Wiggins’ strength is the same as it was before: he has super athleticism. He has used this to develop an effective step back jumpshot, as his athleticism makes it so easy for him to create separation with the defender that he can get this whenever he wants. He showcased this move a bit in college, but it appears to be notably improved with the help of P3. And while his handles aren’t reliable enough to get to the hoop at will, his first step is so explosive that he can still get there sometimes. Against the Rockets he had two attacks that stood out: he crossed up Nick Johnson and he put a ball fake on Robert Covington, both times he went straight to the rim and got fouled for free throws. He still didn’t show much ability to finish off the dribble other than his vicious dunk against Philly, but he seems to be fine finishing at the rim when he isn’t dribbling. This is a good sign for him playing in an offense that stresses ball movement and cutting with LeBron James as the primary handler. He didn’t score a ton of buckets off of cuts, but he was moving off the ball and he did get at least a few assisted rim FG’s.
It’s clear that he is uniquely talented at getting where he wants to go on the court. This is especially true on defense where he doesn’t need to dribble a basketball in the process. He finished summer league with 5 steals and 6 blocks in 4 games, and his ability to get places combined with being 6’8″ and a 7’0″ wingspan makes it easy for him to make plays on that end. He’s in a similar boat to Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon in that his offense is a work in progress, but he has an easy ticket to usefulness on the defensive end.
In spite of his tantalizing athleticism, I always felt Wiggins had underachiever written all over him and the warning signs were apparent in summer league. If I was coaching him, I would forget the idea of using him as a ball handler and tell him to focus on moving off the ball, passing to his teammates, launching 3’s, rebounding, and defense. I’d make him watch endless film Kawhi Leonard and channel him on the floor. But because everybody loves scoring so very much, the folks at P3 just HAD to find a way to leverage his athleticism into scoring ability. So they equipped him with a step back jumper which Wiggins can make and seems to love taking. There is value to getting off a 38% shot whenever you want, but it is dangerous to rely on heavily. This is especially true when Wiggins literally never tries to create for his teammates off the dribble, which isn’t good for somebody who dribbles often.
His decision tree once he catches the ball appears to be 1) try to get to the rim and flail for free throws 2) if he can’t get to the rim launch a step back jumper 3) if he’s not feeling the step back, swing it back out to the nearest player on the perimeter. None of it flows within the team concept, and it’s highly Rudy Gay-ish. Rudy Gay is one of the all-time NBA cancers since he pounds the ball into the ground, doesn’t see his teammates, and launches too many step back jumpers. Wiggins has been compared to him in terms of temperament, and it is not a good sign that he appears to enjoy Rudy’s style of play in summer league. It doesn’t mean that he necessarily will be as bad as Rudy Gay, since he is more athletic and they are not the precisely same person. But more athleticism and a few extra free throw attempts still don’t make Rudy Gay a useful basketball player since he plays a losing style. The Cavaliers offense looked notably better and more efficient with awesome ball movement in the game Wiggins missed. He simply needs to be directed away from the Rudy Gay style and toward the Kawhi Leonard path. A good start would be developing an interest in creating for his teammates, since every great offensive wing ever has learned to do this. The good news is that if he stays in Cleveland with LeBron and Blatt, he probably isn’t going to launch endless stepbacks and he might develop in the good areas. But the warning signs are there and of course I am going to make note of them.
I get that people want to mold Wiggins into T-Mac due to the athletic similarities, but T-Mac had a much more natural feel for the game and it’s wrong to force Wiggins down that path. T-Mac was younger as an NBA rookie than Wiggins was as an NCAA freshman and posted a better ORB%, DRB%, stl%, blk%, and greater than a 2x better assist:TOV rate playing against vastly tougher competition. My personal opinion: the vision, feel, and willingness to create for others plays a large role in the difference between T-Mac and Rudy Gay, which is why it feels icky to move Wiggins down this path. He can still be a tremendously useful NBA player without offering much isolation scoring.
The other issue for Wiggins is that his defense was not good in the game I scouted vs. the Rockets. He had a nice chase down block of Nick Johnson after a turnover, but other than that here are the plays on which he was tested:
-He cuts off Nick Johnson in transition. Johnson instead circles back and goes around a screen which Wiggins gets caught on trying to go over, and Johnson gets off uncontested floater from mid-range that he makes.
-He is isolated vs. 6’0″ Isaiah Canaan in transition. Canaan goes straight at Wiggins, pump fakes in mid-air, and puts the ball in over him.-Wiggins tries to stop Geron Johnson in transition, but runs into his own teammate in the process and watches Johnson get uncontested layup
-Geron Johnson blows by Wiggins on perimeter, dishes it to teammate underneath the hoop who kicks it out to open 3 point shooter who hits.
