This year was the first time in four years that I did not watch the NBA draft lottery. I was at a rowing practice and was nowhere near my cell phone as the news came down that the Cavaliers had defied the odds and landed the first overall pick. When I got to my phone I had over 50 notifications and very few of them are clean enough to read in public. I'm someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve and most that know me know how passionate I am about the Cavaliers, and they are also very aware of how excited I've been for the past few years about Andrew Wiggins. When I saw that the Cavs got the first pick I burst out laughing. Hysterical, psychotic laughter in the middle of a room full of people.
The novelty of having Canadian players in the NBA is starting to wear off. More and more prospects are coming from north of the 49th parallel and when they are drafted, it no longer is as big of a deal for me. Wiggins is different... Wiggins is the first Canadian player to be branded as a superstar from a young age. The microscope has been on him since he was 15 years old and he, to this point, has lived up to the hype. In my eyes, him realizing his potential and becoming one of the leagues best players is the final step for Canadian basketball to be validated. Steve Nash came out of nowhere to become a two time MVP, whereas Wiggins must try to grow, develop and thrive under intense scrutiny. Why does all of this matter? Well, it doesn't. But I felt it was necessary to clarify exactly what my bias is and where my emotions lay before I make my case for Andrew Wiggins to be the Cavs selection in June.
Tyler Lashbrook did an absolutely outstanding job breaking down why Andrew Wiggins is the best prospect in this years draft. But while Wiggins may be the best prospect in the draft, he's also happens to be the perfect fit for the Cavaliers.
Wiggins is a freak of nature that was handed all the tools you would ever want in a basketball player. At 6'8 with a 7'0 wingspan he has the frame of a small forward, despite not yet having the girth to take the punishment that comes with defending that position. Wiggins is not a player that requires the ball in his hands in order to be an effective player on the offensive end. He does a great job finding holes in the opposing team's defense where he can receive the ball in position to score and when that's not available, he can simply elevate over the opposition to slam it home.
But where Wiggins really thrives is in transition where he scored 1.3 points per possession. Wiggins is both capable of finishing in transition or creating for a teammate. Considering the Cavs desire to increase their tempo Wiggins would be the ideal dynamic wing player to generate easy points in transition. He also is very adept at getting to the free throw line averaging 6.5 attempts a game and converting them at a rate of 77.5%.
Of course the best way to generate transition points is through defensive stops. Wiggins was a tremendous defender in college utilizing his foot speed to stay in front of his man and recover quickly if he loses position. His long arms and speed mean that he was able to guard both shooting guards and small forwards in college, a trait that should be able to translate to the NBA once his body adjusts. While no player is truly a "good" defender in their rookie year, it is very possible that Wiggins will be able to make a positive impact on that end of the floor in his first year despite the odd rookie mistake.
Wiggins shot a mediocre 34.1% on 3.6 attempts per game from the three point line in college. While his shot needs some work, it's not fundamentally flawed. There is no pronounced hitch and his release point is consistent. He needs to work on his footing to make sure that he is properly aligned when he sets himself up for a jumper as well as widening his base as it is often too narrow. He also needs to become more decisive on whether to shoot, drive or pass. Some of his misses can be attributed to that indecision as he learns how to hone his unique skill-set. These are all things that can be easily improved through proper training,experience, exposure to NBA coaching staffs and hard work. So his jump shot is not something I would concern myself with.
The two largest critiques of Wiggins' game are that he can be too passive/ unselfish on offense and that he doesn't have a great handle. In regards to his dribbling ability, it's not that he's a terrible dribbler, but he can't break down a defender with his dribble in order to blow by him. Now, he's very capable of blowing by a defender upon catching the ball with his lightning quick first step. But if the defender is in position Wiggins tends to either pass the ball off, wait for a screen or dribble into his fairly solid step back jumper. If Wiggins catches the ball inside the three point line, he is able to get around his defender off the dribble by using a spin move that he's pretty much perfected. While his handle needs some work, the Cavs luckily have Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters who are both more than capable ball handlers and would be able to create easy looks for Wiggins. They also would be able to take advantage of Wiggins' ability to move without the ball and would have more room to operate due to all the attention he would draw.
His dancing on the other hand... is a lost cause:
The assertiveness is a tougher criticism to break down, as it is heavily dependent on your perception. There is no doubt that Wiggins and his team would have benefited from him taking over more frequently than he did. But allow me to try and lend some context to the situation. College basketball is played at a much slower pace due in part to the 35 second shot clock and the desire of most coaches to feel like they are constantly in charge and calling plays from the sideline. So in a half court setting there are two main ways that you can initiate an offense. You either have a ball handler that can initiate either through their own dribbling ability or via the pick and roll, or you dump it in to the post and read and react based on how the defense behaves.
Kansas did not have a premier guard that made things easier for everyone else so they often initiated their offense through the post. Often when Wiggins would be given the ball on the perimeter the defense was still set in their zone as the point guard did not cause the defense to collapse or move in any way prior to giving Wiggins the ball. As stated above, Wiggins is not capable at this time of breaking a defender down with his dribble so he would often enter the ball into the post or continue to rotate the ball on the perimeter. Kansas also usually would have two traditional big men that would set up on both blocks which did not create optimal spacing for driving lanes either.
These are not excuses, but they were certainly contributing factors. Often Wiggins would make the correct "team" play but wouldn't make the selfish play that people wanted to see and frankly, the play that Kansas needed at times. This is something he needs to work on but should not be confused with a lack of engagement as Wiggins would always remain active on defense and would try to impact the game in as many ways as possible.
In talking to my friends I've often speculated on whether or not we would see a "LeBron effect" on incoming prospects. We're getting to the point where the top young prospects grew up watching LeBron James and the way he impacts a game in every single way. Just like how Kobe Bryant grew up idolizing Michael Jordan and wanted to become just like him, I think we are going to see more and more players that pride themselves on being well rounded players and willing to sacrifice some of their own numbers for the good of their team. While I'm not suggesting Wiggins is Lebron, it's very possible that he just needs to find the right balance in his game of when to attack, when to pass and when to defer to his teammates. Wiggins is a tremendous defender, scorer and rebounder even while he's learning how to play the game. He has a ton of raw talent, but is so very far from being a project.
Andrew Wiggins' top 3 games
- West Virginia: 41 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 blocks on 12-18 shooting.
- Iowa State: 17 points, 19 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block on 7-16 shooting.
- Oklahoma State: 30 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block on 10-16 shooting.
You can view his complete game log here
Need more than that to get you pumped on Wiggins?
While Joel Embiid has the potential to be one hell of a center and Dante Exum and Jabari Parker may be impact players in the league for a long time, I feel that Wiggins is just the perfectly designed player for the Cavs and the clear choice at #1. Small forwards are the likely the toughest position to find an elite player at and the drop off is steep. While their are few elite centers in the NBA, there just aren't many high caliber offenses that incorporate dumping the ball in the post and everybody standing around while the center gets you a bucket. With big men available like Marcin Gortat in free agency or Omer Asik on the trade market, the Cavs could easily obtain an impact center that could provide the rim protection they need. Players like Andrew Wiggins ... they don't come around every day.