A few months ago, Andrew Wiggins was considered, in many circles, as the best pro prospect to appear on the national scene in quite some time. Whether or not he was a better high school player than Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose was missing the point. The fact of the matter was that Wiggins was a generational talent blessed with an amalgam of NBA genes, other-worldly athleticism, adequate skill (minus a consistent jumper), and an unassuming temperament, all of which could have placed him among the NBA greats some day. He was the “Maple Jordan,” as some tagged him. He separated himself from his fellow basketball peers (though Jabari Parker never got a fair shot). NBA General managers were highly intrigued by the Canadian phenom, journalists quickly penciled him in as their player of the year, and almost everyone in the media wanted some stock in Wiggins, so much so that Bill Self had to put a stop to it by restricting access to his freshman. Wiggins was considered a lock for the No.1 overall pick almost a year before he graduated and many honestly believed he could immediately make an impact if inserted into NBA game. He could have gone on to be an average college player yet still remain atop of the draft boards because, come on, what NBA GM would pass on such a talent?
But oh how quickly things change.
After a few early practices in October (yes folks, we’re talking practice here, and not just ordinary practice, we’re talking a practice in OCTOBER of a kid’s FRESHMAN year), some scouts began to boldly question the idea of Wiggins being the No.1 overall pick in May (something that was rarely heard just 4/5 months). Another scout was quoted saying that “Until Wiggins learns how to play hard, he’s Kansas’ third-best freshman,” according to Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports. Then after after a couple less-than-stellar outings on the national stage, many began wondering to themselves, “Is this the guy who is supposed to be shaking David Stern’s hand first on draft night? I barely notice him on the court. If his name wasn’t Andrew Wiggins, no one would even know how great he was projected to be.” Other names such as Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum, and as of late, Marcus Smart, were being thrown around as potential No.1 overall picks in next year’s draft. After all, those guys had the requisite skill and brawn to dominate and no one would have to worry about them “not playing hard.” Though one should consider the sources, words like “bust,” “too skinny,” “needs another year,” “not ready,” “only scores on dunks or in transition,” “weak handle,” “can’t shoot,” “overrated” were being hurled at Wiggins.
I soon began to ask myself “Was it Andrew Wiggins’ play that was causing such concern or was it the perception of what a number one pick should look like that was fueling the backlash?” I mean, the guy was averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds on a talent-laden team that was among the best in all of college basketball. Wiggins had always been a guy who preferred to play within a team context then strike when challenged by an opposing player or disrespected by disparaging articles and chants. While that may have been true, Wiggins was billed as the next great thing at Kansas, yet he was blending in too much with his other teammates, playing with average intensity, and not creating many shot opportunities outside of transition leak-outs and the rare made spot-ups. Even his coaches were pushing Wiggins to assert himself more on the floor. The pre-season narratives were slowly being cemented. Meanwhile, Julius Randle was just powering his way through defenders with 7 straight double-doubles, Jabari Parker was creating his own basketball symphony with such skill for a 6’8” 235 lbs forward, scoring 20 or more points in 7 straight games, and Aaron Gordon was motoring his way on a very good Arizona team.
Fast forward to Kansas’ December 7 game at the Coors Events Center against the Colorado Buffaloes. Wiggins receives two early fouls in the game and has to sit out at the 15:10 mark. Here we go again. Then in the second half Wiggins starts to ratchet up the intensity and gets some shots to fall, including an and-1 in which he used a pick and roll to work his way to the bucket. He commits two bad turnovers and compounds the second one by fouling, but he’s playing with intensity and attacking the rim. He begins getting to the free throw line frequently as a result of his prowess in transition. Now he’s really beginning to show why he was so touted in the first place, particularly after a transition attack in which he jumped from near the free throw line and eluded a defender. In the closing moments, Wiggins gets fouled while shooting a three, but makes only two of them. A few plays later, Askia Booker hits a buzzer-beating 3, sending Kansas to its second defeat on the season.
Even though his team lost a heart-breaker, this was clearly Wiggins’ best performance since becoming a Jayhawk.
After the game, it was apparent that the flak that Wiggins had been receiving was a result of both his average performances and also the fact that the bar was set far too high for a kid who prefers to shine within the context of the offense. After the Colorado game, I expect Andrew Wiggins to grow into the role of a 1st option in the Kansas offense. Bill Self should to allow Wiggins to operate more with the ball, but Wiggins must show an assertiveness and willingness to do so. I prefer not to do a ton comparing between the top players in next year’s draft until the season is over, but I firmly believe Andrew Wiggins will be the No.1 overall player selected despite what GMs and scouts are presently saying.