Delon Wright wants to bring defensive dynamic to Hawks

Sacramento Kings guard Delon Wright (55) drives against the Utah Jazz Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Sacramento, Calif. (Randall Benton/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Sacramento Kings guard Delon Wright (55) drives against the Utah Jazz Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Sacramento, Calif. (Randall Benton/AP)

Flashing back to his playing days, Nate McMillan sees Delon Wright filling a similar role as the Hawks coach once did.

Namely, Wright’s commitment to defense.

“A guy who’s just going to initiate the offense, he takes good shots, doesn’t force anything,” McMillan said Thursday at training camp. “He motivates and he gets himself into the game on the defensive end of the floor. A lot of guys in the NBA, they don’t do that. It takes shots, opportunities, the offensive end of the floor to get a guy into the game. Delon gets into the game playing on the defensive end of the floor.”

Looking to add a backup point guard and overall depth to the backcourt, the Hawks acquired Wright in July (last season, they had an offensive rating of 120.5 with Trae Young on the court, and 108.1 with Young off the court, per Basketball Reference). The move also could beef up the team’s defense.

The Hawks finished No. 18 in the NBA with a 112.1 defensive rating, with injuries to Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter certainly impacting that number, and will look to take another step forward in that category. That’s a big thing that Wright wants to bring to Atlanta.

“I think that’s what has kept me around in the NBA, is being able to be a defensive guard, get steals, get deflections, and when I get steals and stuff, it just creates easier baskets for us, and we don’t have to grind in the half court,” Wright said.

“I think that I bring that dynamic to this team. ... I think I’m fitting in well. I’ve been playing solid so far, so I’m just trying to continue to be the player I am, just a solid player and just do what’s asked of me.”

Last season, Wright (6-foot-5, 185 pounds) averaged 10.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.6 steals in 27.7 minutes per game, spending 36 games with Detroit and 27 games with Sacramento. He shot 46.3% from the field and 37.2% from 3-point range.

When you add him into a mix that includes a healthy Reddish, Hunter and Kevin Huerter, the Hawks’ defense gets a boost, McMillan thinks. Reddish is 100% healthy, and Hunter and Huerter are expected to be fully healthy by the regular season (both Hunter and Huerter were full participants in Thursday’s practice). Center Clint Capela (left Achilles soreness), the anchor of the Hawks’ defense, hasn’t participated in live work yet, but is expected to be ready for the regular season.

“He’s just solid,” McMillan said of Wright. “He’s been a solid backup guard most of his career, and he brings that to our rotation, a big guard that can defend. When you add him to the players we have now healthy, Cam Reddish, De’Andre, I thought Kevin last year improved on the defensive end of the floor, you put Delon out there, that just adds to the strength of your defense.”

Another strength of Wright’s is his versatility — he can play on or off the ball, and may back up Young or occasionally play alongside him. Young, for his part, likes Wright’s game and sees him fitting in well.

“I’m a fan of his game,” Young said. “I think he’s cooked us a couple times. He’s a really good player. He’s very versatile, someone who can get to the hole but also knock down the jumper now and then and make you respect it. He’s a tough cover, especially in pick-and-roll, and then on the defensive end, he’s a long defender who can get stops and can guard multiple positions, which is good for us.”