On Tuesday night when No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Kansas square off in the Champions Classic, we'll get our first look at Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Though just their first time on such a big stage as collegians, the duo already enter their freshmen years as college basketball rock stars.
NBA scouts have been drooling over them since they were 15 and 16 years old, given the long-term promise they offer as potential franchise centerpiece scorers.
And with Wiggins suiting up for Kansas and Parker over at Duke, the buzz is only going to intensify as the season gets going. You might want to get to know these guys before they start taking over your social media platforms and lunch-break conversations.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8'', SF, Freshman
Wiggins is the consensus No. 1 prospect in the country, and to some, he is one of the most promising 18-year-olds to come along over the last 10 years.
Heavily recruited by Florida State, where both his parents went to school, and Kentucky, which had the top class in the country, Wiggins chose to play at Kansas, a place that allows him to compete for a title and get plenty of offensive touches in the process.
He's already been named to the Associated Press Preseason All-American team as a freshman.
Between the hype, expectations and a style of play that's easy on the eyes, Wiggins makes Kansas a routine must-watch for every college and NBA fan.
This isn't a one-in-every-12-bottles-wins prize you get from a Mountain Dew cap. Wiggins is a rare Willy Wonka golden ticket.
He's a different breed of athlete. Athleticism is typically a strength shared by the majority of upper-class prospects, but to just casually slap the tag on Wiggins wouldn't be doing it justice.
His mom ran track in the Olympics, while his dad was a former first-round pick. This kid has the genetic makeup that all but guarantees excellence as a professional athlete.
Above the Rim
Wiggins plays with a dangerous bounce to his step that makes him difficult to contain or predict.
He elevates to ridiculous heights, whether he's got momentum or he's exploding off two feet. It's as if the lane is his own personal trampoline. Wiggins has springs seemingly integrated into the bottom of his sneakers, which allow him to sky over traffic and finish above the rim.
While most guys extend around challenging arms for layups, Wiggins goes over the top for drop-ins. Some dunk on the way up to the hoop. Wiggins dunks on his way down.
When you can play with your elbows at rim level, finishing at the basket becomes a whole lot easier. His ability to play that high in the air makes him a high-percentage scorer in the paint, as well as a glowing target for lobs.
At 6'8'' with a 7'0'' wingspan, he's got perfect measurements for an NBA wing. Throw those numbers, along with an absurd projected vertical (estimated at 44 inches), on an athlete like Wiggins, and you've got yourself one incredible lethal weapon in the half court or transition.
Wiggins is absolutely deadly on the break.
When he has room to get out and run, forget about it—he's a missile in the open floor that can change directions on the dime.
The explosive wing is automatic in transition, with the speed to blow by defenders, the shiftiness to elude them and the explosion in his legs to finish over the top.
Wiggins plays fast, which is the tempo that really maximizes his strengths as an offensive mismatch. Expect Kansas to push the rock when it can, either off defensive rebounds, made baskets or forced turnovers.
Attacking the Rim
In the half court, Wiggins poses the biggest threat as a driver, slasher and attacker. He's at his best when taking it to the rack, thanks to a blurry first step that's quicker than any forward's you'll see.
There's no doubt about it—when Wiggins gets the ball, the first option is always attack.
Between his first step, athleticism and hops, Wiggins is able to pick up easy buckets around the rim. And these are scoring opportunities that don't exist for most players. Guys with similar first steps don't have the size, length or hops to finish so easily inside. And wings with top-notch physical tools don't typically have Wiggins' foot speed on the perimeter.
With the game slowed down in the half court, it's unusual to find a player like Wiggins who is able to get all the way to the rim for an uncontested finish—off two dribbles no less.
Wiggins' bag of tricks consists of more than just dunks and lay-ins.
He loves the spin move in the lane before separating for a touch shot or floater. With a great feel for the rim, not all of his easy buckets necessarily have to come from right above it.
He's got an array of shots he can make when wheeling and dealing within 15 feet of the hoop. The goal for opposing defenses: Don't let him get there.
