It was going to be difficult for Andrew Wiggins to upstage Duke freshman Jabari Parker‘s unceremonious exit from the NCAA tournament but the Kansas freshman’s disappearing act in the Jayhawk’s stunning loss to Stanford in the round of 32 may have done the trick. From his first take to the hoop, a play that Wiggins was whistled for a charging foul, the bouncy wing from Canada seemed generally disinterested in contributing to his team’s effort to try and stave off the eventual upset. Wiggins spent the better part of the game standing aimlessly on the wing as the Cardinal’s zone stifled the favored Jayhawks. When he actually decided to inject himself into the game, Wiggins either turned the ball over or missed most of his troubling six field goal attempts. With his team down three and seconds ticking off the clock, Kansas guard Frank Mason snubbed the high-flying forward for a potential game-tying three for an unsuccessful try from guard Conner Frankamp as time expired. Wiggins would finish with just four points on 1-6 shooting, four rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a pair of blocks in Kansas’ 60-57 loss.
So with the Jayhawks losing, one could argue that the potential top-three picks in the 2014 NBA Draft are no longer in the NCAA tournament. Jabari Parker and Duke lost their first game in equally shaky fashion, and Wiggins’ teammate Joel Embiid did not even have an opportunity to play a tournament game as he was recovering from an injured back. At certain points this season, one could have made a strong case for these players teams meeting in the National Championship. Instead, all three of them saw their freshman season, possibly their only season at the college level, end at the hands of more polished, albeit less talented teams.
For how much Parker struggled in Duke’s loss to Mercer, it was much more agitating watching Wiggins’ game against Stanford. For a tantalizing prospect whose lone criticism is his penchant for disappearing at times, Wiggins did himself no favors in trying to shake that narrative. For all of Parker’s struggles in the Blue Devils’ loss, the Chicago native at least went down swinging. Wiggins, who has been dealing with loftier expectations than Parker since before the start of the season, was essentially a spectator to what was otherwise a valiant effort by a Kansas team without Joel Embiid.
Nevertheless, NBA general managers will be the first to say not to judge a player off of one game. For how noticeably absent Wiggins was against Stanford, he had performances over the course of his freshman season that made one wonder if anyone could find a way to defend the 19-year old. Though there are critics of the NBA’s ‘one-and-done’ policy that feeds into the overhyping of players like Wiggins & Parker, that does not change the fact that any executive would trade an arm and a leg for the chance to add either of them to his team.
For the 76ers and general manager Sam Hinkie, they have positioned themselves to salvage any and all limbs for the chance to possibly select Andrew Wiggins. Philadelphia currently has the second worst record in the NBA and have been the worst team in basketball since the trade deadline, and it isn’t really close. Depending on how the ping-pong balls determine, the 76ers will more likely than not be able to select the player of their liking. In fact, in the past week, it has surfaced that Hinkie and company prefer Wiggins to any of the other prospects and, should all of this year’s top freshmen enter their names in the draft, the Sixers should get their wish.
After months of ‘Winless for Wiggins’ mottos defining the plight of the 76ers fan and their attention level to the miserable season the team is going for, what should they take from his season at Kansas if he decides to enter the draft? Depending on how things fall for who commits to the draft, the player that Hinkie and the 76ers decide on will most likely be touted as a potential franchise-savior. If it happens to be Wiggins, there is a lot to dissect and it is a much more unique case than Jabari Parker.
One could argue I am overstating this, but Wiggins has demonstrated over the course of his season that from a physical and talent standpoint, he doesn’t have any weaknesses. He has done everything expected of him at some point of another over the course of his 35 games at Kansas. The problem is, he never demonstrated the type of consistency that could have ensured him the unquestioned top-spot in the upcoming draft. There are almost no questions regarding the mentality of Jabari Parker. For the Duke product, the questions are more from a physical standpoint. Projecting Wiggins is much more difficult because one cannot observe what is going on in the head of the Ontario native and why he checked out of games throughout the season. Whomever ends up landing Wiggins in the draft will be doing so knowing that they will need to bring out a fire and competitiveness from him that was on display in a very limited capacity at Kansas.
