LeBron James Will Pave Andrew Wiggins' Path to Superstardom

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LeBron James Will Pave Andrew Wiggins' Path to Superstardom
John Locher (AP)/ Jonathan Daniel (Getty)

Andrew Wiggins enters the NBA as one of the most heralded prospects of his era, but the 19-year-old Cleveland Cavaliers rookie is far from stardom.

He needs to get stronger, smarter and more polished before he reaches the league's upper echelon. There's no guarantee the 6'8" Canadian prodigy will meet or even approach the massive expectations fans have set for him.

But when LeBron James announced his return to Northeast Ohio, Wiggins instantly gained an invaluable mentor. The former Miami Heat star may be fresh off a disappointing loss in the Finals, but he remains the Association's finest talent—and more importantly, one of the game's greatest minds.

King James knows that leading Wiggins and others is part of the process as he tries to build a championship team. In his essay with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, he expressed his enthusiasm for guiding the Cavs' young core:

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

"I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys."

Wiggins should be equally excited to embark on this new venture, and he should feel tremendously fortunate that an icon like James will work alongside him on a daily basis.

As B/R National NBA Featured Columnist Zach Buckley explains, LeBron is uniquely qualified to help the incoming rookie deal with expectations:

Few people can relate to Wiggins' experience. James' actually trumps it. James first graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school...Since then, he's been scrutinized, criticized and deified. He's shouldered impossible-to-reach expectations and reached them—maybe even surpassed them. Any pressure that Wiggins feels now, James has felt before. He can show Wiggins not only how to manage it, but to thrive underneath it.

From a basketball standpoint, LeBron can help Wiggins grow into a versatile force, and he will literally show the youngster how to improve in every phase.

As a fellow swingman, James will demonstrate how to translate sheer athleticism and agility into all-around production and command of the sport. Wiggins may never reach LeBron's stratosphere, but he could dominate as a two-way nightmare for opponents.

During his one-and-done stint at Kansas, Wiggins' approach to the game and lack of consistent aggressiveness were scrutinized. We questioned whether he could capably lead his NBA teammates on the floor.

LeBron will help the neophyte enormously in this department. He'll show Wiggins when to take over games, when to distribute the ball and that it's okay to defer sometimes. You can bet James will demand an exceptional work ethic from his apprentice on and off the court.

Wiggins won't spend time at power forward in his prime like James, but he'll ultimately play a similar role on the wing. As the veteran's career gradually wanes, Wiggins will be ready to use everything he's absorbed from the King in order to fulfill many of the same tasks.

John Locher/Associated Press

Cavs head coach David Blatt told Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel that LeBron's return is an incredible opportunity for Wiggins.

"I think it's one of the best things that could happen, to have the opportunity to play with a guy who's experienced," Blatt said. "It will help him develop quicker and I think and hope it makes his job a little bit easier."

More crucial than any specific basketball skills or training sessions, however, are the intangibles. James can guide Wiggins through the dangerous jungle of the NBA early in his career, teaching by word and example.

Highly-touted young prospects face a myriad of challenges these days. Aside from the mental grind of learning the coach's system and focusing throughout the grueling 82-game season, there are other areas to master.

For instance, gelling with veteran teammates is a key task. Handling the media properly is also important, unless you love the wrong kind of publicity. Then there's the unending stream of fans and publicity events.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Wiggins will have to deal with all of that, but he'll have a proven winner pointing him in the right direction. In fact, James' presence alone will help take a bunch of pressure off the youngster, allowing him to just play hard and enjoy the process of developing.

With countless accolades, five Finals appearances and two rings in tow, James brings a pedigree of leadership that no other Cavalier can provide. Kyrie Irving is a talented star and Anderson Varejao is a respected veteran, but Wiggins wouldn't be able to learn the intangibles from them like he can from the King.

Although the rookie's situation is a splendid one, let's remember Andrew Wiggins will not be the next LeBron James. The comparisons were never sensible and never will be.

But he could certainly become one of the league's next big superstars, and James is the perfect guy to pave the way.

 

Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.

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