Cleveland Cavaliers

Would Trade to Timberwolves Jump-Start or Stall Andrew Wiggins' Development?

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13: Andrew Wiggins #21 of the Cleveland Cavaliers smile on the bench during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on July 13, 2014 at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2014

Somewhere within the depths of Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers trade rumors lies Andrew Wiggins' future development and how it relates to the outcome of incessant chatter.

Wiggins himself is not an afterthought within these talks—which ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst say are gaining momentum—to be sure.

The Minnesota Timberwolves want him in exchange for Love, and the Cavs are prepared to give him up, according to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard. This deal—the one fans have been poring over for weeks—likely doesn't get done without him. His part in that essential.

And somewhat overlooked. 

People (me) talk about how much pressure this trade would apply to Love and the Cavs. They (again, me) discuss how LeBron James' future is impacted when tethered to Wiggins'. And they even argue how important Wiggins can be to the Timberwolves. 

What about Wiggins himself, though? Not how he shapes the futures of Cleveland, James, Love or Minnesota, but actually him?

What's best for him?

 

Cleveland's Cache

Feb 24, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) and Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the second half at the American Airlines Arena.  MIami won 109-105. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Playing next to James is what's best for Wiggins—because, duh—right?

Any other outcome would be a disappointment. Most of his brief NBA career has been spent thinking he will play and develop—and dominate—beside the world's greatest talent. His potential will be suppressed by anything less, anything different.

If only it was that simple.

"It will be a great learning experience, kind of being under his wing," Wiggins said of James' return to Cleveland, per Fox Sports Ohio's Zak Jackson. "I was just happy to hear the best player is coming to (my) team. It will be great for me."

Not to knock James' talent or his abilities as a mentor, but will it actually be great for Wiggins?

There's no questioning James' talent. What he can offer as an on-court guide is invaluable. But his stature is something of a hindrance for younger, inexperienced players.

James has never helped lead someone to stardom. It didn't happen during his first go-round in Cleveland, and it most certainly didn't happen with the Miami Heat.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were self-made. Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers can be described as pet projects, but they're not stars. The same goes for role players and various tagalongs James continues to travel with—Mike Miller, James Jones, etc. He has never been credited with successfully completing this undertaking.

Part of this, like Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal actively avows, is because James has never been given the chance:

At the same time, James' preeminence doesn't jive with raw, developing agendas. Time and touches aren't given to elite prospects, because they must be given to James. That's how you win. And even if the Cavaliers miss out on Love, they'll be expected to win.

That James is basically a stallion-built point guard doesn't necessarily help. It just means his teammates are that much more reliant on him.

Case in point: Bosh. That's who Wiggins would be emulating to a degree in Cleveland. He, like Bosh, will fall behind two superior stars in Kyrie Irving and James, who will take touches away from him. 

Apr 2, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (left) and forward LeBron James (6) before  a game against the Milwaukee Bucks     at American Airlines Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Bosh's usage rate declined in each of his last three seasons with the Heat. His usage rate over the last four years (23.2) is significantly lower than what it was with the Toronto Raptors (25).

The manner in which he scores has changed too.

More than 80 percent of his made field goals came off of assists last season—36 percent of which were assisted by James himself—compared to 49.8 percent in 2009-10, his final season with the Raptors, according to NBA.com.

Infogr.am.

As Bosh's dependence on James increased and his role diminished, his status wavered. He had the All-Star selections, but his stats spoke for themselves. 

Through his final four seasons with the Raptors, he averaged 22.9 points on 16 field-goal attempts while posting a player efficiency rating of 23.3. In his first four seasons with the Heat, he registered 17.3 points on 13 field-goal attempts with a 19.4 PER.

In the scheme of winning championships, Bosh joining forces with James was a good thing. For his individual value, though, it was whatever—perhaps even bad.

How will that fly with Wiggins, who has yet to play in an NBA game? James and Irving combined for a usage rate of 59.2 last year. That doesn't leave many touches for an established veteran like Bosh, let alone a novice who won't be relied upon as much.

This is one of the benefits Minnesota can offer. 

 

Being Thrown to the Wolves

Mar 19, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) talks with guard Ricky Rubio (9) during a break in the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Without Love, the Timberwolves won't have a No. 1 option. Maybe it's Nikola Pekovic, maybe it's Ricky Rubio

Or maybe it's Wiggins. 

Although the Timberwolves will still have a ball-dominant Rubio running the offense, they—sans Love—won't have a distinct alpha dog. What they'll have is an opportunity for Wiggins to be that alpha dog, as Fromal eloquently explains:

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.

There is no safety net in Minnesota, no James and Irving for Wiggins to defer responsibility and pressure. And while that can be seen as an unnecessary danger, it's actually an incentive.

"One of the constant knocks on Andrew Wiggins' game is that he is too passive and doesn’t look to attack as much as a player with his talent should," HoopsHype's David Nurse wrote of Wiggins in April. "In a sense, there are stretches when he is on the floor in which he basically disappears."

Passivity can no doubt dampen careers. It can be the difference between Keith Van Horn and Dirk Nowitzki. It can be the difference between a very good basketball player and a perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer.

Baptism by fire is one way to combat it. Throw Wiggins into the fray immediately. Ask more of him than playing third or fourth fiddle. 

Wiggins would be The Guy in Minny.
Wiggins would be The Guy in Minny.USA TODAY Sports

It doesn't have to be Irving and the Cavaliers all over again, though it could be. Wiggins isn't entering a team bereft of talent or a supporting cast. There is Rubio, there is Pekovic, there is Gorgui Dieng, there is Zach LaVine. There are talented players—just not ones he'll cede control to. 

Instead of the ball being taken out of his hands frequently, he'll have a chance to create his own offense, a setting in which he thrives. Developing into a spot-up shooter and off-ball scorer will be complementary to what he can already do, not the main source of his offense. 

Put simply, there is an opportunity to do more, to be more, sooner in Minnesota.

Whomever one thinks Wiggins is destined to be, that is, in no uncertain terms, a good thing.

 

More Than LeBron's Pet Project

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 11: Andrew Wiggins #21 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 11, 2014 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackno
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

To this end, the Timberwolves are not by far and away the better fit.

Nor is Cleveland a bad fit.

Playing alongside James could be just fine for Wiggins. He could develop into a star. He's that good, teeming with that much talent—so much talent, some believe intermittent absences of aggression won't derail his career. 

"Even if Wiggins never asserts himself offensively as consistently as he should, he's still likely going to be a plus-15 PPG guy and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league," wrote Grantland's Mark Titus.

Young and talented, with a basement that exceeds some ceilings, Wiggins' career cannot be viewed through one scope. He is not someone fated to fail away from James. His career trajectory won't be wrecked by a move to Minnesota. 

Superstars are "born" in Minny. Kevin Garnett got his start there. Love turned out just fine as well.

Like other elite, stardom-bound prospects, Wiggins' development isn't hogtied solely to those around him. It's fenced to adequate opportunity.

The Cavaliers and James can offer him one hell of an opportunity. And so can the Timberwolves. 

One that, in the long run, could be the difference between Wiggins the LeBron-made sidekick and Wiggins the self-sustaining superstar. 

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise cited.


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