Andrew Wiggins' Nondescript Start at Kansas Not an Indictment of His Future

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Andrew Wiggins' Nondescript Start at Kansas Not an Indictment of His Future
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Wiggins is not the second coming. He's not LeBron James reincarnated in a wiry 18-year-old frame. He's not a National Player of the Year contender, and he's not likely to be at any point this year. He's sure as hell not going to lead Kansas to a national championship—not without some marked improvement from his teammates.

That said, we should kill the hand-wringing about his struggles to live up to the hype. 

The Jayhawks suffered their second consecutive defeat Tuesday night, a 67-61 loss to No. 19 Florida. While the game had an uncharacteristically ugly start—Kansas was at one point down 34-16 in the first half—by the end, it had a similar feel to many Jayhawks contests. 

Florida, playing with only a seven-man rotation due to injuries and off-the-court problems, suffocated a flustered Kansas roster that looked befuddled by zone defense. It was the same exact blueprint put in by Colorado. Constrict the middle and the Jayhawks offense will die. Their offense was a disorganized mess, a calamity combination of stupid turnovers and contested shots. 

Well, except for Wiggins. 

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For those waiting for Wiggins to put on his cape and go into "Hero Mode," these last two contests have satiated your tastes. Wiggins had 26 points on 7-of-15 shooting on Tuesday night; no other Jayhawk had more than nine points or took more than six shots. Going back to the loss against Colorado, he's scored 48 points and forced himself to the line 17 times. Kansas' next-highest scorer is Frank Mason with 20.

Those who have watched closely this season—otherwise known as the whole basketball world—will be quick to tell you what an anomaly these games have been. Wiggins, who has (somewhat) unfairly been the subject of criticism already, has taken double-digit shot attempts in only four games. He's scored more than 20 just three times. The 17 free throws taken are pretty handily his highest two-game sample.

So, are we in the midst of watching his much-anticipated breakout? Or has Wiggins been forced into aggression by the sheer incompetence of his teammates against a zone defense? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it's more the latter than the former. 

What college basketball was promised—a world-beater who would have a Kevin Durant-ish, Carmelo Anthony-ish freshman season—isn't what has been delivered. What has been, however, is a player who is an absolute ball of potential that hasn't remotely been scratched.

The dunk-highlight mixtapes and, admittedly, the media, hyped Wiggins' arrival as worthy of deification. The reality was Wiggins should never have been expected to come in and be as dominant as Jabari Parker or Julius Randle. Parker and Randle were polished, arguably NBA-ready starters coming out of high school. 

The appeal of Wiggins was only partially about who he is. It's always been more about who he could be someday. It's clear nine games in—a small sample but not an insignificant one considering college basketball's short schedule—that Wiggins isn't quite there yet. 

Wiggins can't shoot. Four three-pointers made against Florida aside, he's just not there yet. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Wiggins had missed 25 of his 32 jump shots coming into Tuesday night. His 0.688 points per possession on jumpers ranked him in the 21st percentile in college basketball. I'm sure enough of you have taken standardized tests to know that's not very good. 

The game tape shows Wiggins' biggest knock coming out of high school—his ability to create a jumper off the dribble—is worse than we thought. When he has trouble creating separation, he'll often pull up and take ill-advised jumpers early in the shot clock.

The shot is something I suspect will be fleeting all season, coming and going on a ton of his looks that seem hurried, as if he's still attempting to find his hand placement when he's already in the air. 

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Wiggins' struggles as a passer also play a factor in his questionable looks; he has only 11 total assists for the season.

Self has smartly avoided using Wiggins as a primary ball-handler. Only 8.9 percent of his possessions have been used as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy Sports, and it's rarely ended in a positive outcome. Wiggins has a propensity for risky passes, and he's nowhere near comfortable enough to begin splitting defenders when teams hedge hard. 

If I'm Self, the No. 1 thing I'm working on with Wiggins is his ball-handling—the more comfortable he gets handling the rock, because it's not like he's terrible. He's very good at drawing fouls out of isolation situations in the limited opportunities he's given. If he can get more comfortable navigating around screens, it will do wonders for the types of shots he takes and the ones he gives to teammates. 

Even incremental improvements will give him more space to work. That is important, because Wiggins in space is arguably the most terrifying thing in college basketball right now.

You can see just how head and shoulders he is above the competition athletically anytime Kansas gets in the open court. Wiggins was shooting 80 percent in transition coming into Tuesday night. More than 40 percent of his used possessions in transition resulted in a shooting foul. He's actually an adept ball-handler in space, coming equipped with a nifty little Eurostep and a still-progressing hesitation dribble. 

When scouts see the violent finishes, the creativity in the open court and the jaw-dropping athleticism, little things like shooting off the dribble tend to get pushed to the side. Wiggins has next-level, young Tracy McGrady-esque skills in space.

Wiggins also gets credit for being the only one of his top-three competitors for consistently trying on defense. Parker's effort is fleeting, and Randle is almost a complete non-factor. Wiggins isn't perfect defensively—freshmen never are—but he does a solid job containing ball-handlers on the pick-and-roll and is learning how to use his athleticism for good on that end. 

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If all of this seems like a convoluted mishmash of things good and bad, that's because it is. Evaluating prospects isn't ever as cut and dried as "superstar" and "sucks." Fans, with some coaxing, talked themselves into thinking Wiggins was the former in the preseason, so he obviously has to be the latter now that his performance has just been pretty good.

That's flawed logic. What we've seen from Wiggins thus far gives us a barometer, a measurement against which to judge him in the future. Come March, if he's still more likely to turn the ball over than knock down an off-the-dribble jumper, then maybe it's time to worry. 

Until then, expect fits and starts. Wiggins may not be the instant all-time great whom fans were promised, but that's because he was never going to be that in the first place.

 

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