Once every 10 years there is a player that comes around that gets labeled a ‘once in a generation’ can’t-miss prospect. In 2003, it was the king from Akron, LeBron James. A decade later, that same label has been placed upon Canadian-born phenom Andrew Wiggins.
The setting: North Augusta, South Carolina on a Friday afternoon. The highly-anticipated showdown at the AAU mecca tournament Peach Jam between then No. 1 ranked Jabari Parker and Wiggins was about to take place. This was hands down the marquee event everyone came to see. However, Parker was hampered with a foot injury, leaving the Mayweather vs. Pacquio-esque battle to never actually take place. Wiggins, on the other hand, took full advantage of Parker’s absence putting on a performance for the ages that NBA draft guru Jeff Goodman simply called ‘mass destruction.’ The legend of Andrew Wiggins was born.
Is Wiggins overhyped? Possibly. Is he a product of a social media, everything-is-the-next-best-thing era that we live in? Maybe. Is he the next ‘once in a generation’ player? Only time will tell.
Let’s take a deeper look at Andrew Wiggins’s game and dissect his flaws, bring to light strengths of his game that get overlooked, and tell you exactly what he needs to do to become an NBA superstar.
WHAT ARE THE FLAWS IN ANDREW WIGGINS' GAME?
Andrew Wiggins is a world-class athlete. You would be hard pressed to find too many athletes in the world that can run and jump and make it look as effortless as Wiggins does. It probably does help that his dad Mitchell played in the NBA and his mother Marita was a track star for Canada in the ’84 Olympics. Not too shabby of genes to have passed on if you ask me. But that’s where his strength becomes a public perception flaw.
Sometimes when players are so good in one aspect of their game, the public puts a label on them relegating and trapping them in a box to that one and only skill. Take fellow Canandian Steve Nash for example. Nash is so good at court awareness and playmaking that his shooting ability gets overlooked. Combine field goal, free throw and three-point shooting percentage, and Steve Nash is the best shooter in NBA history. But you would never know due to his ‘playmaker’ label. The same holds true for Wiggins; he is labeled as an pure-bred athlete. That athletic ability accounts for why he is so effective in transition.
In transition situations alone, Wiggins is finishing at a rate of 62 percent with a 1.30 points per possession. The same video game efficiency is true on the other athlete stat – offensive rebound put-backs. Wiggins is converting 63 percent of the time at a 1.24 points per possession. The stats don’t lie: Wiggins not only is a superior athlete, but he also knows how to translate his athleticism to efficient production on the court, a skill that isn’t as easy as it may seem.
However, the main flaws in his game are in what I call the offensive atoms – reading and using screens, playing without the ball, and seeing the next play develop before it happens. These skills are what build the base for the entire offensive repertoire as an atom is the building block for human life. Conquering these skills is what allows a player to dominate without having to continually put points on the board. It’s what separates the Larry Birds from the Carmelo Anthonys.
I’ve watched many Larry Bird games where he absolutely dominated the game and only ended up with 11-15 points. And I’ve watched many Carmelo Anthony games where he went for 35 and had next to no true impact on the game and his team lost by 15. Those are what I call empty points. Right now, Wiggins weighs heavily on the side of being an “Anthony” as opposed to a “Bird.” As the primary ballhandler in an offensive situation, Wiggins is only converting at a 0.79 points per possession and shooting a less than efficient 33.3 percent.
Reading screens in offensive scoring opportunities, he is only slightly better at 38.5 percent. These analytical stats show that Wiggins is not comfortable in these situations. As a wing 2/3 in the NBA, it is very important to be proficient in the offensive atoms of the game.
As a scorer at the next level, Wiggins will have the ball in his hands often and will have a lot of opportunities to make plays for himself and his teammates. I understand it wasn’t his role or within the Kansas system for Wiggins to be a 5-7 assists per game type of player, but at only 1.5 assists per game red flags are raised about his ability and feel to create for others and make his teammates better.
WHAT PART OF ANDREW WIGGINS' GAME GETS OVERLOOKED?
One of the constant knocks on Andrew Wiggins' game is that he is too passive and doesn’t look to attack as much as a player with his talent should.
In a sense, there are stretches when he is on the floor in which he basically disappears. Take for example his final college game: 1-6 from the field. And this is in the NCAA tournament, when stars are supposed to shine and put their teams on their back a la former KU great Danny Manning in 1988.
Does Wiggins have the fire, does he have the killer instinct?
Those are the questions and those are the criticisms that Wiggins is burdened with. I’m here to tell you, that criticism isn’t the truth. Wiggins' so-called ‘Houdini disappearing act’ is a byproduct of the nature of college basketball.
“For 10 minutes, you will be watching the best player the college game has had to offer in the last 10 years. Then for five minutes, you will forget that he is even on the floor offensively.”
