What the 'King of Deflections' Delon Wright brings to the Bucks defense (2024)

A few days before the start of training camp for the 2023-24 season, the Milwaukee Bucks traded Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen and a pile of first-round picks and pick swaps to obtain All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard.

While the trade was done with the hopes of unlocking an amazing offense through the two-man game of Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, it meant the Bucks were going to take a step backward on defense. Not only were Holiday and Allen the team’s starting backcourt, but they were also the two best point-of-attack defenders on the roster. Since the trade, the Bucks have desperately been trying to get better in that area.

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Bringing in Delon Wright on a one-year, veteran minimum contract will not solve all of the team’s perimeter defense problems, but it is a step in the right direction.

(Note: Wright’s deal is a standard veteran minimum contract for a player with nine years of NBA experience, which means he will be paid $3.012 million next season. Like all veteran minimum contracts, it will count as roughly $2.09 million on the Bucks’ salary-cap sheet.)

Wright averaged 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game across 47 games for the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat last season, knocking down a respectable 36.8 percent from 3. He has served as a capable backup, and early in his career, he could be a problem for defenses as a second-unit slasher. The majority of Wright’s value now, however, manifests itself on the defensive end. Throughout his career, Wright has provided disruptive defense against point guards and also shown an ability to guard shooting guards.

With more moves to make, it remains to be seen exactly what Wright’s role will be in Milwaukee, but he could be an effective part of a defensive game plan against the league’s top scoring guards, especially with Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez on the backline to help protect the rim.

Look at this defensive possession from last season against All-NBA guard Donovan Mitchell, which starts with Wright defending Mitchell on the inbounds pass.

Outside of a missed shot by Mitchell, it would be impossible to find Wright’s impact in the box score. He did not record a steal or a block on the play, but his work was essential in setting up former Wizards big man Daniel Gafford for a block.

All season long, Bucks guards struggled to stay connected to opposing guards, which meant straight-line drives to the rim, uncontested floaters or easy pull-up jumpers. Lopez is one of the best drop-coverage big men in the entire NBA, but his work become less useful when his teammates fail to stay connected to guards and force them into shots that are easier for Lopez to defend.

He might not be quite as quick and explosive as he was at the start of his career, but Wright still has the foot speed and athleticism to bother opposing guards with his 6-foot-7 1/2 wingspan.

The best players in the NBA will make tough shots like the one Mitchell attempted on the play above, but Wright made it difficult on him and did well to bother him as he went up to shoot it. That’s as much as you can ask for defensively and something the Bucks struggled to offer much on the perimeter last season.

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While Wright should help the Bucks on the ball, that isn’t all he is able to do. Last season, Wright averaged 1.1 steals per game, despite playing only 15.8 minutes. He was one of six players last season, along with Jose Alvarado, Kris Dunn, T.J. McConnell, Larry Nance Jr. and Dennis Smith Jr., to average at least a steal per game while playing fewer than 20 minutes, per Basketball-Reference’s Stathead tool.

Wright put up 2.6 steals per 36 minutes, which tied for the second-highest per-36 steal rate in the NBA last season, and a large majority of those steals come from Wright’s ability to read passing lanes and wreak havoc off the ball, like this deflection and steal of a Tyrese Maxey pass as the last line of defense for the Heat in the Play-In Tournament against the 76ers.

In Washington, Wright earned the nickname “King of Deflections” from The Athletic’s Hall of Fame NBA scribe David Aldridge, and it’s easy to see why when you take a closer look at the film. The 32-year-old combo guard possesses an exceptional ability to get his hands on passes or poke away the dribble from opponents as a help defender.

Watch Wright seal this January 2023 game on defense by deflecting passes from Luka Dončić on two straight plays in the final five seconds.

Wright was clearly instructed to run over and double the ball out of Dončić’s hands once it was inbounded to the Mavericks star, but notice how Wright did not sprint at him immediately. Instead, Wright waited for a second, timed it well and then deflected the pass out of bounds.

With no timeout between the two plays, the Wizards were not going to be able to make any adjustments to their coverage. Dončić knew Wright was going to double-team him again, and despite that knowledge, one of the best passers in the NBA had his pass deflected for a second straight possession.

On top of that, Wright corralled his deflection and showed off supreme basketball intelligence by throwing the ball to the other end to run out the clock and seal a win.

With two spots remaining on the 15-man NBA roster, the Bucks can still add more talent, and they need to continue to build more depth. With a top-heavy roster and a number of young players who are not expected to contribute next season, the Bucks need to find a way to find a few more realistic options in the middle.

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That will be tough to do with only minimum contracts at their disposal, but they pulled it off on this deal with Wright. And general manager Jon Horst will need to do it again as the Bucks look for more defensive help and greater depth in the backcourt and on the wing.

(Photo of Jayson Tatum and Delon Wright: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)

What the 'King of Deflections' Delon Wright brings to the Bucks defense (1)What the 'King of Deflections' Delon Wright brings to the Bucks defense (2)

Eric Nehm is a senior writer for The Athletic covering the Milwaukee Bucks. Previously, he covered the Bucks at ESPN Milwaukee and wrote the book "100 Things Bucks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die." Nehm was named NSMA's 2022 Wisconsin Sports Writer of the Year. Follow Eric on Twitter @eric_nehm

What the 'King of Deflections' Delon Wright brings to the Bucks defense (2024)

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