Make it go, Wright
Utah's do-it-all point guard stabilizes team and then some
Reading Delon Wright’s potency this year, for me, is akin to reading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity Rainbow.
“A screaming comes across the sky.”
It’s one of the most recognizable opening lines in American literature, just like Wright’s one of the top 10 most recognizable players in college basketball. (Said this before, but Kentucky is excluded in only types of statements like this; they’d likely include 6-8 spots for the average fan if we did.) But that sentence: “A screaming comes across the sky.” That’s exciting, that’s a book you want to read.
Now, Utah starts (and ends) with Delon Wright. He’s shooting over 50 percent, scoring 14.3 PPG, with 4.5 RPG and 5.4 APG. Let’s add some advanced statistics in there, too: Wright is in the top 20 nationally in player efficiency rating, offensive rating, defensive rating and win shares. That’s exciting, that’s a player you want on your team.
But much like I can’t understand parts of Pynchon’s novel, some of Delon Wright’s game doesn’t quite make sense. (Okay, fine: I don’t understand a lot of Gravity’s Rainbow.)
Utah is 20-4, a record representative of the No. 9 team of the nation. The Utes play ferocious defense, which allows them to hang with almost any team they face. Their offense revolves around 3-point shooting and … honestly, Delon Wright doing Delon Wright things. But that’s to be expected with a player like Wright; how could he not fundamentally impact a team’s offensive foundation?
Playing ranked opponents, Wright doesn’t falter to the occasion (save an off night in Utah’s early loss to San Diego State). He mostly meets what is expected of him -- which, again, is quite a bit. In Utah’s one ranked win against Wichita State, Wright was tirelessly superb, playing all 45 minutes of the overtime game and scoring the game’s go-ahead bucket. On the other hand, Utah has lost the other three of its four ranked games. Wright played well then, but also appeared as if he might be taking some plays off.
And that’s what complicates quantifying and qualifying Wright: Him ‘looking’ like he might be saving himself on some possessions is (kind of) understandable, if not necessary, considering all he does and provides for Utah. Other than maybe Wisconsin with Frank Kaminsky and Notre Dame with Jerian Grant, not many teams rely on one player to create and stabilize like Utah asks of Wright.
So, with regards to these losses, especially against Arizona and UCLA, should blame be placed on his teammates for not rising to the occasion when Wright needs them? Should Wright be judged because a rising tide floats all boats? Or is there any blame to be placed at all? On that day, were Utah’s opponents simply better and not indicative of Utah’s chances in March Madness, a one-and-done elimination tournament?
Watch a Utah game (if for some reason you haven’t) and only two conclusions will likely be reached: This is a team that will be eliminated the first two rounds, or will make the Final Four. The latter is only a possible thought because of Delon Wright. As an offensive player, he buoys Utah’s attack by never settling. He doesn’t shoot a ton of 3s, doesn’t lazily pull up for a mid-range jumper. He attacks efficiently, driving hard, or patiently passing to shift defenses so they might open an opportunity for Utah’s offense. On defense, he will be able to contain most offensive guards across the country, limiting them with his sound principles.
Other Player of the Year candidates are better at doing specific things than Wright, but not many can do all the things he can at such a high level of smart play. (Kaminsky is the guy who makes that statement an argument.) So how good is Delon Wright the basketball player? Honestly, I’m still not sure of the answer. I think he still has another plane to his game to explore.
With games against Arizona and rising Arizona State, Utah’s potential will be tested and possibly realized. Fair or not, it’s mostly up to Delon Wright. “A screaming comes across the sky.” But where does it land?
Naismith Power Rankings
Each week, we’ll rank the top players in the Naismith race. These rankings are fluid and mostly for fun, but they matter ... to someone.
1) Frank Kaminsky -- Part of this column was spent also praising Kaminsky, so I won’t belabor the point about Frank the everything-but Tank. Two double-doubles in his past two games and it looked effortless. He’s good.
2) Jahlil Okafor -- v. posterize 1 to slam a dunk in an opponent’s face in a manner that embarrasses them 2 what FSU’s Phil Cofer did to Okafor last Wednesday. Matter much? Not really. Okafor’s off-night vs. the Seminoles was followed by a dominant 25-point, 13-rebound game against Syracuse, which included Okafor shutting down Rakeem Christmas. I mention it because it was odd to see Okafor made so mortal, albeit momentarily. Strange sight to bear witness to.
3) D’Angelo Russel -- He shot poorly in his past two games, playing a bit shook at Michigan State (unsurprising with the bajillion NBA players who were there). Dropping him would be a bit premature as all high-flying planes must dock temporarily for eventual refueling. A bounceback this week is sure to be expected.
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