We're less than two weeks away from the official legal completion of the reported blockbuster deal between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, a swap that will result in LeBron James getting what he wants — an All-Star power forward in Kevin Love to space the floor, clear the glass and stretch defenses past their breaking point in search of an NBA championship — while the NBA draft's last two No. 1 overall picks find themselves shipped off to the Twin Cities. Apparently, that's just fine by the latter of those two picks, 2014 top choice Andrew Wiggins.
The 19-year-old Canuck, chosen first overall by the Cavs back in the long, long ago of late June, visited the summer basketball camp of his Kansas coach, Bill Self, over the weekend. And while Wiggins himself didn't comment on the trade reports, "Self said the rookie wants to carve out his own legacy in the NBA," according to Dave Skretta of The Associated Press:
"When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, 'I hope I get traded,'" Self said. "And I'm like, 'No you don't.' And he said, 'Coach, I do. It's better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I'm forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they're going to be patient with me and I'm going to be a piece.' [...]
"Even though in a weird way everybody would love the opportunity to play with LeBron because you're guaranteed winning," Self said, "for the longevity of his career, he needs to develop that mindset to be the guy, for him to be great, and I think being [in] Minnesota will help him do that."
While Wiggins' physical gifts — the 6-foot-8-inch frame, the 7-foot wingspan, the foot speed and lateral quickness, the building-bounding hops — are unquestionable, he came under fire at times during his lone year at the NCAA level for sometimes coming up short against top competition, and for "failing to take full advantage of his tools because he isn't assertive enough all the time." In the aftermath of the trade reports, it's been a fairly common refrain to suggest that moving from a Cavs team where he'd be, at best, a tertiary offensive option behind James and point guard Kyrie Irving to a Wolves team needing to replace its unquestioned No. 1 weapon will be a good thing for Wiggins. Without All-Star scorers and creators doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, Wiggins won't be able to float through possessions or coast in the corner; he'll be forced to try to impose his will on the run of play, to develop his game under the spotlight of stardom.
There's a flip side to that, though. That spotlight can get awful bright, and standing under that mega-watt heat can make even those with strong constitutions wilt.
While Wiggins averaged a Kansas-leading 17.1 points per game during his freshman season en route to first-team All-Big 12 and second-team All-American selections, scouting reports suggest he's still got quite a ways to go in a number of areas — finishing at the rim, ball-handling, jump-shooting consistency, etc. — if he's to become an elite offensive wing at the NBA level. Playing alongside the likes of James and Irving affords you the opportunity to take those steps in development slowly but surely, knowing that primary responsibility for your team's offense won't rest with your ability to generate and finish scoring chances.
Things will be different in Minnesota. Yes, Ricky Rubio is a fantastic table-setter who can make some magic with bruising big man Nikola Pekovic in the pick-and-roll, but Wiggins and fellow 2014 draftee Zach LaVine will have to learn very quickly on the fly how to create offense off the bounce against NBA defenders. No matter how athletically gifted the reedy rookies might be, that's a tall order, with development more likely to take a one-step-forward-two-steps-back path than a straight line to superstardom.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course. For one thing, 19-year-olds are rarely finished, polished products. ("... Devine wrote, remembering with a fright just how far from 'finished' or 'polished' he was at 19, and how distant those goals remain at age 31.") For another, franchises are heavy, and carrying them is supposed to be hard, no matter how strong or talented you are. The version of Andrew Wiggins who begins his NBA career isn't going to be ready for that kind of weight just yet, which is why the suddenly-win-now Cavaliers were willing to ship him out. A few years of mandated heavy lifting, though, could be just what the doctor ordered.
"I think he's handled everything great. He's excited," Self told the AP.
He certainly seems to be, if his Instagram account's any indication:
"I’m here to beat the odds that was set against me, wished the worst luck to anyone who bet against me," Wiggins wrote in the caption of his Instagram post, quoting a line from rapper Fabolous' "Transformation."
In the short term, the odds against Wiggins and the rebuilding Wolves competing for a playoff berth in the brutal Western Conference do seem to be stacked awfully high. But if the rookie, his former coach and the rest of us are right about the potential benefits of being forced into a central role from Day 1, Minnesota's return to high-stakes postseason competition could come sooner than many expect.
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