Let's put this whole Andrew Wiggins craze in perspective before he starts getting unfairly criticized for underachieving.
He's already been dubbed the next great NBA superstar prior to his first game in college. That's just the way it works nowadays, which is fine. With high school sports becoming a little more mainstream, everyone is looking to find future studs.
And Wiggins is one of them, so it's only natural to pump the hype machine. I'm even cool with calling him one of the best prospects since LeBron James.
But there's a difference between the "best since James" and being the next one. You can throw Kevin Durant's name in there as well.
Think about what James and Durant looked like at 19 years old compared to Wiggins.
Physical attributes play a significant role in projecting ceilings. James was a 6'8'', 245-pound wing out of high school—a dominant scorer who could just as easily take over as a facilitator.
His blend of physical tools, basketball IQ and overall versatility were unlike anything we've seen.
Durant was just as unique in his own right. With legitimate power-forward size and absurd length, Durant was a ridiculous offensive mismatch, given he's a natural wing.
K.D. averaged nearly 26 points per game as a freshman at Texas. At 6'10'', he was knocking down 2.3 threes and grabbing 11 rebounds a game. Ever hear of a guy that tall, long and athletic who can take over a game as a perimeter scorer and interior presence?
Out of high school, James and Durant's ceilings soared higher than anyone else's over the previous few eras. They had advantages that couldn't be neutralized by defensive game-planning.
Though extraordinary, Wiggins' strengths don't give him the same level of advantage. He doesn't have the combination of power and ball-handling that James uses to bully his way for easy baskets. Unlike Durant, his jumper isn't an asset, and his competitive edge isn't that sharp.
James and Durant were essentially firsts of their own respective kind—at least in the modern-day era. A 245-pound point forward? A 6'10'' scoring guard? The packages these guys brought to the table from both a physical and fundamental standpoint have been and remain transcendent and inimitable.
We've seen guys like Wiggins before. Tracy McGrady comes to mind—another wiry-yet-super-athletic small forward. But despite all of T-Mac's accolades and offensive prowess, he was never able to make the impact that Durant has made on the Thunder.
I'd say Wiggins' ceiling is closer in height to McGrady's than it is to James' or Durant's, which isn't meant to be an insult. McGrady was off the charts in his prime. Can Wiggins, like McGrady, eventually become a top player in the league? Absolutely. I just don't peg him as that guy who can take control and guide a franchise to a title.
James and Durant both possess qualities that drive the overwhelming mismatch they present. And it's the strength of that mismatch that's helped them carry their teams to the finals.
Wiggins' superhero power is his elite level of athleticism. He has trampoline bounce, along with a former Olympian for a mom and former first-round pick for a dad.
Right now, his athletic capability is far ahead of his skill set. When his fundamentals improve and offensive game gets some polish, Wiggins projects as one of the game's most dynamic NBA stars.
But there are levels to the pyramid of stardom.
Think of it like the NBA's VIP lounge where only the star players get to hang. Wiggins has his name on the list at the door, so getting in shouldn't be a problem. I'm just not sure he'll make it to the rooftop, where James and K.D. are hosting their own private party.
Wiggins' elevator stops just short of the top floor. And that's OK. I hear guys like Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and James Harden throw a pretty serious party on this floor, one that Wiggins should have access to by the time he's reached his peak.
Assuming all goes well at Kansas and he's drafted into a good situation, Wiggins could ultimately blossom into one of the game's premier NBA stars.
But let's remember who King James and Kevin Durant are—arguably the top two players on the planet. I'm just not sure even a best-case outcome would result in Wiggins entering that conversation.
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