College can be a funny thing.
Despite all the fanfare, the structure, the experienced coaches, the women—it doesn't always bring out the best in young athletes.
The top long-term prospect isn't necessarily the best current college player. Andrew Wiggins might be No. 1 on a lot of people's draft boards, mine included, but that doesn't mean he'll dominate in his one year at Kansas.
Wiggins won't have the best season of any 2014 NBA prospect. Not because he's over-hyped or overrated.
But given where he's at in his development, compounded by a few outside variables that are out of his control, 2013-14 won't be the cakewalk for Wiggins that some might expect.
This year in college basketball has the chance to be epic. Wiggins isn't alone in the future NBA-star conversation. There are a number of other prospects gunning for him, both on the floor and on draft boards.
Fellow freshman Julius Randle is the first name that comes to mind. Randle, a 6'9'', 240 pound beast who can play inside or out, shouldn't have any trouble with his transition to the college game. Unlike Wiggins, who might have difficulty picking up buckets when the game slows down, Randle could thrive at a slower pace where he's capable of overpowering defenders for easy buckets at the rim.
Wiggins might not even be the top player in his conference this season. If I had a vote for Big 12 Player of the Year, mine would go to sophomore Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State.
Smart, last year's National Freshman of the Year and Conference Player of the Year, chose to return to school after an early exit in March left a stale taste in his mouth. And he doesn't seem to be thrilled with Wiggins mania, which has seemingly stolen his thunder.
"All I'm saying is how can you be the best player in something you haven't even played yet?" said Smart to ESPN's Myron Medcalf.
Smart, a 225-pound man (28 pounds heavier than Wiggins) amongst boys now has a year under his belt and all the confidence in the world. Unlike Wiggins, Smart should have the chance to completely dominate the ball and make all his team's on-court decisions.
Given his experience and physical advantage at the position he plays, Smart is more prepared to light up the college scene this year.
Jabari Parker is another name to watch out for, a freshman at Duke who'll be put in perfect position to flourish.
Though Parker and Wiggins are both natural small forwards, Parker's 241-pound frame and sweet outside stroke will allow him to also log time as a mismatch at the 4. He'll fill that "Kyle Singler role" for the Blue Devils, only he brings a little more athleticism and shot-creativity to the table.
Wiggins should also see minutes as a 4, though his questionable outside game and slender frame for the interior could make the move a bit challenging.
I'm expecting Wiggins to put up some solid freshman numbers, but there might be better options out there if you're looking for the most productive college player.
Here are a few predictions for some National Player of the Year candidates and other notable prospects:
|Predictions||Points per game||Rebounds per game||Assists per game||Field-Goal Percentage||Three-point Percentage|
|Andrew Wiggins, Kansas||14.3||6.4||2.3||.445||.312|
|Marcus Smart, Oklahoma St.||16.2||5.8||5.8||.435||.332|
|Julius Randle, Kentucky||16.1||8.8||1.3||.522||.286|
|Jabari Parker, Duke||14.8||7.0||3.0||.471||.360|
|Aaron Gordon, Arizona||13.8||8.0||1.2||.502||.248|
|Doug McDermott, Creighton||23.2||8.1||1.4||.482||.447|
|Wayne Selden, Kansas||13.8||6.5||2.8||.420||.348|
|Jahii Carson, Arizona St.||19.2||4.0||5.0||.453||.334|
Wiggins' Skill Set vs. the College Game
Wiggins' most glowing offensive strength is his lightning quick first step and ability to attack the basket. Once he gets himself onto the runway for takeoff—forget about it. His electric athleticism allows him to explode above traffic and sky high above the rim.
However, his most glaring weakness is his unrefined perimeter scoring arsenal. His jumper is currently suspect, while his average handle limits him as a shot-creator away from the hoop. Once opposing teams read the scouting report, you can be sure they will do their best to pack the paint as much as possible.
At Kansas, and in most college settings for that matter, scorers have to be opportunistic. Offenses are methodical and offer minimal individual freedom. The ball moves from Point A to Point B to point C, and if C isn't available the ball moves to D.
Check out this Kansas possession in which nine passes are made in 18 seconds—and all five guys touch the ball:
With Naadir Tharpe running the show, returning forward Perry Ellis poised for a breakout year and fellow elite prospects Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid in the lineup, there's going to be an awful lot of sharing going on in Kansas' offense.
Who is your pick for National Player of the Year?
Also, given the shorter arc and less demand for double teams, the spacing in college isn't as open as it will be in the pros. Wiggins won't have much room to operate as a scorer this season, which could ultimately restrict him from blowing up on a routine basis.
He's going to have to evolve into an opportunistic scorer—one who must take advantage of the opportunities that find him, as opposed to creating them himself on demand. And it's likely a lot of those scoring opportunities will come on the perimeter.
If Wiggins' outside stroke isn't posing a consistent threat, he could end struggling against teams who slow the game down or crowd the mid-range.
Again, this isn't to say Wiggins isn't the top prospect in the country, because he is. His performance this year will have no effect on his future outlook or ceiling. But don't expect him to shatter any college records. He's not as polished as Kevin Durant was in his one-and-done year when he dropped 25 a game for Texas.
For what it's worth, I'd take Wiggins No. 1 in the draft tomorrow without any hesitation. And with just as much confidence, I'd pick Marcus Smart for National Player of the Year.