The Enigmatic, Flawed Tony Wroten

With the Washington Huskies disappointing and equally frustrating 2011-12 season at its end, one of the primary culprits, heroes, villains and stars is the center of discussion. Actually, he has been the center of discussion for years now. He is the one and only Tony Wroten. As a basketball coach, I heard about Tony years ago when he was in the 7th and 8th grades. I watched and coached against him in high school and I formed opinions about his game.

And I have some complaints to file.

Attention for Years

But I don’t have any problems with Tony the person. This isn’t because of anything in particular other than the fact that I don’t know Tony Wroten. Sometimes Husky fans mix their impression of a player with a personality. Thus fans begin essentially verbally assaulting the person based upon an on-court persona or actions in a game. This occurred mostly this season after Wroten missed four free throws against Oregon State in the final minute at the Pac-12 tournament. My complaints are purely centered around his game. They are a commentary on his areas in which he needs to improve – either to lead the Huskies back to the NCAA tournament or to succeed in the NBA. First, I should start with what Wroten does well.

Tony has the ability to get to the basket at will. This cannot be overstated. For the same reason that people criticize Abdul Gaddy (and in the past Isaiah Thomas), people should applaud Wroten. Despite his left hand dominance, he still gets to the hoop consistently. Even when opposing coaches are smart enough (or have players good enough) to shade Wroten to his right, he still attacks the rim and can still get to his left. The Huskies have never had a player as good at attacking the basket in recent memory (or probably ever considering the way the game has evolved over the years). Wroten also has an uncanny ability to get his own misses. This is an odd skill, but useful, especially considering the amount of time he spends attacking. The only player with as quick of a second bounce that I can recall was Antawn Jamison at North Carolina. Completely different players with different skill sets clearly. Lastly, Wroten has other worldly passing ability. He can see and execute passes that 98% of the basketball world cannot. This will allow him to play the point guard position at a high level, including the NBA, if he can get better in some other areas. He can use this ability to execute a pick and roll effectively and be highly dangerous in transition.

From a qualitative stand point or through observations, my complaints with Wroten center around three main areas. First, his effort on defense. Wroten showed an ability to absolutely get after it on the defensive end at times this year, especially when playing at home. Yet how many times has this not occurred? Wroten allows himself to be sealed off on screen and roll situations. He doesn’t recover well (on pick and roll and others). He doesn’t rotate. He doesn’t sprint back. Wroten may think he is getting back but from a coaching stand point if he isn’t ahead of the ball, he isn’t back. Second, his inability to be multi-faceted. With a shooting percentage of 16.1% on 59 attempts from 3, it is clear that teams do not have to respect Wroten from 20 feet out. Yet how many times has he shot dribble pull ups? Where is the mid range game? Where is the simple pass to ensure ball reversal (as opposed to the “ooohhh” and “ahhhh” pass for the assist)? Why must the ball stop in his hands? Third, his lack of improvement. I cannot think of an area where Wroten showed improvement this season. He didn’t get better on D. He didn’t shoot it better. His free throws were still poor. Maybe his turnovers?

But are my issues with Wroten’s game fair? Alex Akita, editor and creator of Seattle Sportsnet, (rated the top Seattle sports blog in Western Washington) had this to say recently:

There is a certain bias that can occur with people who have left a negative impression on you. You’ll be more cognizant of their flaws, you’ll look for the things you don’t like about them, and you’ll often fail to recognize their positive traits. Throughout the course of this season, a large contingent of fans have had this attitude towards Wroten. It’s not up for debate. This is obvious following every game. One need not search any farther than Facebook, Twitter, or the message board community for evidence. Fair or unfair, Tony Wroten, as a player and a person, has had to endure more scrutiny than perhaps any other player in University of Washington basketball history. (http://seattlesportsnet.com/2012/03/09/tony-wroten-and-the-psychology-of-fanaticism/)

Are we biased to negatively view Tony Wroten?

