Joel Embiid's Injury Opens Door for Andrew Wiggins to Showcase Star Power

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins, right, rebounds against Kansas State guard Marcus Foster, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Kansas won 86-60. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

Joel Embiid's back injury is a huge blow for the Kansas Jayhawks, but it's an awesome opportunity for his teammate and fellow NBA draft prospect Andrew Wiggins.

Due to a stress fracture in Embiid's back, the 7'0" center missed the end of the regular season and was ruled out of the Big 12 tournament. He could miss the first couple rounds of the NCAA tourney as well.

Bill Self needs his remaining thoroughbreds to step up and fill the void. It's a golden chance for Wiggins to prove that he's star material.

Throughout his freshman campaign, the 6'8" prodigy has flashed his athletic prowess and scoring potential. However, his inconsistency and unassertive tendencies raised some concern among pro scouts. He didn't exactly look the part of a future NBA leader, and he had eight games of 12 or fewer points.

With Embiid shelved for the near future, now Kansas needs Wiggins to consistently produce. He's not going to replace the big man's post presence, but his squad would love for him to pick up the slack as a scorer and rebounder.

If his regular-season finale is any indication, Wiggins will have plenty of opportunities to shine over the next couple of weeks. The Embiid-less Jayhawks sputtered to a 25-point deficit early against West Virginia, and Wiggins almost single-handedly spearheaded a colossal comeback.

His 41-point explosion showed NBA decision-makers exactly what he can do when he puts his foot on the gas. Wiggins aggressively attacked the hoop, earning 19 free-throw attempts, and he also found mid-range and long-range jumpers. He turned defense into offense, and he turned rebounds into extra buckets.

Of course, we can't expect him to regularly put up 40 points, or even 30-plus points in the postseason. But the additional touches and the increased pressure to make plays could make this a March to remember—especially for lottery teams picking at the top of the draft.

NBA scouts spent much of the 2013-14 season lamenting Wiggins' laid-back approach, as he settled for jumpers and didn't seem disposed to impose his will.

Let's take a look at what some scouts said earlier this season:

In November, one scout told ESPN's Jeff Goodman (subscription required) that Wiggins wasn't much of a playmaker:

Great athlete, no way he's the top pick in the draft...His skill level is average. He made a few shots but plays straight up and down and doesn't have any playmaking skills...Right now, he's the third or fourth-best player for Kansas.

After his monumental outburst against the Mountaineers, I'm sure that scout has changed his tune.

Another scout voiced his concerns about Wiggins' effort (via Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears): "Until Wiggins learns how to play hard, he's Kansas' third-best freshman."

B/R's Jonathan Wasserman knew Wiggins had it in him; it was just a matter of him applying his aggressive athleticism for 40 minutes. Just days before Wiggins' career game, Wasserman indicated that the young stud has the capability to carry a team:

We've seen Wiggins activate takeover mode before. He just hasn't been able to sustain it for, in most cases, more than a half, let alone more than an entire game.

But when he's locked in and his confidence is pumping, Wiggins is capable of scoring in bunches and becoming Kansas' go-to offensive lightning rod.

Wiggins certainly made the most of his opportunity last week, looking every bit the part of a No. 1 overall pick. Now NBA scouts are eager to see if he can use that as a springboard to consistent, star-level production.

When Embiid was healthy, he supplied 11.2 points, 8.1 boards and five-plus trips to the free-throw line per contest. Tarik Black will help fill some of that void from a low-post standpoint, but he won't be able to draw tons of defensive attention and be a dynamic playmaker.

That's where Wiggins comes in; as the Big 12 tourney and NCAA competition unfold, Kansas will need him to attack as much as possible.

If he effectively takes advantage of scoring opportunities, in addition to rebounding and playing stout defense, Wiggins will do more than help Kansas survive without Embiid. He'll cement his worthiness as a No. 1 overall candidate, and even if he doesn't land first, the club that takes him will know it has a powerful weapon.

After all, March is the best time of year to show the NBA what he's got.


Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.

Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR