Andrew Wiggins will enter the 2013-14 season at Kansas as a strong favorite to go No. 1 in the upcoming NBA draft. And rightfully so. He's ridiculous.
But just because he sits atop the prospect pyramid now doesn't mean he can't be knocked off later.
This isn't a case of Wiggins resting comfortably on his throne, being fanned and fed grapes while waiting for the lottery winner to take him.
Wiggins has some work to do and competitors to fight off. And there's one in particular who can't be taken lightly.
Kentucky freshman Julius Randle should at least be considered a threat to steal Wiggins' thunder. Had Wiggins not been eligible til 2015, it would be Randle who'd be considered an ultimate prize on NBA draft night.
Considering his strengths and tools, Randle might actually be the better fit for a one-and-done college year. That shouldn't change the fact that the height of Wiggins' ceiling sits a story or two above Randle's and anyone else's selected since Kevin Durant.
But all it takes is one general manager to fall in love with the "now". And right now, it's Randle who could be the more dominant college presence.
Wiggins Versus Randle Today
At this stage in their development, I'd give Randle the edge as the more polished half-court scorer. I'd go as far as to say that he's currently a bigger mismatch at more spots on the floor.
A powerful athlete with a textbook 6'9'', 248-pound frame, Randle blends imposing upper-body strength with quick, nimble feet. He's a threat who can pound it inside or square his man up on the perimeter.
But unlike Wiggins, whose unique athleticism allows him to separate by simply elevating higher than his defender, Randle creates shots through calculated and refined moves.
As a face-up threat, Randle may not have the quickness or hops as Wiggins, but you have to remember who'll be guarding each player. Wiggins is going to draw the lengthy, athletic wings. Randle is going to be matched up against much slower-footed bigs. It's going to be a nightmare for opposing power forwards to keep up laterally with Randle away from the rim.
Wiggins' bread and butter is scoring open-floor points. And there's plenty of open floor in the pros. At the college level, the game is a little more compact and methodical.
It's a setting that could mask or diminish his strengths as a north-and-south attacker of the rim.
Wiggins' biggest advantage is his ability to beat defenses to the spot. His first step is off the charts. Once he burns his man and gets into space, he's got an uncanny ability to score in the lane.
But there isn't much space at the college level. With a condensed three-point arc, the paint and mid-range can get a lot more crowded.
At Kansas, Wiggins will have to spend a lot of time stretched out around the perimeter. And perimeter scoring is currently categorized as one of Wiggins' few weaknesses.
On the other hand, Randle has the ability to play on the inside or out. He's got a jumper that continues to improve and look more natural by the month, along with a post game that's going to make him an awfully tough college cover.
Unlike most big men in their late teens and early 20s, Randle doesn't just rely on strength and the old over-the-shoulder jump hook. He's polished and refined with this back to the rim.
Randle can use it to spin off his man and score in the paint:
Or fade away for a makable jumper:
While I can go on all day about the strengths of each player, the point I'm trying to make is that Randle currently offers a little more offensive diversity. He's got a counter or go-to move for every look the defense gives him, thanks to his ability to convert on the perimeter, attack off the dribble, play back-to-the-rim or thrive in transition.
If defenses pack the paint on Kansas, it's possible that Wiggins goes stretches without a quality scoring opportunity. And realistically, it's unlikely he develops into a dynamic perimeter scorer over the next six months.
Nobody questions Wiggins' upside, natural ability or character. It's all there. However, he's not the perfect prospect, despite what you've seen from his YouTube high school mixtapes.
There are a few kinks in Wiggins' armor. Nothing to get worked up over, but they are worth noting.
From a technical standpoint, Wiggins handle isn't tight enough. He doesn't have that command of the ball you see from the top scorers in today's game. And because of it, creating balanced, open looks can be a challenge on the perimeter.
He also needs to continue working on his jumper and range, though so does every 18-year-old prospect. But Andrew Wiggins isn't every 18-year-old prospect. If he struggles to consistently knock down shots, he'll just provide critics with some ammo and reason for scouts to think twice.
But it's the mental aspect of the game that could be the difference-maker between Wiggins and Randle in terms of likability as a prospect. Wiggins' killer instinct and mentality have been questioned in the past, with many pointing out his lack of cold-blooded mentality.
At times, Wiggins can look disengaged, and though it's unfair to judge before his first college game—it's out there. Wiggins' go-to mentality is questioned on nearly every scouting report you read.
But not Randle's. Randle is praised for his motor, aggression and competitive edge. You don't need to study his entire high school career to pick up on it, either. Just look at the intensity in his face when he's punishing defenders inside or viciously attacking the rim.
Randle brings the level of energy and pain that could turn a general manager. And with a No. 1 overall pick, they're going to want a guy who aches for the ball in crunch time.
This isn't to say that Randle is the better prospect or that Wiggins is flawed; rather, it's to highlight the idea that this isn't a one-man race to No. 1.
And just for the record, I haven't crossed. If the draft were today, I'm going Wiggins with an uncontrollable grin on my face. But you'd be stubborn not to allow your mind to change under the appropriate circumstances.
We're not saying Randle will overtake Wiggins. But at least keep an open mind to the possibility.
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