Delon Wright, Jerian Grant, and Overlooking Defense

Delon Wright, Jerian Grant, and Overlooking Defense

As of their most recent updates, Draft Express has Jerian Grant as their #15 prospect, and Delon Wright at #31. Chad Ford slots Jerian in at #22, and Delon right at the first round bubble at 30th. After having watched a fair amount of each this season, and looked at their stats in detail, this seems off to me. Delon’s advantage starts on the defensive end of the floor.

Defense:

From a purely physical standpoint, they possess very similar defensive capabilities. They both are listed at 6’5, and both visually appear to be very skinny. Jerian is supposedly 204 lbs, while Delon is only 179, so Jerian may have a higher proportion of muscle mass. Delon’s skinniness leads to him looking like he has really long arms, but he only measured with a 6’6.5 wingspan at the Nike Skills Academy, so it will be interesting to see how he measures at the combine. I cannot find a measured wingspan for Jerian, and I would guess it’s somewhere around 6’9, but I also would’ve guessed Delon’s being a lot longer than it is. Either way, it is unlikely Jerian is at a disadvantage in the length department. Despite the similarity in their physical builds, Delon is able to apply his tools and make an impact on the defensive end in a way Jerian cannot. Looking at a variety of defensive numbers, we can see this. 

Name STL% BLK% DBPM DRTG TeamRK OppO SOS
 Delon Wright  4.0  3.2  7.4  87.7  1  19
 Jerian Grant  2.8  1.4  0.9  104.0  6  60

Delon is far more impressive than Jerian in just about every relevant defensive metric. Most importantly, Delon has his team’s best DRTG, while Jerian’s is just middle of the pack. Delon’s superiority is also clear from watching both of them play. Delon has fantastic off-ball reflexes on the defensive end, he shoots passing lanes, and tips passes all over the court without gambling himself out of position. He does have on-ball concerns because he lacks elite side-to-side quickness, and his slender body makes it hard for him to navigate screens. When he gets out of position, he uses his quickness and length to recover fast, and either get back in front of his man, or contest their shot. Delon is not a truly elite defensive player, but he makes up for his shortcomings on-ball with his instincts and is a very good defensive prospect.

While Delon is consistently making things happen on the defensive end of the floor, Jerian lets the offense dictate. He doesn’t get low in his stance, and even when he does, he can get burned by his man. Jerian has sub-par side-to-side quickness like Delon, but his reaction time to the offense doesn’t compare. Jerian’s mediocre defense was exposed on the crucial play from the Kentucky-Notre Dame game. (link for higher quality)

He doesn’t get into a good stance, and he doesn’t have the quickness or reaction time to cut off Andrew Harrison. Jerian seemed to be worried about a screen coming from the other side, but he should have been ready to make a play. Jerian’s defensive weaknesses are sometimes chalked up to laziness, but I tend to think it is more about his raw ability. That GIF was maybe the biggest play of the game and Jerian knew it, but he just doesn’t have the fundamentals or reaction time to stop Harrison from getting to the basket.

Jerian is not a bad defender at the collegiate level, but average college defenders tend to become poor defensive players in the NBA. Delon is a very good defender in college, and with his instincts and size can reasonably become an above-average NBA- level defender. The drastic difference in their defensive abilities is often overlooked due to their similar frames and athleticism. Many people judge NCAA defenders more off of their raw tools than their actual performance, and particularly in the case of two seniors, that is a big mistake. At this point in their careers it becomes hard to argue that Delon is not a significantly better defensive prospect, and that is not accounted for in their scouting reports. If Jerian was demonstrably better on the offensive end, he could still be the superior prospect, but available evidence does not seem to back up his offensive superiority.

Offense:

Jerian and Delon are very similar offensive players. Neither is the most explosive of players, but they both have good first steps for their size, and do a good job changing speeds to get into the lane. Both have mastered the pick-and-roll game; they’re patient at probing, and use their size to whip passes all over the court. Jerian has a reputation as a better passer than Delon, but in actuality, they are very much alike. Jerian sports a 33.6 AST% with a 13.4 TOV%, while Delon’s is a slightly worse 33.0% and 14.2% respectively. Jerian throws more highlight reel-passes, and has a slight edge statistically, but they’re both great passers without much separation between the two.

As scorers, they’re awfully tight as well; Delon averages 27.9 points per 100 possessions, while Jerian averages 28.0. Both are diverse scorers who can get out in transition, hit shots from the outside, or get to the rim and finish over length. As shooters, they have trended in opposite directions. Jerian shot 35.7% from three over his first three seasons, but has lapsed to 31.6% this year. After shooting a problematic 22.2% from three as a junior, Delon has skyrocketed to 35.6% this year, albeit on a small sample of only 73 attempts. Jerian is a much more confident and fluid shooter than Delon, and he does not hesitate to take step-backs or pull-ups from deep range. Delon is a lot less confident with his shot; he sticks to open catch- and-shoots or pull-ups when the defender goes under the screen.