Two-way Superstar Upside
You won't find many superstars who only excel on one side of the ball.
Wiggins doesn't just have the chance to be a prolific NBA scorer, but he also projects as a lock-down perimeter defender. And that plays heavily to his value as a potential game-changing forward.
You couldn't ask for better lock-down tools given his length, quickness and athleticism. He can wrap up his assignments like a Snuggie and ultimately suffocate them with pressure. His long arms and active hands force turnovers and keep opposing ball handlers from operating with comfort.
Check out Wiggins as he harasses his man on the inbounds pass, makes the steal and takes it the other way for a breakaway slam.
He has the ability to make a significant impact on defense, and that gives him an edge over just about every non-center prospect.
Apparently, Wiggins isn't perfect, though you wouldn't know it from watching his YouTube mixtapes.
His handle could use some work. It's a little shaky, sometimes preventing him from cleanly going into his shot delivery.
Wiggins relies on simply elevating higher than his man in order to separate for a shot, as opposed to using a crossover or pull-back move with the dribble. Although, I'd be lying if I said he hasn't shown improvement here early on.
Most scouting reports will also tell you he lacks that Kobe Bryant-like killer instinct. Some question his desire to want the ball and go-to mentality. I wouldn't get too carried away with this, though it's something to keep an eye on with scouts expected to do the same.
At the end of the day, long-term potential allows for short-term weakness. And any weaknesses Wiggins currently has are easily fixable over time.
Battling the Pressure
Without any standout talent in the 2013 draft pool, the fans and media got a little anxious. The Andrew Wiggins buzz started early—real early. He's had a spotlight shined on him for a while now, and as his awareness around the country has increased, so have his expectations.
The bar is set at what seems like an unreachable height. He's been mentioned in conversations with guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant before ever stepping foot on a college campus.
TSN reached a deal to offer complete coverage of every Kansas game this season. The hype machine is pumping at historic levels right now, and it's completely out of Wiggins' control.
And attention isn't exactly Wiggins' fuel.
Nowadays, high-profile recruits make their college decision on national TV. Some shave their school's name into the back of their heads. Wiggins made his announcement in a closed gym to one local reporter.
Whether he likes it or not, those cameras aren't going to stop rolling. And trust me—they're going to catch some things that spark criticism or illustrate weakness.
He's got an unusual and unfair amount of pressure on his shoulders. But based on his humble character and familiarity with attention, I wouldn't bet on it getting to him.
Jabari Parker, Duke, 6'8'', SF/PF, Freshman
Jabari Parker is our No. 2 prospect in the country and a likely lock for the top five in the 2014 NBA draft.
Like Wiggins, Parker has been in the spotlight for quite some time now. And that's unlikely to change at Duke, where he fits Coach K's philosophy, roster and system just perfectly.
Known for his scoring and versatility, Parker's mature offensive presence is going to be one we haven't seen in college basketball for quite some time.
Winning Track Record
Parker already comes to Duke with a winning track record, which consists of four straight Illinois state titles while playing for Simeon Academy in Chicago.
He shot up the recruiting ranks after his freshman year in high school and has been drawing college and NBA attention ever since.
Many often refer to Parker as one of those players who makes his teammates better. It's definitely a good reputation to embrace from a draft-stock perspective and one he's likely to maintain as a freshman with the amount of talent around him at Duke.
He will excel during interviews and pre-draft testing. Making a deep run in the NCAA tournament would solidify his image as a proven winner and impact player.
Refined Offensive Game
Offensively, Parker has the game of a seasoned scoring pro. Though not the threat that Wiggins is in transition, Parker has an uncanny ability to create shots for himself in the half court.
He's got everything from step-backs and pull-ups to fadeaway jumpers in the post. The most polished scorer in the class, Parker relies on execution and precise delivery, as opposed to athleticism and easy buckets.
With the ability to score from practically every spot on the floor, Parker is going to be an extremely tough one-on-one cover.
Most young prospects have two gears—stop and go. If the defense takes away their first look, they either proceed by taking a challenged shot or they pass it out.
