Andrew Wiggins Proving It's Foolish to Write Him off as Future NBA Star

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 25, 2014

USA Today

If you've taken Andrew Wiggins' name off your first-pick overall ballot, it's time to write him back in.  

Wiggins has been cooking lately for Kansas—he just racked up his seventh game in a row with at least 14 points. And he looks as confident and engaged as he has all year. 

It's significant, given his tendency early on to fade into the background. But now Wiggins is front and center, and it appears he's taken it upon himself to ignite the lineup as a go-to weapon. 

Nobody really ever questioned his talent—just his ability to convert it into consistent production. 

Well over the past month, Wiggins has thrived in a featured role, as opposed to coasting in a supporting one. 

When he's been out there, you know he's out there.  

During his current streak, Wiggins has been tapping into his strengths as an ultra-athletic mismatch. Not only has he been recognizing his scoring opportunities, but he's been taking the right paths to attack them.

Athletically speaking, Wiggins has two glowing attributes that drive the threat he presents to defenses, and both relate directly to getting separation:

Dec 14, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) drives to the basket against New Mexico Lobos center Alex Kirk (53)  in the second half at Sprint Center. Kansas won 80-63. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

1. Lightning-Quick First Step

How do you guard a player who's nearly impossible to stay in front of? Wiggins' first step is lightning quick, which is something he's been taking advantage of a little more frequently of late. 

Wiggins' handle isn't quite there yet—you won't see him cross over into a jumper or pull back through the legs for a fall-away. Instead, in order to separate, he activates the turbo feature that allows him to explode right or left from a standstill position—and you won't find many forwards, particularly at the college level, who can keep up laterally.

He's like a sports car that has ridiculous pick up, with the ability to accelerate from zero to 100 within the blink of an eye. 

Wiggins has been using that first step more often to free himself up, something he'll likely lean on in the pros until his skill set is more refined.

At this stage, Wiggins' struggles center around what he does after he beats his man. But lately, he's been attacking the rim strong and going to work with his patented floater. Check out how easily Wiggins shakes free and eludes his man before lofting one over the defense from about 10 feet away:

via MSG+

The floater and pull-up jumper will be something he'll need to eventually master in the pros, but the framework is there. He's shooting 34.3 percent on two-point jumpers (per Hoop-Math) this season—Wiggins has gotten himself some good looks, he just hasn't finished enough of them.  

Still, in terms of threatening the defense as a scorer, Wiggins is exceptionally dangerous when he's got space to attack. He's like the equivalent of a change-of-pace running back or speedster receiver—guys you want to get the ball to in space where they can make a play. 

And over the past month, Wiggins has been getting more opportunities to work from sweet spots on the floor. Credit him or Kansas' offense—either way, it's helped remind us why Wiggins projects as such a tough cover in the pros. 

He's just so difficult to contain when he's got room to operate. Even if it doesn't result in a bucket—with his quickness off the bounce and the slipperiest spin move around, Wiggins should end up spending a good portion of his career at the charity stripe.

Even without much space—if there's a hole or tiny gap in the defense, Wiggins has the quickness to slice through it like a hot knife through better. And while it's common to see NBA athletes capable of splitting double teams, it's uncommon for 6'8" wings. 

via ESPN

It's not just Wiggins' first step that powers his electric scoring ability, though, it's the last one he uses to lift off that leads to the easy buckets and free throws.


2. Explosive Last Step

With the last step of his drives, Wiggins can explode off the ground, whether it's through traffic or above it, depending on what's available. 

And it's what allows him to pick up some free points above the rim and at the line each game. 

Take a look at how high Wiggins gets in the air. His elbows are actually above the rim:


For a defender, it's a lot easier to challenge a shot when it's coming at rim level. But Wiggins can play more than a foot above it, where he's able to finish on the way down instead of on the way up. 

And if he's got momentum attacking the basket—forget about it. Watch Wiggins just sky over helpless defenders who don't even bother trying to contest:

Even without momentum, Wiggins has so much spring in his legs that it's like the lane is his own personal trampoline. He's an easy-bucket machine—despite lacking offensive polish, something he'll add with time, Wiggins still manages to average over 16 points a game.

He leads Kansas with 20 put-backs on the year, per Hoop-Math. Here's an easy two points for Wiggins that not many are capable of picking up:

The lobs, tip-ins and other finishes around the rim are generated by athleticism and explosive hops. Depending how much polish and skill he adds to complement his athletic ability, there's really just no telling how potent of a scorer he can become over time. 

Better Shooter than Advertised

Though it hasn't necessarily been consistent, Wiggins' perimeter game has actually been better than advertised.

If we're going to describe him as a shooter, at this point, we'll say he's a capable one. He's capable of hitting threes, pull-ups, step-backs, foul shots—Wiggins hasn't exactly made it rain, but we've seen him knock down shots anywhere from 12-23 feet away with comfort. 

One of the things that initially set Duke's Jabari Parker apart from Wiggins was his refined perimeter game and stroke. Now as March approaches, there really isn't that much of a gap between the two:

Shooting Percentages
True Shooting PercentageThree-point PercentageFree-Throw Percentage

Wiggins' game, particularly as a shooter, is fueled by confidence. And when Wiggins has it, we've seen him light it up from outside. 

“When I score early, it brings more confidence to my game,” Wiggins told Chris Hummer of The Daily Texan following his recent 21-point game against Texas. “My teammates got me the ball where I like to shoot the ball, where I needed it. I was fired up for this game.”

Wiggins nailed three three-pointers in a six-minute span in the first half against Texas. Two days later against Oklahoma, he successfully went to the pull-up game for two early jumpers.

via ESPN

Shooting consistency has been a slight issue for Wiggins this year, but there's no doubt he's capable of achieving it. Wiggins has the shot-making skills to evolve into a lethal perimeter scorer, and quite frankly, if the jumper he's flashed in doses ever turns into a routine source for offense, opposing defenses could have a tough time coming up with an answer. 

There really isn't a deadlier weapon in the open floor or attacking the basket, and now that he's playing with aggression, we're seeing a lot more of it. And though the off-shooting nights are going to come, Wiggins has actually held his own as a perimeter scorer, while offering plenty of promise for improvement down the road. 

For Wiggins, it's going to be a matter of putting it all together—blending his attack game with a consistent jumper while staying locked in mentally throughout. 

He just has so much room to grow, yet even at this stage, he's still managing to put up points on the regular. When that growth spurt does eventually hit, just imagine what kind of problem he's going to present. 


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