Andrew Wiggins was the clear #1 high school prospect when he committed to attend the University of Kansas for the 2013-14 school year, and many suggested that he would be the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft out of his Canadaian high school were it still legal to enter the draft at that age.
After one up-and-down year in Lawrence, Wiggins was a consensus top-two pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, along with college teammate Joel Embiid. After the hulking center needed foot surgery in advance of the draft, Wiggins was the clear choice for the first overall selection.
Scouts cite Wiggins’ elite athleticism, size, length, and shooting form as reasons why he’s destined to be an NBA star. And he certainly looks the part. Wiggins stands 6′ 8″ with a 7-foot wingspan — massive for a shooting guard and more than adequate for a small forward at the professional level.
He’s not rail-thin, either. While Wiggins will ultimately need to put on some weight (read: muscle) to undergo the wear and tear of a long NBA season, he more or less has an NBA-ready body already. And that jump shot…it’s a thing of beauty. It makes scouts salivate, and other than an occasional lack of lift on his jumper (which matter a bit less because of his size), it’s mechanically gorgeous.
So what’s the knock?
Let’s start with the beautiful jumper. While it looks exactly like it should, the results simply weren’t there at the college level. Wiggins shot just 34.1% on three-point attempts during his lone season at Kansas, and shot 44.8% from the field on the season.
As a spot-up shooter, Wiggins was certainly passable. With a smaller defender on him, he has no problem getting his jumper off, either. The biggest issue is shooting off the dribble, and the overall consistency of shooting in isolation. While his height, length, and impressive step-back jumper allow his shot to get in the air, it does not drop through the net at nearly an ideal rate.
Obviously, the picture-perfect form and physical tools are promising, and it’s very likely that his shooting percentages will improve over time. But it is far from where we can confidently be calling Wiggins a “shooter”, or even a “shooting guard” as a rookie.
Wiggins’ lack of dribbling ability is the most concerning attribute. He is uncomfortable going to his left, and once he gets to the rim, he a) struggles to finish through contact and b) avoids finishing with his left hand whenever possible.
NBA scouts have surely already made note of these traits, and defenses won’t have too difficult of a time preparing to face this year’s #1 overall pick. With Wiggins’ size, athleticism, and wingspan, he should be better at absorbing contact and completing shots. As referenced above, he can still stand to add some weight, which should only help. But it’s a bit concerning that his touch around the rim is not better.
Of course, Wiggins did shoot 77.5% from the charity stripe, so he could still do damage in the points column by pouring in free throws. Shooting 6.5 free throws per game in college certainly contributed to his 17.1 points per game scoring average that is so highly-touted by the national media types.
As Wolves fans know, free throw attempts are vital to scoring an adequate number of points per game, but if ball-handling remains an issue for Wiggins in the professional ranks, his free throw attempts per game will slide significantly. Even at Kansas, Wiggins settled for a number of mid-range jump shots because of his inability to get past his defender with the dribble.
Yes, shooting ability and ball-handling are two of the most vital components for an NBA player. And we didn’t touch on Wiggins’ low assist rate or turnover issues.
As of right now, it’s tough to see Wiggins as a starting-caliber NBA shooting guard. His outstanding defensive ability should allow him to play minutes as a league-average small forward, and his athleticism in transition would likely make him a net-positive rotational player from day one.
The difference between a 20-24 minutes per game bench player and becoming a star will be shooting consistency and ball-handling, combined with a better knowledge of passing and spacing on the offensive end of the floor.
Because of the physical tools, defensive ability, and good-looking jumper, it’s easy to see why so many NBA front office see Wiggins as a star-caliber player. He should be a rotation-worthy player very quickly, but there’s plenty of work to be done. And to be sure, Wiggins has the tools to become a star.
In today’s NBA, teams are looking to acquire two types of players in the draft: players that have obvious skills and tools that can be fully-developed while creating a potential star on a rookie contract, and players that are outstanding at one or two particular things and can be valuable role players on that same rookie contract.
Players like Wiggins, and from Flip Saunders’ perspective, Zach LaVine, fall into that first category. There are plenty of examples of the second category, from defensive-minded big men to sharpshooting swingmen.
Wiggins looks the part of a superstar basketball player, and there is enough there for most of the teams in the league to covet his upside.
But he’s far from a sure thing.