It's not every year that a No. 1 pick in the NBA draft is traded to a new squad before he can play a single game with the team that drafted him ahead of everyone else, but this is no normal offseason.
Andrew Wiggins was the top pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the arrival of LeBron James has thrown a significant wrench in the plans. Now that the Cavs have an immediate shot at competing for a title, they're doing everything they can to become prohibitive championship favorites, and that may mean trading Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love.
Are they willing to include Wiggins? It depends on whom you ask, as conflicting reports litter Twitter and every other source of sports news.
They shouldn't, but that's irrelevant here.
We aren't worried about what's best for the Cavaliers—or the 'Wolves, for that matter. All that matters is which situation presents the best fit for the No. 1 pick.
The Case for Minnesota: Opportunity Knocks
There's absolutely no chance that Wiggins will be held off the court if he winds up becoming a part of the Timberwolves.
As the depth chart currently stands, Minnesota is set to play Kevin Martin as the starting shooting guard, with Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved and Zach LaVine (unless he's shifted to the point) coming off the bench. At small forward, Corey Brewer is the starter, backed up by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Shabazz Muhammad and Glenn Robinson III.
That's already a crowded group of wing players. However, for two reasons, there's no way the 'Wolves could keep Wiggins confined to the bench, even if they didn't swap any of the aforementioned players for him as part of the Love deal that's necessary to turn this hypothetical into a reality.
First, there's the sheer level of talent.
Wiggins would immediately be a top contributor, better than anyone at the small forward position and capable of outperforming K-Mart on nights that the 2-guard's shot wasn't falling. Brewer's primary draws, for example, are his defensive prowess and his fast-break athleticism, and there's a good chance Wiggins is better in both those facets from day one.
Muhammad and GRIII both have impressive upside, but neither can touch the Canadian forward in that department. They'd just lose minutes, as would the backups at the shooting guard position.
On top of that, though, Wiggins would be a huge draw for the Minnesota coffers.
This is an organization that has struggled to capture the attention of fans while it has failed to make the playoffs each and every year of the Love era. The attendance figures are quite poor, per ESPN.com's statistics, as last year's 75.2 percent home attendance (No. 27 in the NBA) was even worse than 2013's 84.4 percent (No. 19).
The Target Center, with its fairly recent 2004 renovation and gigantic Jumbotron—one that puts the "jumbo" in "Jumbotron"—deserves more love than the Minnesota faithful are giving it, and Wiggins could easily be that fresh face that leads to sell-out crowds.
Keeping him on the bench simply isn't an option, which has to appeal to the Kansas product.
On top of that, he'd have no shortage of opportunity to lead the offense, a chance that won't often come to pass in Quicken Loans Arena. Without Love on the roster, there's really no member of the 'Wolves who has served as an established No. 1 option.
Ricky Rubio still has trouble finding the bottom of the net with any sort of consistency, Martin is devolving into a spot-up/slashing player rather than a leading scorer, and Nikola Pekovic isn't the type of big man who can carry an offense.
In fact, only four players scored in double figures during the average 2013-14 outing—Love (26.1 points per game), Martin (19.1), Pekovic (17.5) and Brewer (12.3). If you take away the top scorer, who's left?
Martin may well be the de facto No. 1 option in Minnesota, but that won't last for long. The role would belong to Wiggins sooner rather than later.
The Case for Cleveland: LeBron as a Mentor
Wiggins won't have the same type of opportunity to thrive as a scorer if he stays with the Cavaliers, but he'll have access to something that Minnesota simply can't offer—a chance to be mentored by the best basketball player in the world, one who just happens to share the same natural position as him.
Let's be clear.
Wiggins is not going to develop into a player like LeBron. He doesn't have the facilitating skills necessary to be that well-rounded, and it's unlikely he becomes a bruising post-up player like the four-time MVP.
Before the draft on June 26, ESPN's Chad Ford provided a better comparison when calling Wiggins the No. 10 prospect of the last 15 years (subscription required):
If Wiggins had left for the NBA straight after high school, he would've been four or five spots higher on this list. Blessed with elite athletic ability and size for his position, he came out of high school ranked as one of the best prospects ever. The less informed started calling him the next LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. While his comp was really closer to a Tracy McGrady or a Paul George, the hype surrounding Wiggins was enormous.
His performance at Kansas dinged his reputation. While he was dominant at times (especially toward the end of the season), too often he looked passive and didn't display the killer instinct that NBA teams covet in a prospect. Regardless, many scouts believe he is an elite prospect who could be a transcendent player once he refines his offensive game.
Wiggins might not be LeBron, but he could still be greatly aided by the King's tutelage.
Surely there are things he can learn about playing defense at the NBA level, especially because LeBron has consistently shown off a preternatural ability to read plays and developments before they actually come to pass. He's one of the most intelligent players in basketball, and his I.Q. is one of the best the NBA has ever seen, especially when it comes to understanding, remembering and applying trends he's picked up on in the past.
Offensively, LeBron can help Wiggins learn how to apply his athleticism in transition and half-court sets. He can work with the top prospect on his jumper while teaching him moves in the post, and the facilitating skills are bound to get better under his tutelage.
Above all else, he can help ease the transition to the rigorous 82-game season. Being a professional requires work on and off the court, after all.
Thus far, every sign points toward a willingness to do exactly that.
"I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head," James explained while announcing his return to Cleveland on Sports Illustrated's website. "But 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."
LeBron isn't the only one excited.
Head coach David Blatt is as well, as he tacitly said while talking to USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt at Las Vegas Summer League:
For a guy a like Andrew, to have the opportunity to play with arguably one of the best players of all-time and to learn from him and be tutored by him and to play alongside him, which he will in many cases, I've got to think that's a tremendous boost to his confidence, to his comfort level and probably to his motivation to be even better.
Wiggins is feeling it too, per Zillgitt:
It's a great feeling having the best player in the game today come to your team. ... He's the best in the game. He works hard. I know he's a hard worker, unselfish so hopefully he takes us all of us under his wing and teaches us what it takes to get to his level and build a championship team.
That's an opportunity that Minnesota simply can't match.
But does it trump what the Land of 10,000 Lakes can offer the reigning No. 1 pick?
Looking past the fact that Wiggins would be playing in relative obscurity if he were to go to Minnesota, Cleveland can offer him more.
Yes, he'd have a chance to score more points on the 'Wolves, as he wouldn't be competing for touches with Kyrie Irving and LeBron, among other players. But it's not as though he's going to lack playing time in Cleveland, and he's also going to win far more games while being mentored by the best in the business.
For Wiggins, that's an unbeatable combination.
Not only is his ceiling even loftier when aided by the wisdom of the four-time MVP and two-time champion, but he's also going to be playing for a team that's highly competitive throughout his rookie contract. The same simply can't be said for Minnesota, as losing Love virtually guarantees it yet another lottery finish with no realistic expectations of future marquee free agents taking their talents up north.
His development might be slower in Cleveland, limited by the opportunities that he does receive, but he can still focus his efforts on thriving as an off-ball threat, a transition stalwart and a shutdown player on the less-glamorous end. Again, he's going to receive minutes no matter where he plays, even if Minnesota gives him more immediate hope of stardom.
Ultimately, the former Jayhawk has no control over where he ends up; he has just as much say in his future as I do.
But he can hope Cleveland remains in the cards.
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