As is normally the case in Cleveland, a franchise is facing the most important draft in years, although perhaps in this case it is reasonable to expect that if executed properly, it can change the course of the franchise. I must confess that I have but recently recovered from draft overload as the NFL draft coverage was particularly overwhelming. Never the less, I am undoubtedly intrigued by the talent at the top of the draft in the association. I would submit, like many, that the NBA has a distinct top tier; the top tier being Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum. I believe one of the inherent challenges of drafting is monitoring and evaluating whether or not certain imperfections can be improved once drafted.
I accept the supposition that every player is imperfect no matter the fit, yet I also submit that certain flaws can be corrected while other imperfections are more definite, haunting. Of course this hypothesis has its biases, the key bias being that raw athleticism, upside will be unnecessarily shown preference over those with a more finished skill set. Which is what leads us to Andrew Wiggins. For a swift reminder of Wiggins athleticism and how it flashes around the rim, I give you this smooth slam. Of course for the reasoned and analytical human being, this does little to convince him or her of Wiggins’ upside, for this skepticism I am thankful. Never the less, there are two more gifs I am inserting because I believe they adequately reflect attributes that will make Wiggins the best value at No. 1. The next is just another quick flash to his pure athleticism which can be shocking at times, on occasion when Wiggins leaps I believe that like Icarus he may fly to close to the sun. Wiggins is a good defender at this point with the upside to be a plus defender in the NBA and we will return to this notion as the article progresses. The essential consideration being; adding a wing player who can be a plus defender would allow the Cavs to hide Kyrie Irving more effectively on the defensive side of the ball. This is because Wiggins could be quickly rotated to cover multiple lineup types, removing the responsibility of the siv-like Irving. Lastly in the Gifs section we focus on motor and competitive edge, one of the many imperfections which we can effectively deem to be inherited, unlearn-able traits. Two instant observations: Playing at rival Kansas State, Wiggins struggled immensely on the offensive end shooting, 4-for-12 from the floor and 8-for-15 from the free throw line in an 85-82 overtime loss. Yet, as is generally the case with Wiggins, he combines freakish athleticism with an undeniable motor allowing him to retain value offensively. This is a tremendous second effort play and while he is in some way criticized for timidity, that seems to be a rather subjective case. I have a secondary hypothesis, that being a killer or executioner can be both innate and learned. However, in order for it to be learned trait, one other characteristic must be innate, being motor. Those with motors and hyper-competitiveness can become killers if they have confidence, which comes with success. Now I am prepared to make a comp which will inevitably irritate some for being a prisoner of the moment and loose with similarity. Never the less, with no fear of disappointing, I found the Wiggins, Kawhi Leonard college comparison to be very interesting. *The statistics included above are on a per 40 minute bases rather than a per game basis.
A few things worth noting at the outset, many NBA teams stray from using college statistics as any sort of significant indicator which is a reasonable strategic decision. One of the largest issues which can undermine the use of comparative college data is quality of opponent. In the case of Wiggins and Leonard, this can be seen with relative clarity, as Leonard’s foes at San Diego State were significantly worse than Wiggins’ opponents while at Kansas. Which makes the large differentiation in TRB/40 less statistically significant than one would surmise at first glance. For two reasons in a weaker conference Leonard’s athleticism, which is matched easily by Wiggins’, is dominant when faced weaker opponents night after night. While about the same height and weight in college, Leonard due to size of opponent often played the four, while Wiggins was tasked with the 2 or 3 spot. Secondarily, Embiid and to a lesser extent Perry Ellis made rebounds fairly scarce. Hopefully these pieces serve to collapse the differentiation between Leonard and Wiggins in this category.
There are two other differences which are necessary to isolate in this table before I conclude: first Leonard was in his second college season and a year older than Wiggins, second Wiggins to this point was a far more efficient scorer against tougher quality of opponent. The offensive gap is significant and Wiggins appears to have much polish compared Leonard with the room and motor to get even better. Of course, Leonard has one very real advantage, he entered the NBA to be coached by the brilliant Gregg Popovich, and surrounded by experienced and team focused veterans who served only to make him better. Yet, I have inordinate confidence in new Cavaliers coach David Blatt to get the most out of Wiggins offensively, as well as Wiggins’ ability to improve in terms of his shooting prowess. As to the criticism of timidity and a passive tendency, I believe this narrative is relatively overplayed and it is unfair for it to become somehow defining of him at this point. To retain a promise of brevity I will close with a few quick assertions. I believe that Wiggins’ floor is a quality NBA starter who can both defend well and be a valuable piece on the offensive end. I believe that his ceiling is far closer to Embiids’ than many believe if not equal without the immense risk of injury. Lastly, I prefer him to Parker because of his ability to defend. I simply cannot fathom Irving, Waiters and Parker all on the floor at the same time defensively. Can I say that Wiggins will be the best player from this draft class in 10 years from now? Absolutely not, but I can tell you he will be one of the five best and more than that a good fit for the Cavaliers. If you want to dream on Wiggins a little more like I do, I encourage you to watch the embedded highlights from his explosion against West Virginia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrmPBFt08L0