Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be the "Next Big Thing" in college basketball. And because that simply hasn't happened to this point, it has overshadowed the fact that he is still having an excellent season.
In 31.7 minutes per game, he's averaging 15.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He's been a key figure in a 14-4 start for Kansas, currently ranked No. 8 in the nation. And rather than hogging the ball and becoming an offensive black hole, he's embraced his role with the Jayhawks and has been a team player.
So why all of the criticism? Why are people still judging him based on the preseason hype rather than judging him based on his play on the court?
Rob Dauster of Pro Basketball Talk wrote an excellent piece (one that you should check out) about Wiggins and the hype that continues to define him, breaking down the weaknesses in his game like his struggles in the half court, his lack of strength and perhaps a lack of confidence that keeps him from dominating.
But the key takeaway from Dauster's piece is simple—perhaps the hype was unfounded in the first place:
With Wiggins, we heard all the scouts salivating over his potential and mention names like Kevin Durant and LeBron James and immediately expected him to be the dominant force in college basketball. I fell victim to it as well, but the issue — the one that we ignored while tossing around unfair comparisons throughout the preseason — was that Wiggins is so much more like [Aaron] Gordon than he is like [Jabari] Parker and [Julius] Randle.
Parker and Randle are polished, skilled and physically mature offensive weapons that could have a major impact in the NBA right now. Wiggins? Well, he’s got a long way to go to get there, but there are times that he makes plays that just leave you scratching your head in bewilderment at what he just did. His athleticism is off the charts and there’s a fluidity to his movement that makes some of his most ridiculous plays look almost nonchalant.
You don’t need to be an NBA scout to see his potential. All you need is two eyeballs.
There are times when Wiggins flashes on the court like no other player in the country. Those moments are what created the hype in the first place. The problem, of course, is that the hype clouded the fact that Wiggins's game is simply more potential than polish at this stage.
Even his coach, Bill Self, acknowledges that the hype was far too great for the freshman phenomenon, as he told Dana O'Neil of ESPN.
"Because of our society, the hype, if you don't produce you’re the most talked about person. If you do, it’s expected, so it’s really a no-win. There was no way he was going to live up to the hype.”
When you look at him from that perspective—and consider not only all the areas he can grow as a player, but the incredible starting point he has as an athlete—his season begins to look more impressive than disappointing.
In seven games against ranked opponents (at the time of the game), he's scored 17 or more points five times. He almost single-handedly beat Iowa State on Jan. 13, scoring 17 points, bringing down an incredible 19 rebounds and adding three assists for good measure.
But he's not Kevin Durant, so we criticize. Heck, he doesn't even look like the best prospect on his own team at the moment, as Joel Embiid has suddenly become the golden child of NBA draft analysts.
Parker (18.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and Randle (16.7 PPG, 10.6 RPG) have been better. Gordon (12.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG) is the impact player many of us didn't quite see coming. Embiid (11.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.8 BPG) has exploded. And in the process, the balloon of hype floating above Wiggins' head has met its inevitable pin.
But here's the rub—he's still a top-five pick. He still has the most potential in this draft class. He still has so much room to grow. And while he does, we might all be wise to acknowledge what he continues to accomplish rather than decry why he isn't "The Next Big Thing."
At least not yet.
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