What Kansas Must Do to Ensure Andrew Wiggins Becomes Elite NBA Star
The Kansas Jayhawks have a potential phenom on their hands.
Andrew Wiggins, the consensus No. 1 recruit and reigning Gatorade National Player of the Year, is entering college with nearly unmeetable expectations. The pressure is on for Wiggins to perform and for Kansas' coaching staff to groom him for NBA life.
Though coach Bill Self is surely thrilled with his lineup, he has the difficult task of keeping a fanbase, his athletic department and his players all happy—three different parties with potentially different needs.
Self has to find a way to produce NBA stars and win games despite a one-and-done rule that messes with incentives.
At the of the day, Coach Self's responsibility is to maximize the talent on his current roster while preparing each individual for the future. There's a way to balance both without jeopardizing team success or player development.
Put Wiggins in Scoring Position
To get the most out of Wiggins in terms of both productivity and development, Coach Self should be looking to put him in scoring position as much as possible.
Scoring position in basketball has the same meaning as it does in baseball: Just like you want to put runners on second and third base so a hit can drive them in, you want Wiggins with the ball in a position where a move can result in an open look.
Self should try to get Wiggins in similar scoring positions that exist in the pros. You want him getting familiar with the angles he'll be operating from at the next level.
Wiggins projects as an NBA small forward, which is where Kansas should play him. He won't be filling in for Ben McLemore, who played the 2 last year, a position that's expected to be filled by another promising freshman, Wayne Selden.
Plus, McLemore and Wiggins share different strengths.
The key to maximizing Wiggins' experience in what is likely to be his only year at Kansas is to give him freedom yet keep him disciplined.
As a 3, Wiggins will be working from the wing, where angles play a key role. Eventually, you want Wiggins to develop a go-to scoring arsenal. At this point in his young career, his go-to instinct is to ride his physical tools.
At the NBA level, he'll need a weapon he can consistently rely on. Kevin Durant has his hesitation pull-up, Carmelo Anthony has his picturesque step-back and Kobe Bryant has his vintage fadeaway. These are moves and shots these guys know they can get off on a consistent basis.
Wiggins will need the freedom to dance around a little bit and get comfortable creating his own perimeter offense.
But it will be Kansas' coaching staff who must keep him in check. You don't want him getting too trigger-happy.
He'll also need to learn how to score without dominating the ball. Running screens, curls and other off-ball action for Wiggins should help familiarize him with different avenues for points.
A deeper three-point arc in the NBA also means better spacing in the pros. If Wiggins can figure out ways to create scoring opportunities in a crowded half-court set at Kansas, it should make for a smoother transition process to the next level.
Success Stories versus Failed Stories
Though Harrison Barnes struggled at times during his two years at North Carolina, it was fairly obvious he had the skill set of a promising NBA player.
Coach Roy Williams made sure to get Barnes the ball in his sweet spots—spots where he'll typically see it when he gets to the pro level.
For instance, as a small forward Barnes is likely to get scoring opportunities coming off screens in the mid-range, posting up, spotting up or isolated on the wing. Those are really the major paths small forwards traditionally explore for offense.
In the play below, North Carolina has two separate men screen Barnes' man as he cuts across the middle. This was a blatant attempt to get Barnes the ball in scoring position, where he excels in the mid-range with just a few inches of separation:
A few plays later, North Carolina isolated Barnes in the post. Barnes was able to experience being consistently featured in spots on the floor from where he'll eventually be making his money:
Though Barnes didn't convert all of his scoring opportunities, he was at least able to find them with regularity, which is normally half the battle for most young college prospects.
Barnes still struggled with consistency as a rookie, but he was getting the same looks in the pros as he was getting in college. Despite his inconsistent efforts throughout 2012-13, he still looked comfortable operating in Golden State's offense.
When Kevin Durant played at Texas, he had the green light to take advantage of the skill set he was given. Coach Rick Barnes played to his strengths without going overboard.
Below is a simple dribble handoff Texas used to free up a weapon like Durant, who has the length, accuracy and range to rise up and fire with just a few inches of room:
How many times have we seen this in Oklahoma City? Texas's coaching staff put Durant in scoring positions he'd eventually encounter in the pros.
Durant had the freedom to take over as a scorer, which is something you see him do on a regular basis in Oklahoma City. And if you look back at tape from his one year at Texas, his shot selection hasn't changed much at all.
Here's a look at Durant isolated on the wing, where he regularly operates as a member of the Thunder:
Here's Durant isolated in the post. You don't see this often with college players, much less freshman:
Guys like Durant, Barnes and Wiggins are special players you want getting the ball in certain spots on the floor. And the earlier they get acquainted with them, the faster they'll catch on at the next level.
How about some of the guys who had hype entering college but haven't lived up to it? Remember when Michael Beasley was supposed to be the prize of the 2008 NBA draft?
Here's a guy who dominated at the power forward position at Kansas State, but was forced to transition to the 3 in the pros. Though it's tough to blame their coaching staff, Beasley spent a year getting comfortable playing a position he wouldn't be able to play at the next level.
Remember Donte Greene? He came to Syracuse a big-time prospect but hasn't made a peep in the NBA.
That wasn't one of Jim Boeheim's finer coaching years. At 6'11'', Greene was averaging 7.5 three-point field-goal attempts per game and shooting only 41 percent from the floor. Syracuse's coaching staff failed to put him in position to maximize his strengths. The looks he was getting in college weren't going to be available or allowed by his coaches in the pros.
In this case, Boeheim didn't provide enough structure for Greene, who hasn't been able to stick in a rotation since being drafted five years ago.
Balancing Team and Individual Focus
Coach Self isn't going to overuse Wiggins to the point where he's jeopardizing the offensive flow. He'll have to know when it's time to pull the plug if something isn't working.
Something tells me Self won't have an issue with this, as he benched Ben McLemore in the NCAA tournament after he struggled to get going against North Carolina.
Keeping Wiggins' confidence high without letting it overflow should be the goal. You want to give him the freedom to make mistakes yet keep them from costing the team in the long run.
For Kansas, it's about developing Wiggins while maintaining a winning culture. And by looking to get him in scoring position from different spots on the floor, they'll be able to develop his all-around game and simultaneously tap into his strengths.
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