Tony Wroten’s Journey: From Benched Rookie to Most Improved Player Candidate

instagram.com:p:gf7xQbwsRR:Years ago, Tony Wroten was one of the top high school players attending a basketball camp hosted by star point guard Deron Williams.

This week, Wroten was guarding Deron Williams.

“It’s crazy because, I remember when I was younger, I went to his camp and he told me pointers, and now I’m in the league going against him,” Wroten told Sheridan Hoops. 

As crazy as it may have sounded years ago, it seemed just as crazy months ago, when Wroten couldn’t get off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies as a rookie.

Wroten’s career has been the equivalent of a roller coaster ride at Six Flags. Like most draft prospects, Wroten oozed potential – the quality every executive and scouting department craves when selecting players.

While potential is the common denominator all prospects are judged upon, many are never put in position to succeed and realize that potential. Wroten was headed down that path until an offseason trade sent him to Philadelphia, where a massive rebuilding project was in place.

That opportunity has transformed Wroten from D-League visitor to Most Improved Player candidate.

instagram.com:p:iCDaUhQsQn:#Wroten’s NBA journey began when the Grizzlies selected him 25th overall in the 2012 draft.

At 6-6 and 205 pounds, Wroten caught the eyes of several scouts as a combo guard who excelled at finishing around the rim.

Just 19 and coming off a season in which he was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and an All-Pac-12 selection, Wroten was expected to compete for minutes as Mike Conley’s backup point guard.

However, he never met those expectations. Jerryd Bayless secured the backup point guard spot in the rotation and Wroten averaged only 7.8 minutes in just 35 games.

Wroten went through the lowest point of his career at any level when he was sent to the Reno Bighorns of the D-League.

“It’s tough because being a rookie obviously you’re the man in college and high school so of course you expect you’re going to play and be an All-Star,” Wroten said.

Wroten also starred at the high school level, where he won the gold medal with Team USA during the 2010 U-17 World Championship and played in the Nike Hoop Summit in 2011.

Tony Wroten and I“Sometimes, it’s about opportunity,” Wroten said. “We had a very good team in Memphis, a veteran team that was winning. I wasn’t able to get a lot of minutes so it was tough. I went down to the D-League, which was very frustrating. There were a lot of times were you want to give up and be like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ But, I had a great supporting cast and I knew what I was capable of.”

The Grizzlies were close to the luxury tax threshold and needed to shed salary. So they dealt Wroten to the rebuilding 76ers for a future second-round pick.

It was unclear what Wroten’s role would be in Philadelphia. The 76ers were committed to rookie Michael Carter-Williams at point guard and had veteran Evan Turner locked in at shooting guard.

However, Wroten proved capable immediately for the 76ers.

On Nov. 13 against Houston, Wroten started in place of the injured Carter-Williams and became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double in his first career start. He electrified the home crowd as he scored 18 points, handed out 11 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds.

The triple-double performance validated Wroten’s belief in his ability and his desire to improve his craft.

“This summer, I put a lot of dedication and worked hard on my flaws,” Wroten told Sheridan Hoops. “Usually I’ve been the star player all my life. Me not playing last year kind of hurt on the inside, you know? I used that as motivation and came in and was blessed enough to where I got the opportunity here in Philly.”

Wroten has proven to be more than a one-hit wonder.

instagram.com:p:goEntkQsYk:While starting 11 games for Carter-Williams - my Sheridan Hoops preseason pick for Rookie of the Year - Wroten has thrived.

Wroten is averaging 18.4 points, 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals while averaging 33.5 minutes.

“It’s doesn’t get better than this,” Wroten told Sheridan Hoops. “Of course you want to win more, but being able to get the opportunity here in a city like Philadelphia and a great coaching staff and great teammates is a blessing.”

Although Wroten never became Conley’s backup, he did pick up some wisdom from the veteran point guard.

“Mike helped me a lot,” Wroten said. “Him also being a left-handed point guard, he showed me the ropes, told me what it takes and showed me how you have to play point guard.”

Now, Wroten is showing the rest of the NBA.

Michael Scotto is a Sheridan Hoops NBA columnist. You can follow him on Twitter.

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  1. matt d says

    Wroten has been a nice addition in Philly, he always had talent and I think everyone knew that. It was the reason Hinkie brought him over, he had seen him before. As for MIP? Theres no way he is even in the discussion. Easily the MIP is Pekovic from Minny. But theres a lot of other worthy candidates better than Tony Wroten. Phoenix has several, Jeff Teague, Andre Drummand, and even Evan Turner would be higher on my list, just off the top of my head. Pek gets it because he learned how to play NBA Basketball in the offseason, previously he was lost.

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