Just like his offensive potential, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins' defensive upside is off the charts. You really couldn't ask for a better set of lock-down tools for a wing.
But despite the frequent flashes of defensive brilliance, Wiggins has the tendency to disengage, just like he does on offense.
And it couldn't have been easier to pick up on than it was in Kansas's 82-85 overtime loss to Kansas State.
But let's start where he went right, because when Wiggins is locked in defensively, he has the ability to suffocate opposing guards and forwards.
Throughout the game, he was able to remind us why his defense helps drive his two-way ceiling as a pro. He's got the goods that help turn athletic wings into All-NBA defenders.
Wiggins isn't just a weapon offensively—his 7'0'' wingspan and lightning quickness allow him to make plays at the defensive end as well. Whether it's smothering a ball-handler and getting a deflection or jumping a passing lane and picking up a steal, Wiggins can cause issues and mishaps for opposing offenses.
You generally see him take at least one steal a game the other way for a scoring opportunity in transition. Wiggins was able to get himself to the line early against Kansas State after creating a turnover and taking it coast to coast:
Sometimes, defense is Wiggins' best offense. While he struggles to generate consistent half-court points, his ability to force turnovers creates opportunities in transition, an area of the game where Wiggins is at his best.
Lateral Quickness, Ball Denial
You won't find another 6'8" wing in the country who moves as well as Wiggins does side to side. Given his length and lateral quickness, Wiggins has the ability to blanket ball-handlers or off-ball scorers. When focused, he's awfully tough to shake free from.
Wiggins guarded Kansas State's leading scorer Marcus Foster for an extended period of time Monday night, February 10th. And Foster hadn't scored until Wiggins left the game for the first time in the first half. Right as Wiggins went to the bench, Foster immediately got three good looks at the rim, with the first being an open three-pointer he nailed just over 10 minutes into the game.
When Wiggins came back in, he showed off that lock-down potential by shadowing Foster and denying him the ball in his sweet spots.
Check out Wiggins stick to Foster wherever he goes, keeping him from catching the ball with space or with angles to drive:
His foot speed also allows him to shoot gaps and slip through screens. He got through the one below on time, as he was able to keep his man from stepping into an open jumper at the top of the key:
However, while Wiggins showcased his defensive upside throughout the Kansas State game (and throughout the first three months of the season), his questionable awareness and recognition were both exposed as well.
Despite having the athleticism and measurements built to secure the perimeter, Wiggins just isn't always locked in for the entire 35-second shot clock. Sometimes, you'll see him standing on the wing with his hands on his hips. Others, it looks like he's just running through the motions.
Against Kansas State, I counted three times he got beat on the perimeter for a three-pointer. And all of them had to do with poor focus and anticipation.
Though we've already seen Wiggins' quickness slipping through screens, he's not always prepared to use it.
Knowing his man Foster is a deadly outside threat (came in shooting over 37 percent from behind the arc, and he's fresh off a 34-point, five-three-point-make performance against Texas), Wiggins still allows himself to get easily screened and taken out of the play. Instead of anticipating the screen or fighting through it, he went under it, giving Foster a wide-open jumper he can confidently step into and drill.
Coach Bill Self let Wiggins have it on the sidelines after this one—which is why it was a little frustrating to see the same thing happen to Wiggins again later in the second half.
Take a look at a flat-footed Wiggins—he's on his heels, and not in a defensive stance. And within a blink of an eye, his man, Foster, makes his move around a screen.
Wiggins was a step slow here, and he ultimately got caught up once again in a screen that freed up Foster for another three-point make:
How about a third time? Again, Wiggins isn't ready to explode out of a defensive position, as he allows himself to lose 6'2" Will Spradling, who takes Wiggins on a stroll through traffic before popping outside for an open jumper:
College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster noted how poor Kansas's ball-screen defense was all game.
It wasn't the last time or the only way Wiggins would get burned on the night.
Here is Wiggins losing a gamble—a gamble he made without knowing if he had any backup support or help. Watch as he tries to jump a passing lane a little too late, which allows his man to make an easy drive baseline for an uncontested layup:
Wiggins flashed some bright spots defensively against Kansas State, as well as a few discouraging dark ones. To his credit, he was excellent defensively the game before against West Virginia.
“Early on, I taught him how to guard scorers,” said Wiggins' dad Mitchell, a former first-round pick, to Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal. “I taught him how to guard guys who can penetrate a lot off the dribble. He has an understanding of how to guard guys.”
But Wiggins' biggest issue as a freshman has been consistency, along with mentally locking himself into entire possessions for 40-straight minutes.
Chances are Wiggins is going to evolve into a terrific NBA defender one day. He's a promising NBA defender at 18 years of age.
But if Wiggins ever wants to emerge as one of the premier ball-stoppers in the world, it's not going to his athleticism, quickness or length that gets him there. It will be his head.