Last week, I introduced Bleacher Report readers to the idea of Similarity Scores, a system for making accurate statistical comparisons between 2014 NBA draft prospects and those from previous seasons. We looked at Marcus Smart, sifting through his numbers and searching for information to help predict what he might look like as an NBA player.
In this piece, we'll meander through the same process, but this time, we will be looking at the statistical profile for Andrew Wiggins.
The Similarity Scores are calculated in an effort to leverage pre-draft player comparisons in their most useful form by analyzing statistical profiles, as opposed to just making subjective observations. Draft prospects from a particular year are compared across 21 different statistical categories, weighted equally, to draft prospects from previous years. Unfortunately, this method only works when comparing apples to apples, so the system is limited to collegiate draft prospects and doesn't include any international players.
The output of the model is a Similarity Score that ranges from one to 1,000, representing how similar the players' statistical profiles are. When we run Wiggins through the system, these are the three closest profiles we find:
With a scouting site like NBADraft.net listing Vince Carter as a possible comparison for Wiggins, finding Tobias Harris, Luol Deng and Harrison Barnes at the top of a similarity list may seem like a discouraging mark against him. But these comparisons actually give a fairly nuanced indication of what some of Wiggins' strengths and weaknesses could be as he enters the league.
Looking at a selection of the individual statistical categories that make up the Similarity Scores, we can start to hone in on those strengths and weaknesses. For example, if we focus solely on Wiggins' offensive numbers, here are his three closest comparisons:
The percent-match column shows how close of a match these players would be if we only took into account a handful of offensive numbers instead of the 21 total categories that make up Similarity Scores.
Disturbingly, these draft prospects probably need some introduction. Otto Porter was selected third in last year's draft by the Washington Wizards, but he struggled with both injuries and the pace of the NBA game. He played just 319 minutes this season.
Jared Cunningham has split time between the D-League and three different NBA franchises in his two years in the league. He's played just 106 NBA minutes.
Mikhail Torrance starred for the University of Alabama but was passed over entirely in the the 2010 NBA draft.
What we see in these comparisons are three players who carried moderate scoring loads for their respective collegiate teams, achieving a reasonable level of efficiency. All three seemed to have found a balance between getting to the free-throw line and taking three-pointers. But, as with Wiggins' profile, the thing that stands out the most is that they don't really excel in any particular category.
These question marks get bigger if we focus on comparisons of shooting percentages alone:
Shooting percentages in college can be low because of the poor collective shooting ability of the players, as well as their poor shot selection—sometimes, it's a challenge to tell the difference. Although Javaris Crittenton may not be a totally trustworthy comparison, since he didn't hang around the league long enough, both Ronnie Brewer and Gerald Henderson have proved to be unreliable outside shooters in the NBA.
That's not to say Wiggins is locked into a lifetime of questionable outside shooting; it just means that it is one of the least consistent parts of his game at this point.
These two categories paint a picture of a player who has achieved a reasonably impressive level of offensive impact, mostly due to freakish athleticism and force of will. So far, the statistics have aligned quite well with what the scouts have said. Here's what Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress.com had to say in regard to Wiggins' offensive game:
Wiggins is very much an unrefined offensive player, but still scored a solid 21 points per-40 minutes as a freshman, even if his usage rate and efficiency were average. He's for the most part a straight-line ball-handler, as the ball slows him down and doesn't do a great job changing speeds or directions, particularly with his off hand, but is capable of getting inside the paint effectively regardless thanks to his exceptionally quick first step.
As a shooter, Wiggins is somewhat of a mixed bag. His mechanics are very good and he's a capable shooter with both his feet set or off the dribble, even if the results are inconsistent at this point—as he converted just 34% of his 3-point attempts on the year. His shot-selection leave something to be desired at times, he has a tendency for settling for long contested jumpers, but should be able to develop into a very solid outside shooter in time as long as he puts the work in.
A lot of those elements Schmitz mentions also show up in this scouting video he made:
This reliance on athleticism should raise concerns about Wiggins' ability to contribute right away, and it also brings into question his long-term offensive ceiling. In particular, there are concerns about his ability to score in the half court, and they look even more serious when framed by these statistical comparisons.
Henderson and Brewer are the only ones in this group of six comparable players who have been able to make any sort of regular offensive contributions in the NBA, and they've done so mainly in transition and as cutters in the half court. That's all well and good, but for a player who is picked as high as Wiggins is likely to be drafted, teams will be hoping for a lot more than that.
A reliance on transition scoring is generally not a good thing for draft prospects, either. Research by Andrew Johnson of Hickory-High found a negative correlation between the percentage of a college player's points scored in transition and his offensive efficiency as a rookie in the NBA. Essentially, the more you scored in transition in college, the less likely you were to score efficiently entering the league.
The basic premise is that transition scoring in college is about having the advantage in athleticism, an advantage that is much smaller—or even nonexistent—when playing at the NBA level.
In addition to the look and feel of an inefficient scorer, Wiggins doesn't appear ready to offer much in the way of shot creation. Here are the three closest profiles in terms of passing and ball-handling numbers:
Wiggins has essentially the same shot-creation profile as a shoot-first power forward in Cody Zeller. The comparisons to DeMar DeRozan and Daequan Cook don't leave much room for optimism in this area, either.
But as unpolished as Wiggins looks on offense, his defensive and rebounding numbers offer some hope that there may be at least a few areas where he can immediately contribute at the next level. Here are the three closest profiles, limited to rebounding:
Barnes, Brandon Roy and Jeff Taylor have all shown the ability to contribute on the glass as wing players in the NBA, and research has shown rebounding to be one of the areas that most consistently translates from college to the pro ranks.
Wiggins' defensive comparisons are also interesting:
It's a strange mix, but all three players here were high on both the athleticism and energy scales coming out of college.
The fact that several power forwards and front-court tweeners show up throughout these comparisons—Blake Griffin, Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Barnes, Harris, etc.—speaks to something that may illuminate Wiggins' current abilities as much as any of these numbers: He's very athletic and very unpolished, and players in that mold oftentimes seem to play bigger in college, at least statistically.
Wiggins relies heavily upon his athleticism at this point, which is why he excels in measures like steals, blocks, rebounds, free-throw attempts and raw scoring. With regard to the skill areas—shooting, passing and individual shot creation—it would appear that Wiggins still has some work to do.
He's often described as a player with an all-around game, but there is reason to believe this may be a slight overstatement. Wiggins can do many things on the floor, but they are all driven by his athleticism, as opposed to his skill level. Circling back to the original three comparisons—Harris, Deng and Barnes—we're really looking at a trio of players with an athletic style and the potential for versatility that hadn't been fully realized in college.
These strengths and weaknesses are surely well understood by teams in a position to nab Wiggins in the draft, and in the aggregate, he is still likely worth the risk at any draft slot. Although he clearly relies on athleticism to do most of his damage, that athleticism is considerable and that damage is respectable.
Expecting him to grow into a versatile player like Tracy McGrady may be a stretch, as he would require a lot of skill development in a lot of areas. But everything has to be viewed through the lens of his athletic abilities. Even if he were to develop in just one or two areas, a team could still have a fantastic player on its hands.
For his part, Wiggins isn't short on confidence, and he took to the airwaves to let people know that he should be the first pick in the upcoming draft (via ZagsBlog):
“I always put myself No. 1 above anybody else. That’s just me. I got a lot of confidence in myself,” Wiggins said on ESPN’s First Take.
The bottom line is that Wiggins is more of a raw, athletic phenom than he is finished product. Whichever franchise chooses him must be confident in its ability to nurture that development, and a plan needs to be in place regarding what path that development should take.
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