The Days I Saw Andrew Wiggins

In my time watching non-professional sports, I’ve seen two phenoms play: Bryce Harper and Andrew Wiggins. (Sorry Eduardo Najera.)

I got the chance to see the #1 basketball recruit in the Class of 2013 over Thanksgiving weekend at the Charlotte Hoops Challenge, which featured Wiggins’ school Huntington Prep (W.V.). The gym at Waddell High School was nearly packed, and there were appearances made by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Dave Telep as well as reps from several D-I schools.

Phenoms have a way of owning the room. As soon as Wiggins stepped on the court, there was a new atmosphere in the gym. Maybe that was because grown men were giddy with excitement to see a 17-year old play basketball, but nevertheless, there was a special feel.

Wiggins is listed at 6’7″, but the man (yes, he’s already a man) looks a full 6’8″. He just screams athleticism, although he could certainly stand to add to his 205 pound frame. Even on a prep team with commits to Florida State, Arkansas, Baylor, and Tennessee, he stood out.

But during warmups, you could see the rawness of his game. The sort of rawness one would expect from a high schooler. Wiggins missed his first three jump shots, and that off-shooting continued into the actual game.

Wiggins started off the game against Quality Education Academy with a bang. Literally. Just minutes into the game, he threw down a jaw-dropping, pants-popping, heart-stopping dunk in traffic without regard for human life. Unfortunately it was mostly downhill after the highlight reel slam.

Here’s my video from the game. Sorry, no dunks.

I may have just picked the wrong game to watch him, but Andrew Wiggins’ shot was not all that impressive. The small forward only connected on one of his five three point shots, finishing 4-12 from the field. Interestingly enough, his only shots were from beyond the arc or at the rim.

More concerning than his lack of range was his inability to finish near the rim. Wiggins did rebound very well, but after offensive rebounds he would throw up wild put-backs that would inevitably miss. He was not a strong ball handler, often having to dump the ball off to a teammate when pressured. Even on fast breaks, he never dunked. Instead he tried laying in the ball before getting fouled. The good news is he got to the charity stripe 13 times, hitting eight of those shots.

I’m not sure if I ever remember his sprinting down the court in either game I saw him, but that’s not to say he wasn’t trying. Wiggins just ran so smoothly and made it down the court before most of the other players. One wonders how dominant he could be if he he could put out max effort on every play.

Defensively, Wiggins was nothing special. Part of that is to do with the fact that Huntington Prep was running a 2-3 zone the entire time, but he wasn’t playing as aggressively as his teammate and fellow Canadian Montaque Gill-Caesar, although Wiggins did finish with three blocks. Again, Wiggins looked a bit apathetic without the ball, but he is so athletic that he makes it look like he’s not even trying.

Overall Wiggins put on a show, but he certainly didn’t look like the next LeBron James. The man is an athletic beast, and if he can connect the dots on some details offensively, he can be really special. There’s no question why he’s ranked so highly.

I came to the Charlotte Hoops Challenge hoping to be blown away by Andrew Wiggins. That sort of thinking can be dangerous, since you can sell yourself on a player if you look hard enough for silver linings and want the player to be good. But instead of getting impressed by Wiggins, I was really fascinated by Montaque Gill-Caesar.

A 6’5″ sophomore, Gill-Caesar is not nearly as high on the prospect radar (16th in the Class of 2015 by Scout.com) as Wiggins. The wing scorer led Huntington with 21 points in their 70-39 beatdown of Kennedy Charter. Gill-Caesar showed great athleticism, the sweetest shooting stroke on the floor, and deep three point range. Defensively, he flashed plus lateral quickness. Montaque was even impressive driving, where Wiggins was a tad disappointing. He already has offers from Baylor and Ohio State, and he’s also being pursued by Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Montaque Gill-Caesar will have a better pro career than Andrew Wiggins, but Gill-Caesar’s offensive game is more refined, and he’s two years younger. It’s not out of the question for Teki–as he teammates call him–to grow a couple more inches and be closer to Wiggins’ massive size.

In a way, Wiggins reminded me of Harrison Barnes–for better or for worse. Two of Barnes’ bigger knocks coming into this year were a lack of consistent motor along with not being able to create his own shot, since he was an average ball handler at best. All of that matches up with Wiggins, and they share one more thing in common.

Wiggins effectively plays on a high school All-Star team. He plays with big men ranked #39 and #62 for the Class of 2013 as well as Gill-Caesar and #28th overall Xavier Rathan-Mayes at shooting guard. Wiggins doesn’t have to be the man, like he would if he were playing on any other team in West Virginia. The coach can stick him on the perimeter, since Huntington Prep already has an interior presence from Dominic Woodson and Moses Kingsley. Plus he doesn’t need to be a distributor with plenty of other guards. Being on such a great team limits how much he can impact the game.

The same was true for Harrison Barnes at Carolina, where they didn’t need him to rebound with John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and James Michael McAdoo manning the middle. They didn’t even need him to be a ball handler with Kendall Marshall and an array of shooting guards. Barnes didn’t get to stand out as much as Doug McDermott did at Creighton, since he was the team’s only NBA prospect. Nevertheless, scouts still gave Barnes high marks, and he was drafted 7th overall last June.

Part of me wonders if Wiggins was rated so high before he reclassified into the Class of 2013 because the athleticism was there and the raw offensive game was more impressive from a junior with an extra year to iron things out. But all criticisms aside, Wiggins will be great. Maybe he’ll even be going up against LeBron James and Harrison Barnes in two years. It’ll be fascinating to see where his trajectory leads him.

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