Not that I have spoken with Sam Hinkie about it, but Wiggins fits the approach of how the 76ers general manager is trying to re-build the team. The all-or-nothing strategy the team set forward starting at last offseason’s draft hinges on the idea that Philadelphia will either get the best possible result of their tactics, or crumble and fall as all of their risks backfire. Many feel that Jabari Parker is ready to contribute at an impressive level in the NBA. For Wiggins, his impact at the next level is enshrouded with much more uncertainty. If the uber-athletic wing had the same mindset as Parker displayed at Duke, there would be no question on which player to pick. Because there are question marks about Wiggins’ consistency, the issue has much more gray area than it did prior to the start of the season.
When watching Wiggins’ games at Kansas, I often found myself getting as fired up about his struggles as his success. For being the more ‘raw’ prospect of the potential draft entries, Wiggins’ game has very few mechanical flaws. His jumper and release is smooth and streamlined. He glides up and down the court with relative ease. He engages players on defense and has the sort of ‘chase-down’ block ability that only a few current NBA players possess. More so than Parker, however, Wiggins had the type of individual performances this season that must drive executives crazy. There were certain performances that, if it was the only game someone watched of Wiggins, they could spend days trying to lock down a flaw. There were also games, much like Sunday’s vs. Stanford, that would make someone wonder if the hyping of Wiggins as a prospect was some sort of joke.
I watched almost every game that Kevin Durant played at Texas in his one season as a Longhorn. It was the most enjoyable season of college basketball I can remember and Durant’s weekly demonstrations of dominance were like nothing I had ever seen before. What Andrew Wiggins did in a 92-86 loss to West Virginia in the Jayhawks’ final regular season game was more impressive than anything Durant did at Texas in my opinion. For most of the game, Wiggins held the contest on a string and poured in 41 points so effortlessly that it seemed unfair. Though the Jayhawks lost the game, Wiggins flashed the type of showing that had some touting him as the next LeBron James.
Andrew Wiggins will never be as good as James. That said, if the 76ers end up drafting him, he does not have to be. The team has stockpiled a pair of promising young talents in Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel and, though Wiggins would probably be the focal point of the lineup, there is enough to go around to supplement any individual. Wiggins demonstrated, albeit in a limited capacity, that he can score at will. Though not immediately, Wiggins would be depended on to shoulder the scoring load for the 76ers whenever they did rise to contention.
An interesting aspect of the expected top of the 2014 Draft is the differences in needs between the 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee already has a tantalizing, albeit raw, player in the fold in the form of Greek import Giannis Antetokounmpo. The ‘Greek Freak’ is Milwaukee’s version of MCW, a player the team is pulling for to perform well in losing efforts. Based on nothing more than speculation, I find it difficult to believe the Bucks would want to bring in another player with questions regarding their ability to consistently impact the game on the offensive end. The Bucks have just one pick toward the top of the 2014 Draft and are in a position where they need to be able to sell the fanbase something that shows the organization is committed to winning soon.
No matter who ends up going to the 76ers with their first pick in the draft, they are in a more advantageous position than the Bucks. They will have a pair of selections, most likely in the lottery, after acquiring the Pelicans’ first round pick in exchange for Jrue Holiday last offseason. They can afford to take a shot at a player like Wiggins and potentially opt for a more stable selection with their second pick. They are also an organization that went through over a decade of mediocrity and seem to have a fanbase that appreciates the process of trying to build a title contender. Wiggins has been the guy 76ers fans have wanted since the beginning and, when the fallout from the tournament loss blows over, I imagine that fact will remain the same.
As a 76ers fan, I take the ‘figure skating judge’ approach to Wiggins as a potential top pick. Throw out the worst (Sunday vs. Stanford) and the best (41 points vs. West Virginia) performances and go from there. Wiggins looks like an NBA player now and he still has room to grow. His lanky frame suggests even more physical potential and, with head coach Brett Brown’s strengths in the player development department, Philadelphia seems to be an ideal location to foster the type of attitude that was so often lacking in Wiggins’ game at Kansas. The payoff might not be as immediate as the Cavaliers got with LeBron James, or even Kyrie Irving for that matter. That said, the 76ers are not looking for a quick fix. The front office has, and will continue to preach the process. This approach is riddled with uncertainty, but they have shifted the odds in their favor to land Wiggins, their intentions from the beginning. The only thing that Sunday’s loss to Stanford should tell 76ers fans about Wiggins is that he is a teenager who had an off game. It is the job of the organization to limit performances like that and help him develop into a young man who can match his raw talent and instincts with the mindset necessary to dominate. As a 76ers fan, Wiggins is still my preference with whatever pick the team lands and I would consider it a drastic oversight if the team decided on anyone else.