Andrew Wiggins won Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year. At Kansas, he'll be gunning for the Naismith Player of the Year this season.
It happened 13 seconds into Andrew Wiggins' career at Kansas, and it could be when the hype turned into a campaign.
Wiggins had just shown up to Kansas in June. This was his first public appearance, a scrimmage at Bill Self's basketball camp. On his team's first possession of the game, Wiggins got the ball about 30 feet from the basket off a steal, took two dribbles, and then threw down the type of dunk that has made him a YouTube sensation.
At one time in college basketball, this would have been covered maybe in the local paper and that's it. That day Wiggins was featured on ESPN.com, USAToday.com, CBSSports.com, SportingNews.com, NBCSports.com, Yahoo! Sports and here at Bleacher Report.
It's a changing culture in college basketball, and postseason awards are following the trend.
Once upon a time, there was voter bias against freshmen. Not only did a freshman not win the Naismith award until 2007, not one freshman was named a first-team Associated Press All-American from 1990 through 2006.
But things have changed in the age-rule era.
Since the NBA added an age limit in 2005, essentially forcing the best talents to spend at least one year in college, a freshman has been named Naismith Player of the Year twice in eight seasons (Kevin Durant in 2007 and Anthony Davis in 2012), and eight freshmen have been named first-team All-Americans.
Wiggins is not going to put up Durant numbers. Durant averaged 25.8 points per game as a freshman, and in the Bill Self era at Kansas, Wayne Simien is the only player to average more than 20 points per game.
Wiggins could, however, have a Davis-like season where his impact on both ends and KU's success wins him the award.
These are the keys for the Jayhawks turning all that preseason buzz into player-of-the-year production.
Naadir Tharpe Focused on Distributing
One knock on Wiggins has been that he's not overly aggressive on offense, a characteristic that was also shared by Ben McLemore.
McLemore had a great season statistically (15.9 points per game), but he had long stretches where he disappeared.
Kansas did not have a great setup man at point guard and McLemore was not good at creating for himself off the dribble, so the challenge to get McLemore shots was often on coach Bill Self.
Self and the Jayhawks could have similar issues at point guard this season depending on which Naadir Tharpe shows up.
Tharpe, who will be a starter for the time, had some really nice moments as a sophomore, and his best games were usually the ones when he focused on setting up teammates. At times, Tharpe would take it upon himself to become a scorer, and that usually ended badly. In the three Big 12 games when Tharpe attempted double-digit shots, he went 6-of-37.
But when Tharpe embraced his role as a setup man, KU's offense and McLemore, in particular, were at their best.
A great example comes from a blowout win against Kansas State, which was arguably Tharpe's finest game of the conference season. He had eight assists, and five of those dimes went to McLemore.
Two of those assists stand out: This penetrate and pitch to McLemore for a three...
And this pass that set up a McLemore dunk attempt.
As Tharpe showed in that second clip, he has good vision in the open court and the gift of seeing something before it happens. He's a capable driver as well, but too often his first instinct is to get up a shot. For instance, Tharpe took more threes than Travis Releford (106 to 94), and Releford, who was a starter, shot 41.5 percent from distance compared to Tharpe's 33 percent.
Surrounded by perimeter scorers and shooters—and the Jayhawks have multiple options with Wiggins, Wayne Selden, Andrew White III, Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp—Tharpe does not need to be a scorer. He needs to focus on setting up his teammates, particularly Wiggins.
Transition Offense for Wiggins
It doesn't take long to watch Wiggins and realize he is an elite finisher in transition. No one in college basketball will be able to match his combination of speed and hops.
The Jayhawks can help Wiggins by trying to play uptempo (and that's an area where Tharpe can help), but the easiest way to get transition opportunities will be with their defense.
The one issue there is that Self's teams have rarely forced a lot of turnovers. In his first 10 seasons at Kansas, only two times (2006 and 2007) has KU ranked in the top 100 in turnover percentage defensively, per KenPom.com (subscription needed).
That could change this year, and a big reason is Wiggins.
He is built to be a disruption on the defensive end because of his quickness and long reach—at 6'8", he has a 7'0" wingspan, according to DraftExpress.com.
Typically, Self's defense is set up to try to hold opponents to low field-goal percentages by forcing tough shots. The Jayhawks have ranked in the top 10 in defensive effective field-goal percentage in nine of Self's 10 years at KU, with the one team outside of the top 10 (2011-12) ranking 14th.
This group has the length—10 scholarship players are taller than 6'5"—to once again succeed in holding opponents to low percentages, but Self should also be able to get his team to play a style that will create more turnovers.
Self told Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News this summer:
I think we've got to defensively do things to pressure more because for the first time in years we can actually pressure the ball. We've got wings that can run through passes. I think we’ll have to do more stuff fullcourt.
This is how Wiggins can generate momentum for his player of the year campaign on the defensive end. If he gets a lot of steals that turn into highlight-reel dunks, and helps KU's defense become elite in the process, voters will notice.
Giving Wiggins the freedom to gamble will be 7-footer Joel Embiid.
Look at Louisville last season. The Cardinals could take chances and also keep shooting percentages low because they had a great rim protector in Gorgui Dieng. Embiid can fill that role.
Embiid could also help create opportunities for Wiggins by mimicking Jeff Withey.
Withey was a big reason why Releford and McLemore were two of the best transition wings in the country. Withey had an amazing ability to block shots to his teammates. Kansas came away with 71.2 percent of Withey's blocks. Because of that, 59 percent of KU's early offense (shot attempt in the first 10 seconds) came off a defensive rebound, according to Hoop-Math.com's data.
According to that same data, Releford and McLemore both had more than 100 field-goal attempts in transition. If the Jayhawks can increase their defensive pressure and remain one of the better shot-blocking teams in the country, Wiggins should get plenty of transition opportunities to do what he does best.
Get Wiggins Involved in the Half Court
So far, most everything has been about how Wiggins' teammates can help his numbers by getting him easy shots. Like with McLemore, Wiggins is such an elite talent that Self will want to run offense exclusively for his freshman star.
Last season, Self ran a lot of quick-hitters for McLemore. Plays, like the one below, were run with the intent of getting McLemore a jump shot.
The one advantage Wiggins has over McLemore is that he can create his own shot off the dribble. That's one reason Self had to run quick-hitters for McLemore. Kansas can usually get its guards involved with its ball-screen offense, but McLemore's handles limited him in ball-screen situations. That should not be the case for Wiggins.
That does not mean that the KU coaches have not spent the offseason trying to figure out innovative ways to get Wiggins involved.
Who should be the preseason favorite to win the Naismith Player of the Year?
Jeff Forbes, KU's video coordinator, told me this summer that the Kansas staff has been studying NBA teams with big guards to see how they post those guards up. It's rare to see Self run a lot of isolation plays, but expect the Jayhawks to try to exploit mismatches that Wiggins will create because of his size.
If that leads to opponents trying to run double-teams at Wiggins, the Jayhawks have the shooters to make them pay.
Davis won the player of the year in 2011-12 by averaging 14.2 points per game. He had 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game. Wiggins can also put together a well-rounded resume. He could add solid assist, rebounding and steals numbers to his scoring average, and he's on a team capable of contending for a title.
If Wiggins is the No. 1 reason Kansas is in that hunt, he'll be in the Naismith conversation at the end of the year.