Andrew Wiggins was first pick in what was hailed as a bountiful NBA draft. And yet, enthusiasm is curbed in Cleveland. Seldom has a big story shrunk so fast. Wiggins is viewed as NOT a superhero who will carry a franchise. Clevelanders mutter: “We tanked the season for HIM? Is this basketball’s answer to Johnny Football?”
Johnny, by the way, was quick to tweet-greet his basketball counterpart: “A WIGGINS!!! Welcome to the city my brother.”
But if social media offers some support for young Andy, the mainstream is raining all over his non-parade. ESPN Magazine quoted unnamed scouts saying they’re “not sold on his basketball IQ . . . didn’t make the right reads against defenses . . . passing needs a lot of work . . .”
Much is made of his hiding in the NCAA Tournament, the 1-for-6 misfiring as his Kansas Jayhawks were eliminated by Stanford. Even his father, former NBA guard Mitchell Wiggins, wondered if he’s unselfish to a fault, if there’s truth to the persistent knock that he “doesn’t have the killer instinct.”
The 2014 No. 1 is genetically loaded for speed, athleticism and versatility, if not killer instinct. As an Olympic sprinter for Canada, his mother, Marita, won two silver medals, though no gold. His dad was the defensive component of the Houston Rockets’ Wiggins-Lewis Lloyd off-guard pairing that was runner-up to Boston in the 1986 NBA Finals.
The father, like most fathers, left psychological baggage for his son, besides not giving him a scorer’s mindset.
Wiggins and Lloyd were both suspended for cocaine abuse (Wiggins banished twice).
On the more positive side, father Wiggins gave the son a smothering defensive game: “I taught him how to guard multiple positions, how to guard a scorer, how to guard a driver. He understands defensively what he needs to do, and he cherishes defense.”
But where’s the beef on this skinny kid? Where’s the production? David Griffin, the new general manager of the Cavaliers, said, bluntly, “With that level of athleticism, he needs to make his presence felt.”
Shouldn’t he get some slack here? He’s 19 years old. He should be in college, developing his presence. Yet others wonder if Wiggins felt unchallenged as an amateur, where, as ESPN carped, “minimal effort has been enough to dominate.”
He’s rushing to be a pro because who wants to put off making their first multi-millions?
His hometown paper, the Toronto Globe and Mail, greeted his ascendance with this skeptical banner: “Is Canada’s Andrew Wiggins too nice to be an NBA superstar?”
The story brought another shot from Unnamed Scout: “People are making far more of this kid than they should.”
Actually, they weren’t making that much of him. Just days before the draft, Wiggins was not the clear No. 1. For their lottery prize the Cavs leaned to another Jayhawk, 7-foot center Joel Embiid. But when Embiid underwent foot surgery in June after a back injury in March, Griffin pivoted to the backcourt.
The Cavs are calling Wiggins a “swingman” – again, not what you expect from the top lottery draw. At No. 1 you go for a franchise player, not a sixth man.
As it turns out, the Cavs get their franchise player, with the rather unexpected (except by venerable NBA blogger Chris Sheridan) return of LeBron James from Miami.
It’s gone almost unnoticed that Wiggins plays a role here. What separates James from the Jordans and the Magics is the way he can defend from the base-line to the 3-point arc. But this takes a debilitating toll on him, playing all-areas defense as well as offense.
Wiggins could be the perfect complementary piece, providing relentless full-court defense that’s unheard-of in a scorer and rare even in role players.
Wiggins is a 6-8 fairly accurate shooting guard with a famous 44-inch vertical leap. When he was 12 he was dunking on his dad. For his part, Wiggins is not lacking in ambition or confidence. “I want to be on the All-Defense team,” he said, “be rookie of the year, make the All-Star team . . . ”
The media, probably for better more than worse, has lower expectations. Wiggins, who might have been a sensation right now, is entirely overshadowed by LeBron’s Return. Wiggins is left hoping for a support role, caddy for the king.
He can learn from the basketball master who’s always succeeded in making teammates better. At 29, James is more polished – in so many ways — than he was when he left Cleveland at 25. He could maintain his athletic peak for another three years, as he helps develop Wiggins and the vibrant 22-year-old point guard Kylie Irving.
Las Vegas is getting carried away by making the Cavs a 3-1 favorite to win the NBA championship next season. But the year after seems plausible. James has so much money that it’s easy to believe that’s not why he’s homeward bound.
This is more about legacy. And that will depend to some extent on young and currently unsung Andy.