By Frank McLean
The Toronto Raptors invested heavily into their NBA D-League team Raptors 905 for one reason and one reason only and that’s to properly develop their draft picks.
After having to send players in the past to NBDL teams in which they had no control over how their players were developed or who the coach was, the Raptors now have that ability with 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys. Mermuys coaches the Raptors draft picks the exact same way Dwane Casey runs the show at the Air Canada Centre with the idea that players can slip right in and help the Raptors in a pinch.
This is exactly how it has worked for Raptors first round pick Delon Wright.
Wright, a guard, was the 20th overall pick in last June’s draft after spending two years with the University of Utah of the Pacific-12 Conference.
It’s easy to find gems in the draft when you have a lottery pick, the first five-to-ten picks in the first round are usually someone who can help somewhat right away. It’s those later picks where you get someone who you know is good but needs to develop their game.
On draft night Dwane Casey was very happy to get a player of Wright’s ability at the 20th spot.
“We watched a lot of film on him, ” Casey said. “Our scouts watched him intensely. He’s one of the top point guards in the draft.
“He has tremendous upside as a point guard. He reminds me of Nate MacMillan, a guy we had in Seattle who can play multiple positions.”
Wright has worn out a path driving between the Air Canada Centre and suburban Mississauga where 905’s play.
In 12 games in the D-league he has averaged 37 minutes per game, 18 points, five rebounds and seven assists. The numbers show that the potential Raptors scouting director and 905 general manager Dan Tolzman saw in him when he was beating bushes for talent in the NCAA last winter.
“Delon’s play is very solid,” Mermuys said echoing what Casey said on draft night. “I just think because he has a lot of expectations out of this organization where they are fans of his ability as a player, what we see for him in the future it’s probably going to be rare for me to come out here applauding his game, his effort just because we have extremely high expectations. I’m always going to be wanting more.”
When you talk to Wright he is an extremely soft spoken person, very polite and did not come to Toronto with an attitude. He is a rookie that knows the protocol when you come to the NBA is to keep quiet and just observe. His older brother Dorell was selected in the draft out of high school by the Miami Heat and also played with the Portland Trail Blazers, so Delon knew the drill of NBA life before he ever got there.
Wright also knows he is the NBDL for a reason and when you talk to him he is embracing it.
“I think they have me down here for a reason to help my career and try to figure out how to be better,” Wright said. “I’m working on my ball screens and to be a better leader.”
Other Raptors players have gone down to the 905 squad and have been called back to big team and have made contributions like Lucas Nogueira. That has not been lost on Wright.
“When you see a guy like Lucas, he’s been here for two years and he gets a chance to go up and play with the Raptors, I have got be ready when I get my chance,” Wright added.
The Wright selection in draft gives the Raptors insurance at the guard position. He is fourth on the depth chart behind DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph.
DeRozan is expected to opt out of his contract this summer and it’s expected the Raptors will make an offer to keep him. It’s a no brainer, but strange things happen in sports and if DeRozan does not return to Toronto, and I’m only speculating and I don’t expect that to happen, but if he doesn’t, Wright moves up the depth chart.
He can also be used as trade bait if the Raptors so see fit if they feel they are one player away from being a championship contender.
Either way the Raptors have plans for Wright and their program with the Raptors 905 is getting him ready for prime time.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.