Sounds like this quote fits into the exact label everyone has put on Wiggins, except for this is a direct quote from a top NBA draft scout about Kevin Durant after his freshman year at Texas. Yeah, how’s he doing? Passive? I don’t think so. The public perception is that a player with immense talent at the college level needs to go Adam Morrison/Doug McDermott every game and constantly carry the scoring load.
But the truth of the matter is, those players needed to do so for their respective teams, Wiggins didn’t. In Kansas’ 10 losses, Wiggins averaged 17.7 points per game on 13.3 shots. In KU’s 25 wins, Wiggins averaged 16.8 points on just 11.8 shots. He also attempted almost four more free throws per game in losses as opposed to wins. Those stats don’t line up with a player who lacks an aggressive mentality.
Someone who knows him fairly well, Bill Self, stated: "He is one of those guys that if the team didn’t have to have him do it, he, a lot of times, he deferred to let others do it. But at game point, he was right there.”
Now what player in the NBA does that remind you of? Exactly, LeBron. Now, I’m not saying Wiggins is the next LBJ or KD, so don’t go jumping to conclusions and think I’m putting Wiggins on the Mt. Rushmore of basketball already.
But don’t write Wiggins off as passive and lacks a killer instinct just because he isn’t attempting 25 shots per game at KU. He may not be there quite yet as a player that completely makes everyone around him better as he still has a lot of room to grow as a playmaker, but his desire and commitment to be that type of all-around LeBron James-lite is what gives promise that he can and will be a superstar at the next level. Wiggins also broke the KU freshman scoring record. If I recall, Kansas has had some decent players come through their program. Too passive, right? Sorry, it just doesn’t add up.
WHAT MUST ANREW WIGGINS DO TO BECOME THE NEXT NBA SUPERSTAR?
It’s a Spring day in April, the setting is Lawrence, Kansas and Andrew Wiggins is in the gym preparing for the NBA draft. At this time, he should probably actually be getting fitted for a tux to attend the Huntington Prep School Prom in West Virginia. Of course, given the choice, I hope he would chose the draft 10 times out of 10 over prom; point being Wiggins should still be a high school senior. And that’s what is even more intriguing about Andrew Wiggins, he could still be in his senior year of high school right now deciding which college to attend.
Now I know he is 19 years old, the same age as the majority of the fabulous freshmen in the upcoming draft, but Andrew Wiggins is just scratching the surface of his potential talent. Potential is like a pufferfish cuisine. If you eat the correct side, it’s the most delicious tasting meal there is. But if you eat the wrong side, you’re dead.
Potential is a word that is positively and negatively explosive as any to NBA general managers. Dwight Howard, drafted No. 1 overall based on his potential. Same goes for Kwame Brown. I think you get the point, potential is only potential until it gets fulfilled.
There are a few main areas of Wiggins game that he needs to improve and refine if he is going to live up to the lofty expectations that have been placed upon him and become an NBA superstar. As I said earlier, Wiggins needs to develop a better overall feel and ability to read and use screens, play without the ball, and see the next play develop before it happens.
He has showed the propensity to increase his basketball IQ throughout the season at Kansas and will continue to grow with more game experience and a system that allows Wiggins to take the early bumps and bruises and learn from on-the-job training. Undoubtedly, Wiggins is going to need to improve his jump shot with extended range as makes the leap from college to the pros. Shooting only 34.1% from three isn’t going to cut it at the wing in the NBA. Currently his shot motion is too stiff and too ‘straight up-straight down.’
He is slightly overly dependent on his athletic ability in his shot and gets almost too much lift. The higher a shooter jumps on their jump shot does not correlate to being a better shooter. Once the fourth quarter comes around and a player’s legs aren’t as fresh, it makes it very challenging to replicate the same lift and consistency on their jump shot as they had early on in the game.
Look at the best shooters in the league – Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyle Korver – not much lift on their jumper. Consistency and efficiency, that’s the name of the game when it comes to shooting. But like a fairly famous poor jump shooting predecessor before him, Michael Jordan, he was able to become a great mid-range shooter and develop respectable three-point range.
Andrew Wiggins is going to be a transcendent star in the NBA, there’s no doubt about it. His ability to use his God-given athletic gifts, his work ethic and grow his weaknesses into strengths, and use his intangibles to increase his knowledge to become a high IQ player and take over games when necessary is what will set him apart at the next level.
I rarely like to compare players who haven’t stepped foot on the court in an NBA game to current players in the league. But for draft’s sake, let’s do it. Best case scenario, Andrew Wiggins will have a mix of LeBron-lite and the all the positives of Rudy Gay. Worst case he will be another pogo-stick athlete whose flame burns out quicker than it was lit, a la Darius Miles.
I’m leaning strongly on the first option..
David Nurse is a professional shooting coach. You can learn more about him at PerfectShotsShooting.com, the best shooting and skills basketball website in the world. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidnurse05.