Few players have entered their freshman season as hyped as Andrew Wiggins. Before he even set foot inside Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas, the media was anointing Wiggins as the next LeBron James, regardless of the fact that James never played one game at the collegiate level. That’s a tough pedigree for any young player to have to live up to, especially when his personality and game is so much different from James’. It’s turned out to be an up-and-down season for Wiggins, who just turned 19 last month, but he’s been playing his best basketball down the stretch and has regained his spot as the top-ranked player in the upcoming NBA draft. He’s currently ranked first in updated mock drafts at Draft Express and CBSSports.com, and he tops Chad Ford of ESPN.com‘s big board.
The criticisms of his game and his production have been harsh and unforgiving at times, much harsher than the freshman deserves. After his first game in a Jayhawk uniform, a night that saw him score 16 points, his performance was deemed merely “adequate.” Those critiques continued as the season progressed and Wiggins has been called everything from “disappointing” to “underwhelming.”
Wiggins’ performance has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride, as he’s highly effective one night and comes up soft the next. NBA scouts have complained that he lacks a killer instinct, or desire to be the “alpha” on the court, and has been knocked for being too deferential to his teammates. Wiggins has been unselfish almost to a fault at times, and he has seemed hesitant to attack the basket and make the most of his great finishing abilities. He can be too willing to crank up shots from the perimeter, which lowers his overall production and efficiency. Even when he does take it strong to the rim, Wiggins tends to settle for lower percentage shots. He has also shown a tendency to pull up his dribble too soon and take to the air too far from the hoop, resulting in pull-up jumpers, runners, or scoop shots, rather than use his outstanding vertical to dunk or draw fouls.
One of the big questions about Wiggins entering college was whether he would exhibit the assertiveness to try to take over games on a regular basis against both elite and average competition. At Huntington Prep School, he often showed his immense potential and had some monster games. But there were other times when his coaches had to try different ways to motivate him, because he could seem complacent against competition that he deemed beneath him.
Wiggins’ numbers on the year are solid but not spectacular. He’s averaged 17.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, and 1.2 SPG in 32.6 minutes per contest. His slash line is .449/.350/.768. His highest scoring output was when he dropped 41 points on West Virginia, but he has failed to reach double figures in five contests, including a season-low three points on only five shots versus Oklahoma State.
Some scouts have compared him to Rudy Gay. His greatest strengths are his quick first step, superior athleticism, and long, gliding stride, all of which should make him an offensive threat at the next level. He stands 6’8″, but he has a 6’11″ wingspan, and though he’s a bit thin, he can add muscle to his 200-pound frame as he matures. Wiggins has a good outside shot but is a streaky shooter. His favorite area on the floor is the corner, where he likes to spot up or cut along the baseline for lobs. He’s shown the ability to create separation off the dribble for pull-up jumpers, but this will be more difficult to accomplish against the larger and more physical defenders in the NBA. Wiggins also has displayed good court vision, and he’s an able and willing passer.
The weaknesses in Wiggins’ game are his inconsistent motor and tendency to drift at times. Wiggins isn’t a physical player, which will make guarding small forwards difficult, and because of this he projects more as a shooting guard. His lack of strength also affects his ability to be a productive rebounder. But at only 19, he has plenty of room to improve in this area. He’s still unrefined as a ball-handler, and sometimes he has trouble against aggressive ball pressure. Scouts have also noted that he has difficulty converting on drives to his left.
The final verdict on Wiggins is that he is an extremely athletic prospect with loads of potential. He has shown remarkable improvement during the course of his freshman season, and there is no reason to think that he won’t be a successful pro. He needs to become more of an aggressive player if he wants to reach superstar level, but playing against NBA-caliber talent every night should keep him motivated. He has handled all the hype and criticism very well, which shows a maturity beyond his age. If Wiggins continues his hot play in the NCAA tournament, he will further solidify his standing at the top of the draft rankings. He is guaranteed to be a top-three pick, and no one will be surprised if he is taken first overall.