It was roughly five years ago when I first clicked on an Andrew Wiggins link. Back then I was doing a lot of the same stuff I do now: mainly just surfing the net for basketball stuff. Somewhere down the rabbit hole I stumbled upon this:
My first thought after seeing this for the first time was how is it humanly possible for a thirteen-year old to dunk like that? My second was I wish I could do that. From there I’m pretty sure I ate an entire sleeve of Oreo cookies while lamenting my broken hoop dreams. But I digress…
Yep, back in 2009 Wiggins was just the latest in a long line of child hoops prodigies. For some perspective, back then Kevin Love, the superstar soon to be swapped for Wiggins, was still just a doughy bench player coming off his rookie season. For a little more perspective, Wiggins was born in 1995, the same year that Wolves all-timer Kevin Garnett broke into the league. We didn’t know much about Wiggins, except that he was an extremely young athletic marvel, and that he was a name to watch out for.
But as the years rolled on, Wiggins began to separate himself from his peers. The mixtapes kept coming, and each installment was more impressive than the last. For basketball junkies without access to his actual games, we used these highlight videos as a measuring stick for Wiggins’ growth. We could see that he was getting taller, that he was jumping higher, and that he had fixed the hitch in his jump shot.
It was actually pretty pathetic. But in a society that’s constantly searching for the next greatest thing, Andrew Wiggins was bumped to the front of the line and proclaimed to be the best prospect since LeBron James.
With a serious boost from the social media explosion, Wiggins was catapulted to the top of the list. If LeBron is King, then Andrew had become the prince. Placed at the head of the table before proven NBA talents like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, Wiggins was forced to carry a heavy burden before his high school career had even finished.
Naturally, the scrutiny started to pour in. Bloggers, forum posters, and scouts began picking apart his game. No longer complimenting his insane vertical leap, they instead were criticizing his passive, friendly disposition and his tendency to coast against inferior talent. Why can’t he be more like Michael? Or Kobe? Or even LeBron?
At that point, I still hadn’t seen Andrew Wiggins play an entire four-quarter basketball game, and because of all the negative press he was getting, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he was overhyped. I started to think that maybe we’d have to wait a little longer for the next-in-line can’t miss prospect to take a crack at unseating Michael Jordan from his throne as GOAT. (I realize how ridiculous that sounds, comparing a mysterious high school phenom to Mike Jordan. But that’s seriously the kind of hype Wiggins was getting before everyone started knocking him down a peg. Maple Jordan, they called him.)
The low-point for the Wiggins hype machine occurred on February 7th, 2013 when Sports Illustrated contributor Pete Thamel wrote a gut punching piece covering Wiggins’ flaws, his father’s troubled past, and the overall failures of Canadian basketball.
Luckily for true believers, the low-point didn’t last very long. Just hours later after having read the Thamel article, Wiggins unleashed a furious high school basketball performance, going for 57 points on 24 of 28 from the field. He also grabbed 13 rebounds and swatted 4 blocked shots. Here are the highlights from the rampage:
Wiggins made a statement that day. His game did the talking and it declared that Andrew wasn’t going to take the criticism lying down. Wiggins showed that he cared about his career, and he reminded people like Pete Thamel that Andrew Wiggins was in control of his basketball destiny. With that reactive performance, he also showed the first signs of possessing the all-important and illusive “killer instinct.” You know, that intangible quality that causes opposing teams and Skip Bayless to lose sleep at night.
Last fall, after years of tall tales and YouTube videos, it was finally Wiggins’ turn to step into the spotlight. He arrived to Lawrence, Kansas as the most heralded Jayhawk since Wilt Chamberlain. The Big 12 conference hadn’t had this much buzz since Kevin Durant was a doing work for the Texas Longhorns.
And he disappointed.
The masses were expecting Kevin Durant numbers and they didn’t get them. Despite averaging 17.1 points on the season, and a very good 23.6 PER in conference play, Andrew is largely remembered as a one-and-done who had six games in which he scored in single-digits, highlighted by the season-ending tournament loss to Stanford, where Josh Huestis and the Cardinal defense held Wiggins to a paltry three points.
After watching most of Wiggins’ 35 Jayhawk games, it’s easy for me to look back on Pete Thamel’s article and understand the criticisms. I’m obviously a Wiggins fan, but still I saw the weaknesses. Sometimes he got lost in the flow of the offense. Other times he’d dribble the ball of his leg, or throw a wild pass over the head of a teammate. He struggled to attack zone defenses, and if his shot wasn’t falling he’d have to be reminded to assert himself.
But there was also reason for hope. That “killer instinct” that I had only previously read about, managed to rear its vicious head, often when the Jayhawks were down big in the second half. Wiggins scored 11 of his 26 in the final minutes against a veteran Florida squad, embracing the intensity and the taking on the hostile Gator crowd. Wiggins took the same mentality into the March 8th game at West Virginia where he scored 41 big-time points. In this video, you can hear the announcer say at 3:05 mark that Wiggins is “single-handedly” keeping his team in the game.
So much has happened in the months since Andrew last played in a game that actually mattered. The draft happened. LeBron happened. Summer League happened. And as of this morning, Andrew has been unofficially traded to our team, the Minnesota freakin’ Timberwolves. If you’ve been going crazy worrying about Wiggins’ career, imagine how he’s feeling…
But it won’t always be like this. Sooner or later this madness is going to come to an end. It’ll be about basketball again. Andrew will get to work on his game, and we’ll be able to go back to the really fun questions like does Wiggins have what it takes to lead the Wolves to the playoffs and beyond?
Life is funny. It’s crazy that five years ago I watched a YouTube video of this teenage basketball phenom and I prayed to the basketball gods that he’d someday be a Minnesota Timberwolf. And thanks to a strange series of events (and the all-powerful LeBron), it’s actually about to happen.
Now, I don’t know if Wiggins will develop like LeBron did. My guess is that he won’t. Just like LeBron will never be Jordan, Andrew Wiggins will never be LeBron James. But after five years of hype, and a full season of actually watching him play, I’m convinced that Wiggins has that special something that every team covets. And we got him. In three weeks time, Andrew Wiggins will be one of us. That’s what I like to call Boom City.
It’s still only in flashes, and there’s a long road ahead, but Wiggins is for real, and I can hardly wait to watch him figure it out in Minneapolis.
Even if he demands a trade five years from now.