Andrew Wiggins, one of the most talented high-school prospects in recent memory, dominated the college basketball headlines for much of the past month as he narrowed down his college choices. He finally elected to attend Kansas over other contenders such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State.
We are a nation of sports fans that love to make comparisons to past players, and—fair or not—Wiggins is already being compared to some of the all-time greats (even some guy named LeBron James). He is yet to step foot on campus as a student (even if those footsteps will likely only last one year), but Wiggins is being hailed as the key for Kansas to return to the Final Four.
If we are assuming that Wiggins is going to have a breakout freshman campaign and use that momentum to declare for the NBA draft, how does he stack up against some of the more famous and successful one-and-dones in recent years?
There are a number of different ways to contrast Wiggins with headline names that left school after one season such as Anthony Davis, Shabazz Muhammad, Nerlens Noel, Derrick Rose and even Carmelo Anthony. Sure, his actual game is the obvious starting point, but let’s look at some of the external factors as well.
*Recruiting rankings and scouting reports courtesy of Scout.com.
You don’t have to follow recruiting closely to know the name Wiggins at this point. If he falls anything short of Michael Jordan in Space Jam status it will be a disappointment when compared to the ridiculous hype that surrounded his decision process.
The clear standard for talking high-school hype is LeBron James, but it was always generally assumed that he would leave for the NBA even if idealist college coaches tried their best to get him on campus.
The hype surrounding Wiggins is not unprecedented though for someone who elected to go to college (or was forced to by the NBA's rule). The year was 2006 and two high-school prospects that were in all likelihood going to school for one brief season were dominating the recruiting cycle.
Greg Oden, the No. 1 player in the class, was thought to be a program changer wherever he went, and Kevin Durant was the young and skinny kid who had star potential but wasn’t the sure thing that Oden was (sorry Portland). The fact that both chose football schools that (at the time) largely ignored basketball made them even more hyped commodities.
The fan bases at Ohio State and Texas were ready for nothing short of stardom and all of a sudden basketball was back on the map. Wiggins doesn’t have to worry about making hoops relevant again in Lawrence, but he is still viewed as a savior for a squad that lost all five starters from a year ago and disappointed by only reaching the Sweet 16.
Keep in mind that it was actually Oden’s lesser-known teammate Mike Conley Jr., who also went one-and-done, that went on to the better NBA career. Just something to keep an eye on as Wayne Selden, who could turn into a legitimate superstar himself, plays under Wiggins’ shadow at Kansas this year.
As is the case with many highly-regarded freshmen in today’s college basketball world, the expectations for an immediate impact are already in place for Wiggins. Kansas lost all five of its starters from a year ago and will be very reliant on its impressive recruiting class.
In terms of immediate impact for one-and-dones, Carmelo Anthony is the gold standard. He took a Syracuse team that would have been good but not great without him and got red-hot for the month of March. The result was a national championship and the restoration of a proud program among the game’s elite.
Anthony averaged an unthinkable 22 points and 10 rebounds a night for that Syracuse squad. Wiggins may be special, but it isn’t exactly fair to expect him to put up those type of astronomical numbers right away.
Perhaps a one-and-done like Derrick Rose is a better comparison. Rose came to Memphis as the integral part of a loaded recruiting class (a la Wiggins) and played out the season as option 1A alongside Chris Douglas-Roberts as option 1B. The Tigers eventually reached the national title game only to fall to Kansas. It may be a solid blueprint for Wiggins and Selden to follow.
Wiggins was in somewhat of a unique situation because he was choosing between three of the bluest of blue-blood programs in Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina as well as a mid-tier basketball program (at best) in Florida State.
Like many of the recent one-and-dones, Wiggins chose to attend a basketball hotbed in Kansas. However, just because he will have talented teammates and plenty of banners above his head when he is playing doesn’t mean there won’t be pressure to keep the Jayhawks among the sport’s elite.
Josh Selby is the obvious comparison, who also came to Kansas with plenty of hype. Jayhawk fans were ready for stardom, but that is not exactly what they got. Selby disappointed by averaging fewer than eight points a game, and a less-than-stellar career was compounded even further when he still went to the NBA after one year.
It is a fairly safe bet that Wiggins will have a better showing in Lawrence than Selby. Perhaps a more pertinent comparison would be Anthony Davis or Shabazz Muhammad, who came to big-time programs as highly-regarded prospects with expectations of excellence. Davis gave Big Blue Nation its first title since 1998, while Muhammad had a productive individual campaign even if his team disappointed in March.
Wiggins chose Kansas, so he better be ready for the lofty expectations that come with that choice.
Overall Skill Set
Wiggins’ overall game has been discussed at length this offseason and will continue to be before tip-off, but there is a reason for that. He is the perfect combination of height, athleticism and speed and will thrive in today’s LeBron-inspired versatile forward era of basketball.
When comparing his overall skill set to those of other one-and-done players, it gets frightening for future opponents in the Big 12. He has the frame and rebounding ability of a Tristan Thompson and the freak athleticism of a Derrick Rose or Kyrie Irving.
Clearly he won’t have quite the handles of the point guards Rose and Irving, who just happen to be two of the best in the NBA, but his dribbling and driving ability, especially for his size, is rather impressive. Few big men will be able to keep up with him.
Wiggins will also develop into a formidable defensive presence when it comes to blocks, deflecting passes and rebounding, a la Davis or Nerlens Noel at Kentucky. Defensive player of the year likely won’t be the final result, but he will disrupt plenty of offenses.
Finally, his mid-range jump shot is developing to the point where it will be a legitimate weapon from the power forward spot. He may never have the touch of a Kevin Love (another one-and-done big man), but it is just another trick in his arsenal.
Wiggins is one of the best high-school talents we have seen in quite some time. By the end of his freshman campaign his name will in all likelihood be right alongside those of these premier players.