Andrew Wiggins shouldn’t make me as sad as he does. The guy’s doing just fine as a 24-year-old making approximately $29 million a year to play basketball. I don’t know if it is fair to call him a bust. Even as far as number one overall picks go, he’s probably not one of the five least productive from this century. I guess you could say he’s wasted his preternatural talents, but I’d argue you’re being dramatic.
No, Andrew Wiggins is just a guy who’s been disappointing. We’ve all been that person before. There’s the initial sting of letting people down, and then there’s the lingering feeling that you’re being perceived solely as disappointing, which usually leads to the motivation to be better than your most recent outcome. I think that’s what makes me so sad about Wiggins: In a physical competition where will and determination are a factor, he doesn’t look like he knows how to change into anything other than a disappointment. And that’s pretty heartbreaking.
If you remove the context of his salary, Wiggins isn’t exactly a bad NBA player, but he’s barely a good one. We’re extremely harsh on highly touted young NBA players when they don’t rapidly develop into All-Stars. But the unfair criticism of his teammate, and fellow number one overall pick, Karl-Anthony Towns usually comes down to “Well, Tim Duncan would have been more dominant…” while you can watch Wiggins play an entire game and fairly ask, “What does this guy even do?” I’d probably describe his game as “If Kawhi Leonard had mono and tried to play through it.”
We’ve already accepted the reality Wiggins will never be the kind of superstar that people projected when he was still in high school. Wiggins won’t be Leonard or Tracy McGrady or Kevin Durant, and that’s okay. I don’t know if there was ever really any evidence to burden him with that. And honestly, it’s unlikely he’ll manage to produce at a rate that justifies the next four years of his contract. What can he be in that time? Who can he become to help his team win basketball games, and even if he becomes that player, will we do him the favor of acknowledging it?
Here’s a thought exercise: With the general athletic ability and skill set he possesses, is there any reason to suggest Wiggins couldn’t become whatever the best version of Stephen Jackson was? Does the reputational gap of alpha qualities between the two prevent Wiggins from having as great of an impact as a guy he’s probably more talented than? Can a guy do what Stephen Jackson did on the court without the trash-talk and bravado that came with it?
Wiggins’ game and style and personality all seem to be introverted, and that’s not a great quality in the NBA. Jackson successfully walked a thin line between swagger and more-trouble-than-he’s-worth. He grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, one of the toughest cities in America, and he clawed his way to the NBA after years in international and minor leagues. Maybe Wiggins, who was the most scouted high school player in the world when he was coming up in Canada, has a different personality. But then someone like Harrison Barnes, who makes up for the general ceiling in his game that we’ve all come to terms with, contributes uber-professionalism with his teammates and community to forge a clear identity for himself. It’s a role that makes him seem much older than the three-year distance between he and Wiggins.
Currently, Wiggins is a player that can inefficiently get you 20 points. He’s probably the best guy on the court to sky for a rebound if he knew where to be positioned for it. He’s a guy that looks difficult to score on but isn’t. He’s a guy not a lot of coaches would be thrilled with. But eventually a coach is going to have to see him outside of his own context. That might yet be Ryan Saunders.
Marvin Williams was the number two overall pick in 2004, selected ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and that was, well, a mistake. But people don’t talk about Williams like a bust anymore. They use words like “reliable.” Depending on the makeup of your roster, your NBA team might actually be one Marvin Williams away from contending or making the Finals. No team seems one Andrew Wiggins away from anything at the moment.
We often talk about a player like Wiggins as needing to “put it all together” but that might be unrealistic. Of all the things we hoped Wiggins would be elite at, he still has plenty of time to prove us right on one of them. Then he just has to be at least average at everything else. Wiggins doesn’t have to spend his whole career being disappointing. He just has to figure out what else to be.