Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have to be considered front-runners for Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, and not just because they were the top two picks in the draft.
Wiggins and Parker are each in prime position, based on their teams' rosters and rebuilding stages, to put up big numbers next season. And let's face it—big numbers and stats hold the most value in the voting.
Assuming Wiggins will be gunning for the award, you have to think he was somewhat pleased about the trade to Minnesota, where he'll be featured in the offense instead of stuck behind three superstars.
The trade certainly boosted his odds in the Rookie of the Year race, given the extra touches and playmaking opportunities he'll receive. Someone is going to have to replace the 18.5 shots a game that Kevin Love took last year.
And outside of Kevin Martin, who was already launching 15 attempts a game, there just aren't many guys on Minnesota's roster capable of creating their own shot from the wing. Wiggins should have a green light and plenty of opportunity to work one-on-one within the offense.
Kansas never really gave him that opportunity, given the more structured style of play in college and the weapons Wiggins had around him. Yet he still managed to average 17.1 points on only 12.1 shots—even with an erratic jumper, loose handle and limited freedom.
Regardless of how sharp his offensive game is or how many looks he gets, his superhero athleticism translates to a few easy buckets and free points a night, whether he's skying over traffic to finish a lob, flying out on the break or slicing through the defense with a lights-out first step.
Wiggins took 20 free throws in one of his summer league contests. He's just too quick on the perimeter and too explosive around the rim.
However, over the course of the past year, Wiggins' ball skills and shot creativity have improved, from his step-back jumpers to his spin moves into floaters. Knocking them down with consistency will take time, but over the second half of last year and even in the Las Vegas Summer League, he's looked a lot more comfortable and effective separating into clean, balanced shots.
In terms of his fit in the lineup, there really aren't many red flags. It can't hurt to have one of the top passers on the planet in Ricky Rubio directing him at the point. And he won't exactly have to compete with an All-Star for playing time at the 2 or 3 positions.
Parker is looking at a similar situation in Milwaukee, where there isn't an established pecking order or go-to guy in the offense.
The Bucks finished No. 28 in points per game and No. 26 in offensive efficiency last season. It wouldn't be surprising if Parker averaged over 35 minutes as a rookie playing for Jason Kidd, who's going to need all the firepower he can get.
And if there's one thing we know about Parker, it's that he can put the orange in the bucket.
For the first time in a while, Parker gives the Bucks an option to go to on the wing or in the post—someone outside of the point guard who's capable of creating his own shot against a set defense. So his opportunities as a rookie scorer could be unlimited.
Parker dropped 19.1 points a game last year at a 47.3 percent shooting clip. Fallaways, step-backs, spot-ups, power layups, coast-to-coast takes to the rack—between Parker's sharp skills and versatility, he's essentially a threat to score from any spot on the floor.
The long-term concern with Parker is that his limited burst will act as a weight that prevents him from busting through his ceiling, but short-term he's just too good to keep off the scoreboard.
Two spotlight players on poor teams in small markets, both Wiggins and Parker have found themselves in similar spots.
While team records sometimes play a role in determining Rookie of the Year, it shouldn't this year, considering the Bucks and Wolves are likely to stink equally.
Unless Wiggins or Parker can carry his team on a run, something I wouldn't expect either of them to do, the award will probably come down to statistics. If that's the case, Parker should take it down.
For what it's worth, OddsShark.com lists Parker as the 3-1 favorite over Wiggins, who's 4-1.
Parker's presence on the boards and high-percentage offensive attack give him the edge over Wiggins, who's more likely to struggle from the field as a 200-pound perimeter-oriented scorer.
Wiggins shot 40.5 percent overall and 2-of-13 from downtown during four games in Vegas. At Kansas, he made 34.1 percent of his threes and shot just 56 percent at the rim, per Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress. As we know, the arc gets deeper and the trees get taller in the pros. Wiggins is probably going to shoot in the low 30s (percentage) from downtown and have trouble finishing through contact around the basket.
These are obviously things he can improve over time, but at 19 years old they're weaknesses that are more likely to affect Wiggins right away.
On the other hand, Parker has 35 pounds on Wiggins, which should lead to more points in the paint and after contact down low.
Parker's field-goal percentage is going to dip from his college numbers, but it should end up higher than Wiggins', as will his rebounding average. Parker pulled in 8.2 boards a game in Vegas after leading the ACC.
He's a go-getter on the glass with the shoulders and strength to hold his own physically.
Unfortunately for Wiggins, his terrific defensive tools aren't going to make a big enough impact to move the needle. Though much more of a two-way player than Parker, it's not going to show up in the box scores or the standings.
While we're at it, here's each rookie's projected stat line:
|Team Wins||Points||Rebounds||Assists||FG%||3PT %|
"There's been a lot of second-pick busts," Parker told Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk. "I'm just trying not to be that bust. Every day that I step on the court, I just remind myself that I have a long ways to go. If I want to be one of those guys in the first tier of the NBA, like a LeBron [James], like a Kobe [Bryant], like a [Blake Griffin], then I have to have that mentality starting off from the ground, and work my way up."
I'd still take Wiggins long-term, but something tells me we won't quite be referring to Parker as a letdown.
And in terms of preparation for his rookie year, Parker has everything working for him—the NBA body, the refined skills and a tremendous opportunity in Milwaukee with nobody in his way. Wiggins should have himself a fine rookie season, but Parker's superior all-around game and stat-friendly strengths will shine a bit brighter next year in a featured role for the Bucks.