A highflying 18-year-old from Canada has sent GM’s across America scurrying for exit strategies on their 2013-14 NBA seasons, trying to figure out how they can jettison enough players to parachute past mediocre and achieve the far more coveted status of “truly awful”, a title which includes a prime selection in the much ballyhooed 2014 NBA draft, and a shot at its crown jewel — Andrew Wiggins.
All the nerds in analytics, and our boys in the basement watching mix tapes, tell us the basketball community is convinced, this incoming freshman at Kansas named Wiggins isn’t just another run-of-the-mill 6’8″ 200 pound small forward with Olympic level athleticism.
No, the serious spring in this boy’s step was noticed at an early age.
Andrew Christian Wiggins was born in Toronto, as was Anthony Bennett, the Paul Millsap clone out of UNLV chosen No. 1 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bennett embodies a thoroughly uninspiring 2013 NBA draft class, but the class of 2014 is supposed to be loaded, with Wiggins repeatedly being referred to as the “highest rated prospect since LeBron James.”
Which is odd, because that’s what we were hearing about Michael Beasley, until it became clear after just one year of college that Derrick Rose was a far better player (which is why the Chicago Bulls took him with the first overall pick in 2008). Or maybe that was what we were hearing about John Wall, Rivals’ top rated player in the class of 2009, after his dynamic freshman season at Kentucky?
It’s definitely not what we heard about Greg Oden, the country’s consensus No. 1 high school player in 2006, because at that time the 7-footer was considered by many to be an even better prospect than LeBron. But even before “the best big man since Shaquille O’Neal” fell victim to injuries it was clear Kevin Durant would become a better player.
These players are all seen in a much different light today, and the conviction with which scouts and pundits rated one over another is mostly forgotten.
I saw Rose, LeBron, Beasley, Durant and Oden play high school games on television, not just all-star games. But there’s only so much you can learn from a mix tape or on TV, eventually you need context, and to witness the abundant truth found in ordinary plays that make up the majority of basketball games. It takes more than dunking on people’s heads and breaking ankles to be great, because if it didn’t, Kiwi Gardner would already be in the NBA.
Wiggins has played well for Canada during international play, but I have yet to hear five NBA insiders I respect speak extensively about watching him in person. I myself have seen little beyond his dunk-dominated mix tapes, and less than stellar all-star game appearances, but why don’t I go ahead and nitpick this Canadian messiah’s game anyway, and see if he gives a damn:
To me, Wiggins’ single greatest asset is not his ridiculous bounce; it’s his quickness, his unreal, devastating quickness. Which includes a valuable quick-twitch on his second leap. His euro steps to the rim on lay ups are useful, the dunks are obviously spectacular, but what’s more notable to me is that while he prefers to jump off two feet, Wiggins is also comfortable taking off on one foot. Often leapers lean heavily towards doing one or the other, which can take away a big part of their arsenal.
He’s not a natural shooter or ball handler, his handle aims to impress but it would be more impressive if he didn’t have to think about it, and he doesn’t appear to be a natural passer. Wiggins does have a good frame, as long as it fills out, and he has a long wingspan, but his motor has been questioned. The awkward release on his jumper clearly needs work – which will probably be his top priority at Kansas this season.
But it is that freakish athleticism that is his biggest gift; one that will likely see Wiggins picked No. 1 overall a year from now.
I’m not calling him a scrub or saying Wiggins won’t make multiple all-star games, I just don’t see him as a lock to be a franchise player in the NBA, which is how he’s being portrayed. And I say that mostly because his entire offensive game looks less than fluid when he’s not attacking the rim.
My initial thought was Shawn Marion with more upside. Marion is a fine player, but not one the entire league would rework their rosters just to have a fractional chance of drafting. The player Wiggins is most often compared to on scouting notes is Scottie Pippen, which I would consider a much more complimentary comparison. Except those same scouts say his defense “needs work” and “lacks intensity”, which doesn’t sound anything like the Scottie Pippen I remember.
And from a franchise perspective, I just don’t like the idea of breeding a culture of losing in the hopes of bagging a great player one year out of high school, especially when you’re forced to tear down your squad and make those decisions the summer ahead of time, before they’ve played a college game. These players can also become free agents, and can look for greener pastures, right about the time they’re hitting their prime.
Wiggins is a mix tape legend possessing athleticism seldom found, but then again, there’s plenty of prime beef to be had in the recruiting meat markets.
Want some sizzle with your scouting footage? How about three guys with vastly different mix tapes, and far different basketball resumes?
Here’s D. Rose, the youngest MVP in NBA history at 22, and his filthy high school reel from Chicago. (ESPN rated Rose fifth out of high school, just behind Kyle Singler.)
Ever heard of 6’5” Shaquille Johnson? Rated just outside the Top 100 by Rivals in 2012, he averaged a modest five points as a freshman at Auburn, but Johnson’s mix tape dunks take a back seat to no man.
And how did Austin Rivers — a guy with an NBA pedigree, a coach for a father, rated No. 1 overall by Rivals prior to his celebrated arrival at Duke, carrying this lethal scoring assassin mix tape — just lay down one of the worst rookie campaigns in NBA history?
Just making the league is a huge accomplishment. I’ve simply seen way too many mix tapes and heard too many stories littered with names like Shabazz Muhammad, Josh Selby, Brandon Jennings, Renardo Sidney, Schea Cotton, Lloyd Daniels and the list goes on. Until I’ve seen a player doing it in the context of a game with my own eyes, particularly before they’ve hit college, I’ll reserve the right to withhold judgment.
And I’ll do so while watching a mix tape with the most dangerous dude on the planet.