Andrew Wiggins' Road to Superstardom Not Nearly as Easy as Advertised

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

Dec 10, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) against the Florida Gators during the second half at Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Florida Gators defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 67-61. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There are moments where you can see it. The first two wide-eyed dribbles in transition where he sees a helpless defender about to get posterized. Those fleeting moments where his jumper loses its inconsistent hitch and suddenly he feels empowered to take over a game. And even, every once in a while, when he truly engages on defense, causing visions of a two-way menace that make you forget all the bad.

No matter the criticisms you've heard or hot takes read, yes, there are times when Andrew Wiggins looks like the most talented collegiate prospect in recent memory. 

Then again, there are just as many times you want to ask for a refund for the Hype Check you cashed this preseason.

Wiggins, the unquestioned top player in the class of 2013, preseason All-American and supposed best prep prospect since LeBron James, has failed to live up to that hype in every sense—no matter your view on how realistic those expectations were.

The 6'8" swingman is averaging 15.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting a disconcerting 45.4 percent from the field. His Kansas Jayhawks, an expected national title contender in the preseason, dropped to 9-4 over the weekend and are the only ranked four-loss team in the country.

"Candidly? No, we're not as good as I thought we'd be, and our players know that," Bill Self said, per Dave Skretta of the Associated Press. "I still think we'll be good, it's just taking longer than I thought."

It's been a particular struggle for Wiggins of late. He's shot under 35 percent (17 of 49) in Kansas' last four games, and though three of those were Jayhawk wins, Self has slowly been moving to emphasize low-post play over Wiggins. More and more Kansas sets are beginning with an entry pass to the low post, as folks begin to truly swoon over the progress of Joel Embiid—the "other" spectacular freshman on the roster who just may be "better."

If you took a poll of where Wiggins stands among his freshman counterparts, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle have certainly acquitted themselves to the college game better and Embiid might now be leading the "upside" conversation. Wiggins is probably still the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft, but the word is "likely," not "lock."

Dec 19, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker (1) celebrates with Duke Blue Devils forward Rodney Hood (5) after scoring against the UCLA Bruins during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils won 80-63. Mandator
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN's Chad Ford noted in December that more and more NBA scouts are switching their allegiances to Parker, a natural, polished scorer who looks ready for the league right now.

Wiggins, on the other hand, looks more and more like a kid who could use a second year of school. It's always icky to cast aspersions on kids barely old enough to buy lottery tickets, so I'm going to couch my words here carefully. The expectation that Wiggins would put up a Carmelo Anthony-, Kevin Durant-level freshman season has proven wildly incorrect—and things are only going to get harder schedule-wise from here on out.

Offensively, Wiggins is only consistent in transition. Any time he sees the slightest opportunity to push, he does so and finishes with abandon. Wiggins has made 19 of his 26 shot attempts in transition this season and averages 1.5 points per possession, which ranks 22nd in the nation among players with at least 25 transition possessions thus far, per Synergy Sports

Wiggins is especially lethal in semitransition, when a guard takes one or two dribbles before midcourt, fires a pass out to Wiggins on the wing and allows him to go to work. It's there where his freakish athleticism makes him nearly unstoppable. There was a move in the Jayhawks' Dec. 30 victory over Toledo where Wiggins received the ball at the left wing, took one dribble before hop-stepping and leaping through two defenders for the bucket.

Courtesy of ESPN on YouTube

Courtesy of ESPN on YouTube

But once you get past the athleticism and open-floor brilliance, the real warts in Wiggins' game start showing. He's shot just 29.5 percent on jump shots—a Tyreke Evans rate. Kansas opponents have had a ton of success against the Jayhawks and Wiggins in particular by running lane-clogging zones and forcing outside jumpers. Self owes his team's back-to-back losses to Colorado and Florida to his inability to crack the zone, though Wiggins was solid in both contests.

Wiggins also has no left-handed dribble at this point. He's finished just one isolation play all season driving to his left, per Synergy. Outside of transition, Wiggins' best tools are rocketing off screens. Kansas has a couple nifty actions where Wiggins will run through two screens in succession to catch the ball in space, allowing him to either work off the bounce or take the outside shot. 

It's always trite to say a player has a better "pro" game than "college" one, but Wiggins fits the bill. The NBA is far less claustrophobic, and he'll be surrounded by better shooters at the next level. Coaches have no qualms about shading their help in Wiggins' direction in one-on-one situations because Kansas has zilch from beyond the arc.

And although Wiggins is a better, more committed defender than both Randle and Parker at this point, he admits he's still learning on the fly. 

Dec 30, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Toledo Rockets guard Rian Pearson (5) drives to the basket against Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas won 93-83. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

“Just trying to stay disciplined with the little things,” Wiggins said, per Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Just always being in a defensive stance, digging on the post, how to play the post...just the little things.”

Wiggins has been blasted in pick-and-roll coverage. He has a tendency to get hit by a screen and just stick there instead of fighting through in a timely fashion. Opposing ball-handlers are averaging 1.097 points per possession and shooting 47 percent against him out of pick-and-rolls, putting Wiggins in the nation's bottom 11th percentile.

We're getting lost in the minutiae to highlight the most salient point: It's time to adjust expectations. Wiggins mania was already unrealistic when he arrived in Lawrence. Now that we've seen more than a third of his season play out and can easily recognize this kid wasn't meant for the "All-Freshman Mount Rushmore," perhaps a little rational thought could be in order.

That's not to say Wiggins won't someday be an NBA All-Star. When Kevin Durant says you have "Hall of Fame" potential, ears perk up and you listen. Maybe Durant is right. In those fleeting moments of true greatness you can see how scouts and talent evaluators became so enamored, so caught up in the hype that they ignored obvious flaws—you know, like a broken jump shot.

The road to superstardom is far from closed for Andrew Wiggins. It's just going to be bumpier than any of us thought.


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