Or as the basketball community might say – are we just haters? Do we not understand Wroten’s game?

I would first say that I am qualified to assess Wroten’s game as a guy who coached multiple D1 college players and a couple NBA guys as well. Secondly, I do not believe something simply based upon observation alone. I am an analytical person by nature and a believer in advanced statistics. The reality is that the stats, or quantitative data, also don’t show favor to Tony Wroten.

Let’s start with the fact that Wroten led the Pac-12 in both turnovers (132 with Brock Motum second at 103) and turnovers per game (3.77). Or his 58.3% from the free throw line and 16.1% from three-point range. Yet these only start to tell the story.

Baseball uses advanced stats better than nearly any sport, but basketball has their own as well. Baseball features more commonly accepted Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Batting Average Balls In Play (BABIP), Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and Isolated Power (ISO) which tell much more about a player than batting average, home runs and RBI. While most fans look at points per game, rebounds, assists and steals in basketball, they ignore the Roland rating or Offensive rating, found at http://www.statsheet.com. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone reference these statistical measures when evaluating Wroten or any other Husky. The Roland rating is described as this:

This rating isn’t an absolute measure of a player’s ability, but it does represent how successful a player is with a given team. In general the player with the best Roland Rating on a team is the difference maker (exclude the guys who play a statistically insignificant number of minutes). When the top guy is on the floor the team performs at a much higher level.

When you look at Roland rating on a per game basis, the top three players in the Pac-12 are Allen Crabbe (11.1), Harper Kamp (10.8) and Jorge Gutierrez (10.2) of California. Ahmad Starks of Oregon State is also at 10.2, while Devoe Joseph of Oregon is at 9.0. The first Husky on the list is Terrence Ross at 7.0. He is followed by Aziz N’Diaye (6.2), Darnell Gant (5.5), Abdul Gaddy (4.7) and finally Tony Wroten (2.8). Stat Sheet ranks 41 Pac-12 players. Wroten is 35th overall. Move to the Offensive rating stat, described as:

As for usage rate, Pomeroy says it “assigns credit or blame to a player when his actions end a possession, either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover.” Essentially, it’s the number of possessions a player “uses” out of 100.

Wroten ranks 61st out of 69 ranked players in the Pac-12. C.J. Wilcox is 3rd in the Pac-12. Darnell Gant is 8th. Ross is 13th. Desmond Simmons is 33rd. Gaddy is 39th. N’Diaye is 60th. Then you find Tony Wroten.

And it gets worse. They have a category called “Clutch Roland”, taking the Roland rating and applying it to late game, tight situations. Wroten isn’t even ranked. He essentially has not “scored” in this category. He doesn’t even get a “point” in this category. See for yourself: http://statsheet.com/mcb/players/stats/clutch_roland?season=2011-2012&conf=pac-10.

Haters Gonna Hate huh? This isn’t hating someone’s game. This isn’t picking out the negative things. This is statistical evidence that shows Tony Wroten needs to improve drastically. I would love to hear the argument at this point in favor of Wroten’s game. Show me evidence of him sprinting back consistently. Show me Wroten recovering after being screened. Show me him sprinting a rotation to cover the hoop. Show me a stat that “values” his presence on the floor. You cannot find it. This isn’t a Tony hate session. This is a wake up call. It is time to be coachable and to put forth more effort or Tony Wroten is going to be in for a big surprise at the next level.

Think I am wrong? What will NBA teams do to defend Wroten on a pick and roll? They will sit in the key and dare him to shoot. Wroten makes 16.1% of shots from 20 feet. That is a mid range jumper in the NBA. Will Wroten be able to get his own misses at that level? Not likely. Will he get to the rim? Maybe. But what happens when they start fouling him? 58% from the line. What happens when he is competing for playing time with hungry, mid-major studs? They will get after it on D because they always had to do that to play. Wroten will be at a disadvantage.

It is time to improve Tony. The stats don’t lie.

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