan, lending credence to the notion that he's really a combo guard.
Wroten is harder to compare to other players than any other prospect in this year's draft, Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com said this week via Twitter, but both Treutlein and Ford have thrown out the name of Tyreke Evans. Ford says some scouts believe he's the second coming of Gary Payton, but judging from everything else we hear, that seems like quite a stretch. Nate Robinson is Wroten's cousin, and he might be a reasonable match. Though Robinson is eight inches shorter, he's also a combo guard who can get to the hoop and alternates between scintillating and frustrating performances. One major difference is Robinson's outside shot; he's hit 35.4% from three-point land in his NBA career, while Wroten managed to connect on only 16.1% of his attempts from the college three-point line this year.
In Wroten's most pressure-packed moments as a collegian, the 58.3% free-throw shooter missed four straight from the line down the stretch of a two-point loss that knocked his team out of NCAA Tournament contention. While Washington was the Pac-12 regular season champ, the Huskies wound up in the NIT, a serious knock on the competition Wroten faced this year. He has experience with USA Basketball at the junior level, but his bio from those competitions reveals that he missed the entire 2009/10 season with a torn ACL. Certainly, others have fully recovered from that kind of injury, but it's another red flag that makes him such an object of concern for NBA teams.
The best outcome for Wroten might be to get with a well-run organization that can give him the guidance and time necessary to develop and use him as a third guard off the bench instead of a starter. The Celtics, who have back-t0-back picks at No. 21 and No. 22, might be tempted to take the plunge with Wroten with one of those selections if they play it conservatively with the other. Rajon Rondo and, if he re-signs, Ray Allen, could be just the kind of mentors Wroten needs to one day prove all his critics wrong.