Jerian’s career-long shooting numbers and far greater confidence in shooting the ball give him an advantage, but it is not a given that he will be a better NBA shooter. Also, Jerian’s confidence in shooting the ball could end up being a negative for his career. I expect Jerian can shoot better than 31.6% from three, but if he can’t, he shouldn’t be settling for so many outside shots. For Delon, his 81% career free-throw shooting and 40% shooting on two-point jumpers give hope that this year was not an aberration, and he could be able to develop into a reliable outside shooter. I have more confidence in Jerian’s shooting ability, but the gap isn’t large enough to make a big impact on their evaluations.

Both are good finishers around the hoop, and use their length to create good angles for themselves to finish with their soft touches. There are some differences between the two of them when it comes to getting to the rim and finishing. Jerian is a superior finisher, but Delon is better at getting there. Using hoop-math data from this year we can see this discrepancy. 

Name non-transition FG% at rim non-transition FGA at rim non-transition FGM at rim per 40
Delon Wright 59.3% 91 1.84
Jerian Grant 69.2% 78 1.53

The non-transition FGM at rim per 40 isn’t pace-adjusted, but according to Kenpom, Notre Dame played faster than Utah, so that should only help to show Delon’s advantage. Jerian shoots an exceptional 69% at the rim even in non-transition opportunities, but because he gets there less often ends up actually scoring at the rim in the half-court less frequently than Delon. The numbers make sense from a scouting perspective, and match what I’ve seen from watching. Jerian uses his length more effectively to get shots around the defense, but Delon is a little quicker and better at changing directions so he can get there more often. It’s not a big advantage for Delon, but since he has also been able to get more at-the-rim opportunities in transition, it suggests he will be able to generate more of the best type of looks at the NBA level as well.

No matter how you slice it, there is not too much to separate these guys on the offensive end. Jerian is an ever-so-slightly better passer, and probably a better shooter, but Delon is better at getting to the rim to create for himself. I would give Jerian a slight edge as an offensive prospect, but it’s hard to project with much confidence a noticeable gap between their offensive abilities. Delon also has the upper hand on Jerian in a number of other categories.

Rebounding:

There really isn’t much reason Delon should be a superior rebounder to Jerian. Delon is lighter, and plays on a bigger team with more traditional rebounders. Pat Connaughton is a fantastic rebounder for his size, but in no way is Delon in an easier situation to rebound in than Jerian. Yet, looking at this year’s numbers, Delon looks quite a bit better.

Name ORB% DRB% TRB%
Delon Wright 4.0 13.7 9.3
Jerian Grant 1.3 8.3 5.1

Delon is able to use his very similar tools, but superior instincts to be a good rebounding guard. Whether it be from laziness or lack of instincts, Jerian sits dead last on the whole Notre Dame team with his 5.1% rebounding percentage. Their ability to rebound the ball is not going to make or break their pro careers, but this is just another facet of the game where Delon comes off as the better prospect.

Looking into more advanced numbers enlarges the differences between the two. In Kevin Pelton’s most recent Statistical Big Board update Delon was ranked 8th in his WARP metric, and Jerian did not make the top 30. Delon also comes in at 11th in Layne Vashro’s EWP, while Jerian is at a solid, but less impressive 24th. The two prospects played in very similar contextual situations, so there is no reason to think their model performances have more error than usual. The gap in their draft model outputs doesn’t make or break the comparison, but it is another piece of evidence in Delon’s favor.

It is certainly within each of their range of outcomes for Jerian to become a better NBA player than Delon, and it is reasonable to have Jerian ranked higher on your personal board. Jerian probably has slightly better overall tools, and he is a few months younger. However, looking at all the available evidence, I find Delon to be the better prospect. Delon and Jerian are almost the same age, possess almost indistinguishable tools, and played in very similar situations this year, and Delon was the more impressive player. Jerian is most likely a good offensive player at the next level who will be a below-average defender. Chances are Delon will be similarly effective on offense, but because of his superior instincts can be a plus-defender who can guard ones or twos well with his size and instincts.

There are a variety of reasons Jerian will likely end up getting drafted higher than Delon, and perceived as better by the average fan. Most fans probably got to see more of Jerian during the regular season because of the whole east coast ACC vs west coast Pac-12 difference, and almost everybody certainly was more impressed with Jerian’s tournament performance than Delon’s. Delon was a JUCO transfer who only played two years of college ball, and Jerian is part of a famous basketball family. Jerian’s slightly better offensive skills should also make him more impressive in workouts, and he could increase the gap between the two of them even more. Delon Wright’s advantage on Jerian is his defense, but amongst players with similar physical abilities, defense often gets overlooked.

The gap between the two of them is not huge. If a team picks Jerian over Delon, I don’t think it is a horrible mistake by any means. Jerian can be a very good backup point guard, but I think his defense prevents him from being anything other than a below-average starter. Delon has the potential to be a solid two-way player, and that gives him quality starter upside that Jerian lacks. Delon might not amount to anything more than Jerian, but I’ll have him much higher on my board than the developing consensus.

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One thought on “Delon Wright, Jerian Grant, and Overlooking Defense

  1. Pingback: NBA Draft Player Predictions: From Confident to Crazy | Wingspan Addicts

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