Wright believes he's found a great fit in D.C.

Delon Wright

WASHINGTON -- As Delon Wright spent a month recovering from a severe hamstring strain, a rehab he says was among the most difficult of his basketball career, he sat on the Wizards' bench paying close attention to what was transpiring on the court. He processed information like the timing of passes thrown by opposing players, so that he would better be able to get a hand on them once he returned.

He also noticed something about himself and the Wizards in the bigger picture. They needed him.

It was not about ego or vindication. It was affirmation for a player who has been on seven teams in four years. It was refreshing for Wright, who hasn't always experienced that at every stop.

"Once I had seen that I have that type of impact on the game, it made me more confident. It made me feel more welcome here," Wright told NBC Sports Washington.

"A lot of times when you get to a certain team, they will say that you can do certain things. But even if you're doing it, you still might get subbed or might not have your minutes as much as you want. Here I feel like I'm playing a decent amount of minutes and my role is enormous."

Wright has proven to be an essential ingredient for the Wizards this season, particularly on the defensive end. Washington's defensive rating is 6.0 points better when he's on the floor than their season average, per Basketball Reference.


He leads the team in steals (42) and is second in deflections (67) despite appearing in only 19 of their 48 games. He is first in the NBA in steals per 36 minutes (3.8) and second in deflections per 36 minutes (6.1) among players who have appeared in at least 10 games this season.

Wright's impact has helped contribute to a stark contrast in the Wizards' record with and without him. They are 13-6 when he plays and 7-20 when he doesn't.

Wright is technically the Wizards' backup point guard, but that label sells short his importance to the team. 

"That made it harder to rest," Wright said of his injury rehab. "I knew right when I got back, I had to immediately make an impact."

Wright, 30, signed a two-year deal to join the Wizards in free agency last summer. He was traded the previous offseason from the Kings to the Hawks. That was just five months after he was traded from the Pistons to the Kings, which came six months after he was traded from the Mavs to the Pistons, which happened 16 months after the Grizzlies traded him to the Mavs, which was just five months after he was dealt by the Raptors to the Grizzlies.

The first time he was traded, from Toronto to Memphis, Wright says the desire was mutual. The Pistons trade was the most surprising to him. He said they were interested in him for years, and finally got him, only to send him out the door after 36 games in the early stages of a rebuild.

"That was very, very unfortunate," Wright said. "I actually signed [with the Wizards], so that means a little more than getting traded for. I feel the most confident I've been with an organization since I was in Toronto."

At this point in his life, basketball has taken Wright all over. He grew up in Los Angeles a big Lakers fan, as he was in elementary school during the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal dynasty. Wright then went to junior college in San Francisco before continuing his college career at the University of Utah, where he teamed up with Kyle Kuzma.

The junior college route helped Wright get on the right track academically. He didn't apply himself in school as a kid, instead focusing all of his time and attention on basketball. That left him with an unusual distinction, a college degree despite never graduating high school.

Wright was not exactly on track for the NBA as a high school prospect. He had a late growth spurt of three inches his senior year, bringing him to 6-foot-5. His grades were a disqualifier for Division 1 recruiting. And, as he tells it, his playing style is an acquired taste. He felt college coaches needed to see him play several times to really get a sense of what he was trying to do on the court.

At first, it may seem like he plays slow, but Wright's patience in waiting for the right time to take off or go for a steal is part of what makes him effective.


"Even now, if you see me in the NBA, you wouldn't think I'm doing anything crazy, but as the season goes on you see the impact I bring," he said.

Wright has mostly been a bench player in his eight-year NBA career. He holds a modest career scoring average of 7.2 points per game. His numbers are far more impressive when extrapolated across 36 minutes.

Those on the Wizards are fully aware of what Wright brings to the team. Kristaps Porzingis has a unique vantage point, as the team's defensive anchor and main rim-protector. He stands back near the basket and watches Wright go to work on the perimeter.

Porzingis and Wright also played together in Dallas during the 2019-20 season before reuniting in Washington.

"He definitely helps me because he slows the guys down usually. He can stay in front of a lot of guys. He very rarely get rejected [in the pick-and-roll] often. He's just a smart IQ basketball player. His pressure and defensive presence on the perimeter definitely helps me get my blocks," Porzingis explained.

Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. raved about Wright's love for the game after a recent practice. He cited Wright's instincts and feel for the game as central to his value as a player.

Unseld Jr. said those traits allow him some leeway with the coaching staff when it comes to the defensive end.

"He knows where to be. He knows the right types of plays to make. He's going to do some things you don't teach and he can get away with it," Unseld Jr. said.

"It's kind of nice to have a guy that has got a little feel, understands what he can get away with, knows his personnel well enough to maybe take some gambles. But more often than not, it pays off."

While Wright does not usually start for the Wizards and isn't one of their top scorers, their trajectory as a team this season has paralleled his own individual performance. They were 3-1 when he was healthy to begin the year, then went 9-20 while he was out. Since his return, they promptly won five straight and have been 10-5 in 15 games, possibly stabilizing their season.

Signing Wright wasn't exactly blockbuster news as far as the NBA offseason goes, but he has proven to be the Wizards' most impactful acquisition. Not bad for a backup point guard.