The 2013-14 college basketball season, at least from a 2014 NBA draft perspective, was supposed to be a coronation for Andrew Wiggins. An 18-year-old from Toronto, Wiggins arrived at the University of Kansas widely considered to be the most gifted, pure basketball talent since LeBron James.
It turns out those exceedingly high expectations were wrong.
With the Big 12 regular season nearing its end, it has become increasingly apparent Wiggins will probably have a NBA career more like Michael Finley than Michael Jordan.
This should not come as a big surprise. Wiggins himself never placed such impossibly large expectations on his shoulders—the scouts and media who covered him did. Meanwhile, even though the comparisons to James or Jordan seem more outlandish with each passing week, Wiggins is still likely going to have a very good NBA career.
But Wiggins’ ballyhooed entrance onto the NCAA stage and his failure to live up to the hype shows us once again how little we can trust high school scouting reports (and the media) when it comes to accurately pinpointing who the best future NBA prospects are.
This is particularly true when those prospects are guards and small forwards. Frankly, it is time to take high school scouting much less seriously as it pertains to the NBA draft.
According to Bleacher Report's Howard Beck, Adam Silver recently announced his hopes to increase the NBA age limit from 19 to 20 years old. Regardless of whether this happens or not, the truth of the matter is the best American high school prospects have to prove their talent on the NCAA (or D-League) stage before they ever get drafted by a NBA team. If the age limit is pushed up to 20, they will have to prove their talent even more.
This makes scouting high schools players from an NBA standpoint almost immaterial. I might not feel this way if the top high school seniors entering into college ended up always being picked near the top of the draft or eventually becoming the best NBA players, but the reality is it usually doesn’t happen like that.
The Wiggins of the 2013 draft was Shabazz Muhammad. He arrived at UCLA with the expectation of being the Pac-12’s best guard since James Harden. His freshman year was a relative disaster, and Muhammad skipped town as quickly as he could before his NBA draft stock sunk even lower.
Before Muhammad there was Harrison Barnes, the No. 1-rated high school prospect in the class of 2010, and a wing player so gifted it was assumed that he would dominate the ACC right out of the gate.
Barnes, obviously, also failed to live up to the hype—both as a collegiate and as a pro. Before him it was O.J. Mayo, the No. 1 prospect in the great high school class of 2007. Mayo was considered a better prospect than Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Harden. We all know Mayo ended up being a little less dominant than those guys.
The truth is it is hard to peg what best high school superstars will end up becoming the best NBA draft prospects, particularly with wing players. So we should not be shocked Wiggins is not as good as advertised. Instead, we should brace ourselves for the reality that many of these lavishly praised 18-year-olds fail to evolve into what we dream they can become.
Other high school players end up becoming much better than we expect. Joel Embiid was RSCI’s 23rd best prospect in the high school class of 2013.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote Embiid is the best pure center prospect since Greg Oden, and the likely No. 1 pick in June’s draft. So it goes both ways.
Judging high school players for their NBA merits ceased being vitally important in 2006, when the age limit rule was instituted. When a player like Wiggins gets so much attention, it is easy to forget this fact, but we will be better off to remember it.
For more in-depth NBA draft analysis, read my blog here.