-Luke Hancock gets ball underneath the rim. Wiggins rotates as sole help defender but doesn’t contest. Just stands behind him and lets him get shot off. The layup badly missed, but that’s an area where Wiggins could have gotten a block with more aggressiveness.
-Isaiah Canaan isolates onto Wiggins in half-court near the end of the game. Goes right at him, gets all the way to the rim and finishes over Wiggins.
When I watched him in college it wasn’t that he didn’t try on defense. He executed his assignments and he was woefully difficult to get past off the dribble since he moves so well laterally. But I feel like he kind of floated and didn’t bring a playmaking fervor that indicated that he wants to get a stop at any cost. I felt it reflected in his steal and block rates, it reflected in his team success, and the narratives that he is a lock ++++++ defender were completely silly. He is so athletic that he didn’t get exposed a whole bunch, but now that he’s facing better athletes his lack of intensity on that end is starting to show a bit.
This is not to say that he will necessarily be a bad defensive player as a pro. With his athletic ability he doesn’t need perfect effort and instincts to make a positive impact, and he has plenty of time to improve. Also I may have happened to catch his worst defensive game, as everybody who watched his prior game gave him rave reviews and he obviously made more good plays with 3 steals and 2 blocks. This is just a friendly reminder that there isn’t a 100% correlation between athleticism and defense, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves locking him in as a super elite wing stopper. And the expectations that he will be a stud defensive player as a rookie are completely unrealistic. Isaiah Canaan is a 6’0″ 2nd round pick who thrives on shooting and is 13/32 inside the arc in his NBA career– if he can beat Wiggins off the dribble (which is what he thrived at preventing in college) then a whole bunch of other NBA players probably can too. Wiggins is only 19 and has plenty of room to learn and catch up to speed, but rookies are generally bad defensively and it doesn’t appear that Wiggins will be an exception.
Another defensive note is that Wiggins struggled to corral defensive rebounds, accruing just 6 in 120 minutes. He wasn’t a great defensive rebounder in college, but I felt that had something to do with Kansas being heavy on bigs who stole rebounds from him. He was a pretty good offensive rebounder in college, so I still think he should be fine defensively in the pros. I did notice him trying to leak out in transition too soon, watching the rebounding action from 8 feet away, and getting a defensive rebound knocked away due to his lack of strength. But Kevin Durant also struggled to rebound during summer league, so I’d rather wait to see him rebound over a larger NBA sample before reading into it. It may just be bad variance.
Overall I feel like Wiggins’ summer league perfectly displayed why his is so polarizing as a prospect. He showed what he can do athletically, as he racked up steals, blocks, and effortlessly created space to get off his jump shots. He also was able to use his athleticism to draw a high volume of fouls as well as have an explosive finish on a drive to the hoop. But he also showed signs of disappointment, with the complete disinterest in creating for others and the lack of domination defensively and rebounding. And while I loved him attempting 8 threes in his first game, I hated that he only tried 5 and operated more heavily in the mid-range in the following 3. It’s pretty obvious why there is such a wide range of opinions on him, and who knows what will win out between his super tools and his Rudy Gay like tendencies.
I don’t have any new predictions to add, he’s roughly treading water in my mind. I will add that Cleveland seems like an exceptionally favorable environment for him to develop in, since I doubt he will be allowed to chuck endless step-backs with LeBron and Kyrie in place as superior ball handlers. Blatt seems like a possibly good coach, and I’m interested to see how well he develops playing off the ball in an offense that stresses ball movement and cutting with two good shot creators. It seems that should force him to develop his Kawhi skills, and even if he never becomes a true go to star he could still land in the clouds as an awesome role player. On the other hand, if he gets traded to Minnesota and plays for Flip Saunders on a lottery team I do not like his odds of succeeding. He will almost certainly be pushed down the T-Mac path, which isn’t right for him.
I still have Wiggins as my #5 prospect behind Embiid, Smart, Gordon, and Exum. I feel I witnessed both the ways in which he can exceed my expectations and the ways in which my initial hypotheses may be proven correct. To me the interesting bits to track are 1) how high does he peak defensively 2) does he ever develop into a quality passer and 3) how much do LeBron and Blatt aid his development? I’d also like to see how much his free throw drawing translates to the NBA and whether he can learn to consistently get to the rim and finish off the dribble. But those are less interesting than his ability to become a super role player, which is where I believe the real value lies within him.