Andrew Wiggins brief stay on the Island of Misfit Toys

1Andrew Wiggins will be making his Quicken Loans Arena debut tonight, almost two months later than originally expected, after the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted the 6’8″ shooting guard with the #1 pick in the loaded 2014 NBA draft. Little did we know on that fateful June 26th night at the Barclay’s Center that Wiggins was headed for a two-month stay on the Island of Misfit Toys.

To be fair, his strange journey didn’t begin until three weeks after the draft, on July 11th to be exact, when LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers via an essay posted in Sports Illustrated. While the city of Cleveland was rejoicing over that 12-paragraph letter, Wiggins was left wondering what this all meant for his future in Cleveland.

Would Wiggins become the heir apparent to the greatest player of his generation, or were there strange things afoot at the Circle K? While most of Cleveland were hopping in their cars and driving to LeBron’s house (don’t get me started) for an impromptu celebration, others made an interesting note, zeroing in on paragraph nine of LeBron’s “Coming Home” opus.

“I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.”

Who wasn’t on that list?

Andrew Wiggins.

Also omitted from that list was the 2013 #1 draft pick, Anthony Bennett. I know what you’re thinking: Anthony Bennett already owned cliff-front property on the Island of Misfit Toys. Bennett’s draft was rated as one of the worst in NBA history, and after more than a year’s time since that draft, the prognosticators seem correct. Bennett was a number 1 pick in name only, because the talent level just wasn’t up to par that year.

In the land of #1 pick Lamborghini’s, Bennett was a train with square wheels, an elephant with spots, or a Jack in the Box named Charlie.

But make no mistakes, Andrew Wiggins was no Anthony Bennett.

(I feel it is necessary to add an aside here. I like Anthony Bennett, and I do think he can become a more than marketable NBA player. He’ll never be a franchise #1, but he does have above-average skills. The right coach and team could make him a double-double guy, I’m convinced of it. I just don’t know that he has the motor or stamina to ever do it over the length of a career, and maybe not ever in a season. Steve Orbanek made note of his misfitiness last year at Cleveland Sports Insiders.)

If you were to believe the press, Andrew Wiggins had the talent and make-up to be the best player of his generation. Some even uttered, “he’s the next LeBron James…”

Oh, sure, he had his knocks. The NBA “smarks” were quick to note that he “didn’t have the killer instinct” to be the next LeBron James, and he certainly doesn’t have that massive frame LeBron had. It’s always fun when middle age reporters and couch-side GMs make that call regarding a 19-year old player they’ve never met.

What many agreed on was that his game was exquisite. He already had the instinct to play smothering defense, had the first step of an NBA-god, and if he developed any sort of outside game, would be nearly unstoppable.

In other words, it would take some time.

Time that LeBron James clearly wanted no part of.

Then came the interview:

“I just want to play for a team that wants me, and whatever team wants me, I’ll play for…”

When asked, “Do you think Cleveland wants you,” Wiggins responded with a sheepish, “Yeah…I hope so.”

Yes, Wiggins was gifted.

Yes, Wiggins was the #1 pick.

But like all of the other reindeer not respecting Rudolph and his red nose for what it could provide Santa, “King James” clearly didn’t respect Wiggins’ current skills on the court and how he could guide the Cavalier’s sleigh on any night in the near future. Instead of waiting for a “foggy Christmas Eve” years down the line, LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers saw the immediate All-Star skills of Kevin Love.

Wiggins’ fate as a member of the Misfit toys was etched in stone.

Three-and-a-half months later, Wiggins enters tonight’s game as the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves. While that may carry the weight of the Minnesota world, you could never tell from Wiggins’ demeanor on and off the court. What many perceive as a passiveness that will keep him from being an NBA all-star, it just might be the trait that makes him an NBA great when it’s all said and done.

You can’t watch him play and not reminisce about the demeanor of NBA Hall-of-Gamer George Gervin. Gervin’s nickname, “Ice,” described his attitude on the court, and while the Spurs never won a championship, they made it to the NBA playoffs in every season with Gervin except for one, including three Western Finals appearances.

Tonight, the comparisons to LeBron are likely to rule the day, and while both were #1 picks, those comparisons couldn’t be further from the truth. LeBron was ordained the next great player when he was in eighth grade, and never spent a day being a misfit toy. When the Cavs drafted him in 2003, he was offered the keys to the kingdom. When he took them to the NBA finals, he was lauded as the greatest professional athlete in recent Cleveland memory. When he left of his own volition in 2010, the town nearly crumbled, and when he returned in 2014, half the city turned up at his house and lining Quicken Loans arena, as though a cavalcade of royalty were about to make their way by.

LeBron was a bull on the court, and larger than life off of it.

Wiggins is neither.

He’s a kid, playing a man’s game. LeBron was right in a sense. His current skill-set likely doesn’t fit that of an NBA champion leader today. He is years away. He’s level-headed, calm and cool, but a possessor of great skill.

He knows his place in the game. When Kobe Bryant recently noted that he saw a “reflection of myself 19-years ago,” Wiggins responded with the respect that a future hall-of-famer deserves, “A legend told me I was a reflection to him, that’s just big words for me.”

(aside–I can’t stand Kobe Bryant. Don’t mirror him Andrew, you are far too good a person. He’s a great player, but you’ll never be the me-first ass that is Kobe)

Wiggins comes into tonight’s game averaging a Heat miserly 12 points, four boards and just under two assists a game in 34 minutes. Since being bestowed the wisdom of Kobe, he’s only scored a combined 19 points in three games (run Andrew run), and often looks overwhelmed by NBA players. In that way, he’ll never be as good as LeBron was from the day he stepped foot on an NBA court. Thankfully, players aren’t measured by their first seasons alone.

In the end, there are days when, if you look closely, you see the player that he will ultimately become. He scored 29 in a loss to the Sacramento Kings, but shot 40%. He scored 23 points, with 10 boards in an eight point victory over Portland, and shot 56% from the field, but missed both threes, and was 5-for-10 from the foul line. He’s not perfect, but still has those moments.

It can be tough, when you spent some time on the Island of Misfit Toys.

There isn’t a player or coach that Wiggins has met that hasn’t given him anything but praise. He’s a worker, already an elite defender, and someday, will be great.

What could have been here in Cleveland, which has been a town of Misfit Toys for years.

Make no mistake, I was always onboard the Kevin Love-Train, and while there are many that are already having their doubts, I’m not one of them. The LeBron James/Kevin Love/Kyrie Irving triumvirate will bring an NBA title to Cleveland. It was the right move at the right time.

But you do have to wonder, what would have happened had Andrew Wiggins stayed in Cleveland. While he is years away from leading a team to greatness, how good could he have been following LeBron James? How good would he have been as the understudy James, and standing side-by-side with Kyrie Irving?

Unfortunately, we’ll never get the chance to find out. Instead, we’ll see glimpses of Wiggins on his journeys through Cleveland a time or two a year. For the next few years, the Timberwolves will likely come to town as underdogs, as James and Love and Irving direct the Cavaliers ship to the playoffs, and likely beyond.

But there will likely come that curious day when and older LeBron James stares across the court and Andrew Wiggins and realizes that on that day, Wiggins is the better player. No, he won’t be as good as LeBron was at his peak, but he will be good.

On that day, Wiggins will likely say thanks to LeBron James in the press for being a great ambassador for the NBA for many years, and building a foundation for him to play. But somewhere inside that future Wiggins will be something else, something that’s grateful, but not quite thankful. Somewhere inside will be that memory of his two months spent on the Island of Misfit toys…

…which became the seeds of what ultimately made him an NBA superstar.

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