Can Andrew Wiggins Be the Alpha Dog of Cleveland Cavaliers' Future?

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Can Andrew Wiggins Be the Alpha Dog of Cleveland Cavaliers' Future?
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I'm not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but it seems to be the status quo that the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft should be a true leader, a future superstar, a singular personality who can be the alpha dog on a good (if not great) team.

To some, Andrew Wiggins doesn't fit that bill. He doesn't have the smooth manner of speech or the projectable "NBA-ready" offensive game of Jabari Parker. He seemed to drift in and out of and between games, with 20-, 30- and even 40-point nights sprinkled among single-digit scoring efforts, including a four-point flop against Stanford in Kansas' NCAA tournament ouster this past March.

Wiggins is raw, with clear holes in his game. He's not a great ball-handler, particularly when going left, and doesn't shoot the lights out.

But that's more the norm than the exception for 19-year-olds, even ones as highly hyped as Wiggins was and still is. More importantly, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who took Wiggins No. 1 over Parker, don't need the Toronto native to be all those things—a leader, a superstar, an alpha dog or you name it...not yet, anyway.

For one, the Cavs already have a franchise-type player. You may have heard of him. His name's Kyrie Irving. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 and the All-Star MVP this past February and figures to be a part of Team USA's quest for the Naismith Trophy at the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain later this summer.

Soon enough, he'll be filthy stinking rich too. According to The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto, the Cavs will offer Irving a five-year max extension once the calendar turns to July.

Irving is the face of the franchise in Cleveland, for better or worse. The 22-year-old is already an incredibly marketable star, sporting endorsement deals with Nike and Pepsi (among others), even though he's yet to lead a team to 35 wins in a season, much less compete in the playoffs.

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None of those responsibilities will fall to Wiggins, certainly not at the outset, and the Cavs will not ask him to be the focal point of their offense. That task, like so many others, will be on Irving, the team's leading scorer and assist man since he arrived on the banks of the Cuyahoga River three years ago.

This isn't to say that Wiggins can't or won't make a difference from Day 1. 

"I just want to come in, create an impact right off the bat, offensively and defensively, bring the team to the next level and just be a good teammate, be a good part of the organization," Wiggins said during his introductory press conference on Friday, per The Associated Press (via ESPN). "I want to be on the All-Defensive team, be rookie of the year, make the All-Star team, all that type of stuff."

The accolades will come in time. For now, Wiggins can focus on applying his strengths in games and eliminating his weaknesses in practices and workouts. He already projects as a potent perimeter defender, thanks to his tremendous length, lateral quickness and athleticism.

And, of course, the lessons he's learned from his father, former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins. "I taught him how to guard multiple positions," the elder Wiggins said (via the AP). "How to guard a scorer, how to guard a driver. He understands defensively what he needs to do and he cherishes defense."

Wiggins showed off that ability in spades as a freshman at KU, particularly during a showdown with Duke in November. Jabari Parker torched the Jayhawks for 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the first half. But Parker managed just eight points on 3-of-8 from the field after that, due in large part to Kansas coach Bill Self's decision to switch his star freshman onto his Blue Devils counterpart—at Wiggins' behest, no less.

Wiggins wasn't too shabby on the other end, either. He scored 16 of his 22 points after the break to lead Kansas to a 94-83 victory.

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Granted, one game does not a representative sample make. But Wiggins showed off that same defensive streak throughout his lone collegiate campaign, enough to convince the Cavs to take him over Parker.

"We really believe in this point that his defense is a skill set," GM David Griffin said on Friday (via The Plain Dealer's Jodie Valade). "That's something that really spoke to me about Andrew. All of our scouts felt that he had the most upside." 

To be sure, starring at one end of the floor won't be enough for Wiggins to pan out as the top pick or for the Cavs to achieve their goal of making the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left town in 2010.

In some ways, Wiggins' offensive game is a perfect fit for Cleveland. His shooting could use some sharpening, though his NCAA splits (.448 from the field; .341 from three; .775 from the free-throw line) suggest that he's starting from a solid base. Until he becomes a knockdown threat, Wiggins should be able to score as a cutter in half-court sets and as a freakishly athletic wingman in transition.

Above all else, Wiggins doesn't need the ball in his hands to be an effective player on the offensive end. He can be a target for Irving's passes, a benefactor of the double- and triple-teams that his fellow former No. 1 pick draws so frequently. He can complement Irving's game without detracting from his spectacular on-ball skills. 

That is, until Wiggins improves to the point that he can comfortably handle being a go-to guy on a good team. The Cavs understand full well that, right now, Wiggins isn't the sort of player who's going to take over, night in and night out.

Griffin went on to say:

When you've got that level of athleticism, you need to make your presence felt more often than he understood how to. That was something we did have issues with, for sure. We talked very openly and candidly with him about that. Andrew understands there's another level to his game that we're expecting him to find, and he really, really wants to achieve it. He knows he's got more in the tank. 

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Certainly it's more than he showed at Kansas. As Grantland's Brett Koremenos noted after the Jayhawks' early exit from March Madness, Bill Self's post-centric offense didn't do Wiggins, a slashing wing, any favors: 

But before heaping the blame on Wiggins, let me throw another number at you: two. That was the number of scripted plays called for specifically for the star freshman over the course of the entire game on Sunday. ...

While Wiggins has taken over plenty of games, despite Self’s offensive principles, it’s not a shock that a 19-year-old playing in the biggest game of his career, against an opponent using multiple defenses, failed to find his rhythm. ...

Had Self looked to call more quick hitters for Wiggins or perhaps let him, instead of Black or Ellis, operate near the foul line when Stanford went into its 2-3 zone, that might have allowed the young star to get into a better rhythm.

But by sticking to his tried-and-true methodology, Self failed to get Wiggins into the game, and perhaps because of it, his Kansas team won’t be playing another one this season.

The Cavs can only hope that new head coach David Blatt will do a better job of deploying Wiggins than Self did. Blatt's widely considered a smart offensive practitioner who shaped his sensibilities partly by his experience playing for the legendary Pete Carril at Princeton.

It's easy to imagine Wiggins having his way in the scoring department as a cutter in Carril's famed Princeton offense, traces of which are sure to be found in Cleveland under Blatt.

Did the Cavs make the right call with Andrew Wiggins at No. 1?

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In any case, the Cavs won't look to Wiggins to carry them on either end of the floor in 2014-15, and they should not. They want to be in the postseason next spring. Irving, not Wiggins, is currently their best bet to get them there. A strong campaign as Kyrie's sidekick would be enough to make Wiggins' debut season a success.

And if he rakes in an award or two, it's all the better.

Of greater importance is how Wiggins develops thereafter.

He may never have to be an alpha dog so long as he plays alongside a budding superstar like Irving, but if he can become a great running mate, like James Worthy (the No. 1 pick in 1982) was to Magic Johnson or Scottie Pippen (the No. 5 pick in 1987) was to Michael Jordan, he'll lay to rest the concerns of Cavs officials and armchair psychologists alike...and then some.

 

Twitter's not just for alpha dogs, you know...

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