MikeCheck: Vowing to keep confidence high, Wright hitting post-trade stride with Grizzlies
MEMPHIS – For Grizzlies combo guard Delon Wright, the most revealing signs of recent progress are seen in his response to setbacks.
Take, for instance, his mindset moments after missing that wide-open, corner three-pointer in the final seconds that would have sealed an impressive road win the other night at Oklahoma City. Instead, Wright’s shot clanked off the rim as the Grizzlies saw the Thunder rally to a 99-95 victory.
According to teammate C.J. Miles, who arrived with Wright and Jonas Valanciunas in last month’s trade from Toronto, such a letdown in the past might have dumped Wright into the doldrums indefinitely.
“It’s always been kind of a confidence thing,” Miles, a 13-year veteran, said of Wright. “He pulls himself back a little bit and would let a couple of shaky plays put him in a shell. But the last couple of games or so, he’s just been aggressive and in attack mode. He’s a triple-double type of guy, and he can do that.”
Delon Wright #2 of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 5, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, TN. Photo by Joe Murphy via Getty Images.
Instead of pulling himself back after a bittersweet night in Oklahoma City on Sunday, Wright sprung forward and onto Tuesday’s career-high tying 25-point effort in a home win over Portland. The fourth-year playmaker looks to build on his strongest week of the season when the Grizzlies (26-40) continue their three-game homestand Friday against the Utah Jazz (37-27) at FedExForum.
Had Mike Conley not also delivered the highest-scoring game of his career against the Blazers, Wright would have garnered more attention on his breakout night. But Conley’s 40 points relegated Wright to a top supporting role in the Grizzlies’ most impressive and complete win since the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
Wright’s comfort, workload and production have improved each week over the past month. In the past five games, he’s shot 47.9 percent from the field while averaging 12.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals in 27 minutes a night for the Grizzlies, who have gone a respectable 3-2 in that span.
“It’s been a good fit so far, and we’ve been meshing well,” Wright said as he prepared for Friday’s game. “Our coaches are doing a good job of constantly being on me to stay aggressive, telling me the spots they see for me to attack and what to look for. They want me to be aggressive and that’s my nature. The confidence is growing. And when my shot starts to fall more, I know I can put it all together.”
He’s already put together the best two-game scoring stretch of his career, having delivered 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists in OKC before he scored 25 on Portland. Even more encouraging than the raw numbers was the fact that those performances came with a chunk of Wright’s minutes going against a recent league MVP in Russell Westbrook and perennial All-Star Damian Lillard.
Our coaches are doing a good job of constantly being on me to stay aggressive, telling me the spots they see for me to attack and what to look for. The confidence is growing. And when my shot starts to fall more, I know I can put it all together.Delon Wright
Those showdowns were especially meaningful for Wright, whose older brother Dorell Wright was drafted in the first round by the Heat directly out of high school in 2004. Dorell was an older high school teammate of Westbrook in Los Angeles, and he spent his final two NBA seasons with Lillard in Portland.
Westbrook was one of the first players on either team to embrace and console Delon on Sunday at the buzzer, soon after his potential game-winner missed. And Lillard was one of the first to congratulate Wright after his big game helped to trip up the surging Blazers on Tuesday.
“It was definitely a boost,” Delon Wright said of his last two outings. “My brother is close with Damian, C.J. and Russ, too. I always play good against his friends, former teammates or whatever it is. It’s just real fun to match up against some of the best players. That’s what I want to be one day. Playing against them is what keeps me going, keeps me working hard.”
Next up are a few shifts Friday potentially matched up against Jazz dynamic guard Donovan Mitchell, who has averaged 27.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists his last 10 games. While Avery Bradley has started alongside Conley at shooting guard and is likely to draw the primary assignment on Mitchell, the Grizzlies have relied on the 6-foot-5 Wright’s length, speed and versatility at both backcourt spots, and also at times in three-guard lineups.
Delon Wright #2 and Assistant Coach Chad Forcier of the Memphis Grizzlies talk during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on February 12, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, TN. Photo by Joe Murphy via Getty Images.
The staff has also worked relentlessly with Wright to improve his 30.8 percent accuracy from beyond the arc, a task that has warranted extensive sessions with assistant coach Chad Forcier. It’s been a work in progress, but largely an encouraging process.
“Since Delon has been here, he and Chad have been working a ton together developing a plan,” Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “When Delon goes out on the court, one of the greatest things players can do is take something that you work on in practice or in a drill and translate it to the court. That’s what he’s been able to do. The ability to play and lead a unit when Mike is out of the game, and then the ability to complement Mike while they’re out there together – that’s the direction and purpose he plays with.”
Conley sees a playmaking sidekick gaining more confidence and rhythm with every possession.
“He can do it all – he’s solid at every facet of the game,” Conley explained about Wright. “He’s a player that just doesn’t know how good he can be yet. He’s just trying to feel his way. He almost just doesn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. But we’re just like, ‘When you’re in the game, just be aggressive. Go, go, go!’ The more aggressive he is, the better he is, the better we are. We just need him to continue.”
Since their time together in Toronto, Miles has been sending a similar message to Wright: “I’m like, ‘You’re going to always make the right play. That’s one thing I’ve seen from you since I’ve been with you. As long as you’re aggressive and don’t overthink it, you’ll make the right play. You know how to play basketball, and you have to believe in that.’ That’s what I keep reminding him.”
More than anything else, the rest of this season is an extended audition for Wright. Although teammates and coaches speak at times as if he’s a young prospect or a developing recent draft pick, Wright turns 27 next month as he approaches restricted free agency this summer. That gives the Grizzlies the right to match any potential outside contract offer for Wright, who was the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2015 draft after his senior season at the University of Utah.
It’s just real fun to match up against some of the best players. That’s what I want to be one day. Playing against them is what keeps me going, keeps me working hard.Delon Wright
The Grizzlies didn’t land a first-round draft pick among assets in dealing away Marc Gasol, but Wright represents the young(ish) type of prospect Memphis sought along with Valanciunas’ interior presence. It remains to be seen if Wright is the transitory facilitator to replace Conley down the line or simply a solid backup to bolster depth at the positon moving forward.
What’s clear now is he’s currently making the most of his shot on the job.
Even after those when he misses.
“I was down because – that wasn’t the (only) reason why we lost in OKC, but it would have helped us win,” Wright reflected. “I just felt like it was one of those shots that I know I could have made. And if it happens again, I’m definitely going to take it. My confidence will stay pretty high.”
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