Examining Andrew Wiggins’ NBA Potential

After being the first overall pick in this past summer’s draft, the first 30 or so games of Andrew Wiggins’ rookie season have drawn mixed reviews. The advanced stats paint a pessimistic picture, as Wiggins was recently compared to James Posey (and unfavorably, at that) by Neil Paine over at FiveThirtyEight. Some reviews are more optimistic and ask for a wait and see approach, however, almost everyone agrees that it’s too early to say anything for sure.

First of all, the Wiggins-LeBron comparisons have always been, and will always be ridiculous. Anyone who expected Wiggins to perform at that level was way off right from the beginning; they simply are not comparable players. However, just because Wiggins isn’t LeBron doesn’t mean he’s not a special prospect, it just means he’s a different type of special prospect.

Evaluating Wiggins’ performance so far is a thorny task that yields debatable results. There is a lot of context surrounding Wiggins’ season and what it means going forward. It’s important to consider every piece of the puzzle before you try to put it together.

Before looking at the factors that go into Wiggins’ long term potential, it’s important to take a step back and ask what kind of sample is actually being evaluated in terms of this season.

All we have to go on is a small sample of games from a 19 year old player playing on a team that has both a new coach and a fairly new roster that features injuries to nearly all of its critical players. The situation is in flux to say the least.

Beyond that, the supporting cast has been awful. Their starting point guard during this stretch may be one of the worst starting point guards in NBA history. Zach LaVine has the potential to be a good NBA player, but his performance to this point has been bad. Wiggins has no one to set him up, and is scoring a huge portion of his half court points in back to the basket and other isolation-type situations.

It was pretty clear that Wiggins wasn’t going to be ready to dominate the NBA right away, and his production so far shouldn’t be that surprising. The same things that were true when Wiggins was drafted are still true today. He is an extremely athletic player that looks dominant in transition, shows serious promise on defense and has a skill set that looks better, but is still under construction.

Wiggins is not a primary ball handler and he never will be, but he has actually looked better in the half court than I expected and over these last two weeks he has shown a lot of potential as a scorer. He can beat smaller or less athletic players with his back to the basket and finish through contact. He has a nice one dribble step back move when facing up and when he gets some momentum going toward the rim he can contort his body or create the necessary space at the rim to finish and draw fouls. There is no doubt that Wiggins is developing quickly.

At his peak, Wiggins may not be able to lead a team to the Finals as its best player, but he could still be an integral piece of a championship team.

Wiggins has the potential to be a prototypical DTA (Defense, Threes, Athleticism) wing with a little extra. He will be impossible to defend on closeouts and when cutting to the rim. These factors, in addition to his better than expected shooting will command the attention of his defender off the ball at all times. He also has the potential to take on some ball handling duties while taking advantage of good matchups on the block. He could provide all of this while drawing a ton of fouls, killing defenses in transition and playing elite perimeter defense. Put him next to a dominant primary ball handler, a rim protector and good floor spacing and you have the recipe for a contender.

When looking at that description of Wiggins, two players come to mind as favorable comparisons for his potential. First Kawhi Leonard, and second Jimmy Butler. Neither is made in the mold of LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but both are superior role players that their teams couldn’t live without. Maybe these comparisons are too pessimistic for Wiggins’ upside considering his athleticism, but I don’t think so. Wiggins isn’t the type of player that can carry a top offense and be counted on to consistently handle the ball and create for others. However, the fact that he has shown the potential to create for himself pushes him toward the top of the next group.

Based on the evidence we have from both his college and short NBA career so far I don’t think Wiggins will ever be a top-10 player in the league, but he doesn’t have to be to give the Wolves a worthwhile return for Kevin Love. If the Wolves can pair Wiggins with another top player from this year’s draft (and maybe one from the next draft, too) they might just be able to build a foundation capable of ending their severe playoff drought, but that’s a different story entirely.

Andrew Wiggins has shown huge flashes of potential in his short time in the league, and you can tell by the way he looks and moves on the court that it’s only a matter of time before his performance starts to live up to the hype. He seems to have a good work ethic and a willingness to improve, which only makes it easier to see him reaching his potential.

Considering the raw nature of Wiggins’ game and his physical gifts, it might take until the end of his rookie deal to see what he really brings to the table. It’s not often that 19 year olds dominate the NBA, especially in situations like the one Wiggins has found himself in. It’s going to take time for him to adjust to the NBA, but it’s coming. At this point in his career the aesthetics outweigh the substance, but considering his physical dominance, it’s only a matter of time before Wiggins becomes a star.


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