Prospect Watch: Hyped Andrew Wiggins still has room to grow
Andrew Wiggins is a victim of his own hype, with his electric play as a Canadian prep star putting him in an untenable, and perhaps no-win situation as a freshman at Kansas.
Even if Wiggins lit the college basketball world on fire, the response would simply be, "See, he's great."
Now, as the Jayhawk forward seems to flow in and out of games, disappearing for long stretches, the questions about his game have surfaced and the microscope has gone up a power of magnification.
The reality is, his game was never suited for the accolades and hype machine. Wiggins is a supremely talented player, but was never going to be Kevin Durant as a freshman scoring machine. That's not who he is, and that's OK -- at least for now.
Saturday's game against Georgetown is a microcosm of his game right now. Wiggins scored just 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting, but hit two big threes to start the route, plus added four assists and three steals in the game.
SI.com's Chris Mannix noted Wiggins seemed to be coasting through his team's blowout win over the Hoyas.
But what goes unnoticed in the stat sheet is that Wiggins is already a premiere on-ball defender and uses his explosiveness to give weakside help. He plays his tail off on the defensive end, and when he does assert himself offensively, he has a more diverse offensive game than many realize.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman pointed out during Saturday's game on Twitter that when Wiggins attempts to change the game, he usually can.
The problem for Wiggins is that he doesn't always play that way.
At this point, the answer to the question "What does Wiggins do well?" is short: he defends.
He's not a great shooter, although he has the shot mechanics to be one. For the season Wiggins averages 15.5 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting overall and 35.1 percent from deep.
Oddly, the biggest thing Wiggins has going for him isn't anything in his own game; it's Paul George.
George, a supreme athlete coming out of college at Fresno State, didn't come into the league with refined offensive skill, but went from a 7.8 point-per-game scorer shooting just 29.7 percent from deep to a 23.8 point-per-game scorer shooting 40.7 percent from deep. He's also grabbing six rebounds and dishing out 3.6 assists per game for the Pacers and is an MVP candidate.
Wiggins is the same type of lanky, wiry, absurdly athletic forward who can handle the ball, shoot, defend, and pass.
Outside of LeBron James, George is the best two-way player in the NBA. Wiggins has that same type of NBA upside and almost the identical building blocks George had, with even more polish to his game than had George at Fresno State.
Despite all of his warts, Wiggins remains an ultra-elite talent and is still going in the top-3 of most mocks. CBS Sports' Matt Moore has Wiggins going No. 2 overall the Milwaukee in his latest mock. The same is true for NBAdraft.net.
He remains Draft Express' top overall prospect and their presumptive No. 1 pick. Ditto for ESPN's Chad Ford who wrote this about Wiggins before the Georgetown game:
"Wiggins continues to face harsh scrutiny, especially after a tepid performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis and career-low six points against UTEP. But he's recently looked the part of the No. 1 pick again, scoring 22 points against Colorado and 26 against Florida. Wiggins has become more aggressive taking the ball to the basket and took a total of 17 free throws in those two games before having another off game against New Mexico on Saturday. Given that scouts are primarily concerned with his lack of aggressiveness, that's a very good sign if he can start doing it consistently."
Conference play will go a long way to determining if Wiggins can hold off assertive scorers like Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, and his teammate Joel Embiid -- admittedly not a great scorer yet, but is the same type of sky high-upside prospect -- for the No. 1 overall pick in June.
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky -- Randle's scoring numbers went through a December swoon, topped off by his 3-for-9 struggle against North Carolina. But Randle did what an elite prospect should: bullied a team he should bully.
Randle poured him 29 points and 10 rebounds against Belmont in just 28 minutes. He shot 8-of-10 from the floor and 13-of-19 from the stripe, plus turned the ball over just once. Comparisons to Zach Randolph belie Randle's athletic talent, but it will be critical for Randle to play better against long, athletic frontlines to prove he can be a legitimate scorer in the NBA. A matchup with Louisville this week is a prime opportunity.
Jabari Parker, F, Duke -- After two scoring performances in the teens, Parker ripped off a pair of monster performances, one against Gardner-Webb and a virtuoso game against UCLA.
Against an extremely talented Bruins team, Parker put up 23 pounds on 7-of-13 shooting with 10 rebounds and five assists. He also shot 4-of-8 from deep and showed the kind of inside-outside versatility that make him the draft's clear-cut top offensive talent. For the season, Parker is now averaging 22.1 points and 7.8 boards per contest, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from range.