Parker has the skill set that allows him to counter proper defense. And that's what separates the good scorers from the great ones. The great ones have an answer for everything thrown their way.
Below is a perfect example of Parker beating excellent defense with better offense.
Looking to take his man baseline, the help defense actually beats Parker to the spot and takes away the angle.
For most players, their scoring opportunity has now been eliminated. Kicking it out safely without turning it over becomes the goal.
But Parker's advanced shot-creating repertoire and extensive shot-making range keep his scoring opportunity alive. Using his pivot foot, Parker spins away from both defenders and separates for a fadeaway jump shot.
With the ability to improvise mid-play and knock down contested shots, Parker projects as a guy who can one day be featured as a go-to option.
Perimeter Scoring Arsenal
He's silky smooth on the perimeter as a face-up scorer. With the use of jab steps and rip through, Parker is always able to separate for a jumper in his wheelhouse.
A threat to knock down just about every shot, he can spread the floor as a spot-up shooter or pull up for a three in his man's grill. He's able to lock in with the rim just about any time he's able to cleanly release.
And go ahead and give Parker a check mark in the range, mechanics and confidence categories. You can expect his shooting hand to remain hot throughout the rest of his career.
A perimeter-scoring game gives a player takeover ability. There's just not much a defense can do when a player is making it rain with pull-ups and step-backs.
I'd imagine Parker puts up a number of big-time scoring games this year, which should only be the beginning.
Versatility, Basketball IQ
Though Parker can adapt that takeover mentality as a scorer, he's widely praised for his passing skills and unselfishness. We're not just talking about a one-dimensional offensive player here. Parker can be just as effective on a 10-point night as he is when he's dropping 20.
He draws a lot of attention and doesn't feel the need to do it all himself.
Take this Duke possession for example. With Parker in the post, a spot where he's awfully tough to guard, the freshman patiently waits for the double-team which he knows is coming.
Using his awareness and peripheral vision, Parker anticipates the double and identifies his open teammate. With the size to see and pass over the defense, he's able to hit his teammate for an easy bucket at the rim.
Parker is often the guy who makes the pass that sets up the assist. He sees the court extremely well and has the willingness to do so.
Being able to play within the offense is usually a challenge for most ball-dominant prospects. But Parker's ability to recognize and appropriately time scoring with savvy passing is what separates him from other offensive-minded prospects.
There aren't many cracks in the armor. And the ones that are don't tarnish his image.
The big question surrounding Parker is his lack of elite athleticism. It's just not at the same level as some of his competitors, specifically that Wiggins kid who everyone keeps raving about.
Offensively, Parker lacks that turn-the-corner speed, which results in a heavy dose of jumpers. Defensively, his intensity level can waver while his lateral movement appears average.
If Wiggins and Parker both maximized their potential as NBA players, it's Wiggins who'd end up the better player. And that upside puts Parker at No. 2 to start the year.
Regardless, he's got the ceiling and talent to offer No. 1 overall value, even if he's not the top pick in the draft. As one NBA scout told me, "To be honest, there just isn't much to not like."
Wiggins and Parker are the type of prospects who teams throw away seasons for. The Philadelphia 76ers traded an established All-Star entering his prime for a rookie and an extra pick, with presumably the intention of stinking for a year and rebuilding through the draft.
The Phoenix Suns recently traded a couple of veterans, including starting center Marcin Gortat, following the same path as Philly.
The Utah Jazz let their top two players in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap both walk in free agency. Now they're left with a roster unqualified to compete on a routine basis.
The Boston Celtics dealt away the heart of their franchise in order to capitalize on the incoming talent as well.
Wiggins and Parker have the potential to change the direction of a franchise. Sacrificing a few seasons to chase guys like them is a risk that's worth the reward for general managers. And the draft is the only opportunity to acquire one of these rewards without having to overpay.
Expect both Wiggins and Parker to have monster one-and-done seasons before becoming faces of two very lucky NBA franchises.