Parker also displayed some outstanding feel as a passer against UCLA, a facet of his game we haven't seen much this season. As he gets comfortable with his surroundings at Duke, expect that part of his game to get even better. If the draft were held today, it's hard to believe any other player would be picked No. 1.
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State -- Scouts aren't going to judge Smart based on him coasting through games against patsies like Delaware State when he scored just eight points and turned the ball over three times.
It's games like Saturday against Colorado when Smart ripped off 18 points and three assists, shooting 6-of-13 from the floor. His long-range shot is still going to run hot and cold despite his improved shooting overall, but Smart is a matchup nightmare with his frame and skill, helping his team in every way possible. Only twice this season has Smart failed to grab at least four rebounds and has just one game without a steal. He continues to show he can do it all.
Aaron Harrison, G, Kentucky -- The game is starting to come to Kentucky's off-guard twin as Harrison has now gone back-to-back with 20+ point games. He was outstanding against Belmont Saturday throwing up 23 points on 7-of-16 shooting to go with six boards and seven assists. He even added a block and a steal for good measure.
Harrison's shooting numbers are starting to tick up as he nears 47 percent from the floor this season and his jumper will be his calling card. By showing a better floor game with his passing and the assertiveness to go rebound, Harrison may be reversing the early season negative momentum that had him tumbling down draft boards. If he continues at this pace, he's a lottery pick once again.
Joel Embiid, C, Kansas -- Perhaps no player is hotter among scouts and NBA personnel staff than Embiid, a raw 7-footer who has a chance to be special. Yahoo's NBA writer Marc Spears expressed his admiration for the Jayhawks big man during the Georgetown game as did SI.com's Chris Mannix.
Mannix points out a critical piece for Embiid: despite being relatively new to the game, he has an innate feel and has adapted very quickly to learn the fundamentals of the game. He followed up an 18-point, six-rebound, four-block game against New Mexico with a dominating outing against the Hoyas. His 17 points and eight rebounds in just 21 minutes were a key to the game, and in those two contests, he shot 17-of-22 from the free throw line.
It may actually be Embiid, not Wiggins, who is the highest-ceiling player in this draft, especially with such a dearth of legitimate NBA big man currently in the league.
Zach LaVine, G, UCLA -- Along with Embiid, LaVine is a name shooting up boards for NBA teams as he shines for the Bruins. My SI.com colleague Chris Johnson detailed LaVine's rise due to his explosive dunking prowess, and the dynamic guard has drawn comparisons to former UCLA phenom Russell Westbrook.
LaVine, like Westbrook, excels in transition and competes relentless defensively with his quick hands and athletic ability. Statistically, he shoots a high percentage, 54.9 percent for the season from the floor and 43.8 percent from three, but doesn't have great mechanics on his jumper. At 6-foot-5 he can play either guard position, but is somewhat of a tweener. What's more, his handle and passing ability don't scream NBA point guard.
LaVine's struggles against Duke's deep backcourt only add to the concerns that LaVine is raw and his game requires further development.
Saturday, Dec. 27, No. 8 Villanova vs. No. 2 Syracuse
Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis has announced his presence among the elite first-year players in college basketball and he brings NBA prospects C.J. Fair and Jereami Grant to face JayVaughn Pinkston and wing-heavy Villanova. James Bell can score and rebound his position, and 'Nova is a top-40 defensive team. Fair and Grant won't be able to rely simply on athleticism against this team, and we'll see how Ennis fairs in his first top-10 showdown as the Orange point guard.
Saturday, Dec. 27, No. 6 Louisville vs. No. 19 Kentucky
What's not to like about this matchup? A rivalry game featuring two lottery bigs in Randle and Louisville's Montrezl Harrell, plus the Harrison twins against Louisville's ball-pressure defense and the dynamic scoring of Russ Smith. This is precisely the kind of game you want Julius Randle to take personally, the way he did against Michigan State and Adreian Payne. On the flip side, Harrell can solidify his place in the lottery with a solid showing against Kentucky's bullish forward. If Andrew Harrison wants to be taken seriously as a lottery talent, playing well against Russ Smith and Rick Pitino's full-court pressure would go a long way.