Andrew Wiggins has averaged a scorching 21.6 points, 1.4 three-pointers, 5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks in his last seven games in 38 minutes per game. He is turning into the star player that only the Cleveland Cavaliers could have traded away for a “star” player like Kevin Love.
Sam and I discussed the issues that the Cleveland Cavaliers had in terms of perimeter defending in our first NBA podcast. Defense has remained a problem for Cleveland all season. They can’t defend perimeter players well enough and the interior of the Cavs defense is soft (like a Twinkie).
Cleveland could have kept Andrew Wiggins at a far more reasonable cost; his rookie contract only pays him a shade over $5.5 million per season. However, Cleveland opted for Kevin Love and his lofty $15.7 million per season salary and there is no guarantee he will rejoin the Cavs next season.
Cleveland could have had Wiggins for at minimum 3 years due to a 2016-2017 season team option. If Wiggins matures into the player that it appears he will become, then he will be expected to earn quite a lot more than that in his fourth season, when he can become a free agent.
When considering the type of player that Andrew Wiggins might become, it is easy to look at his impressive athleticism. Wiggins stands at 6’8 and weighs around 200 lbs. He has a staggering vertical leap, 44 inches. He is perhaps most suited to play shooting guard until he can add more weight onto his frame. His length, however, is a strong advantage over most other shooting guards in the league, particularly at the defensive end of the floor.
Wiggins often draws comparisons to players like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and Clyde Drexler. McGrady is a better pure scorer than Wiggins will ever be, but Wiggins is a superior perimeter defender. Carter had a more powerful frame, but Wiggins is yet to turn 20 and will likely pack enough muscle on to be able to play in the post like Carter did earlier in his career. Carter and Wiggins are both players who can get hot from three. Drexler is an interesting comparison for Wiggins. Both are exceptionally athletic, even by professional athlete standards, and have nearly identical frames. But, Wiggins is a much better 3-point shooter than Drexler, making nearly 42% of this 3’s this season.
Admittedly, Wiggins had a slow start this season. He was coming out of playing college basketball at Kansas, where he was part of a rigid offensive system. He also was not physically ready to play small forward and it took the Timberwolves staff time to understand that Wiggins is best suited to play shooting guard right now. Furthermore, Wiggins has started every game this season, but the rest of the ‘Wolves roster has been in and out due to injuries. These factors ultimately contributed to Wiggins having a slow start to his season.
The learning curve from college basketball to the NBA is a steep one and Wiggins, no doubt, struggled at times early on. There were, however, enough glimpses of rare talent to keep holding out hope and in recent weeks things are beginning to click in a major way for Wiggins.
So what will become of Andrew Wiggins career?
At this point, we all have to agree that he has a high enough ceiling that he could perhaps be a perennial All-Star and dunk contest winner. He possesses all of the skills that you can’t coach and is already a good perimeter defender even as a rookie. The things that will make him better are becoming a better ball handler and playmaker. I believe that ultimately Wiggins will become one of the best players in the NBA and I was shocked that the Cavaliers traded him (along with several other players) away for Kevin Love.
It is not just that Love comes at a much higher price than Wiggins.
Cleveland could have had Lebron James and Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins would have been hitting his prime at the same time that Lebron James was beginning to fade. The torch could have been passed seamlessly from James to Wiggins. Furthermore, there could be no better mentor for Wiggins than James.
I believe that part of the reason that Cleveland is struggling to win on a consistent basis is that the team is constructed with too many players who put up big stats on bad teams. There are not enough guys who know how to win and the bad habits have become hard to shake for guys like Kyrie Irving (doesn’t play defense at a high level and is insistent upon getting up lots of shot attempts) and Kevin Love (got away with bad post defense in Minnesota and is shooting too many 3’s this season).
Wiggins would have been a perfect fit because he is a rookie. He would have listened to Lebron and understood his role. He would have been able to become a star slowly (similar to how McGrady was eased into the spotlight and didn’t really become a huge star until he played for Orlando) and deferred to James and Irving.
Instead, Cleveland opted for a higher risk, higher cost option with Kevin Love (not to say that Love is not a good player, but I believe he is overpaid and overrated). Wiggins could have actually made Cleveland better this season. He could have started at shooting guard and allowed Dion Waiters and Mike Miller to come off the bench. The defensive improvements on the perimeter alone would have been worth it. However, now that Wiggins is really flourishing as a player it would have been that much more impactful since James health has been a concern in the past few weeks.
There are always purchases that we make that we regret, whether it is a Harley Davidson or a Corvette (I actually think 99% of people who buy either of those items regret it within 24 hours), but in this case it was what Cleveland sold that they may soon regret. Cleveland’s management showed little foresight in this entirety of the transaction. There is a reason it takes longer to build a Ferrari than a Range Rover, even though both are nice cars. A Range Rover is great (albeit overpriced), but it is not a Ferrari. Wiggins has the potential to be a rare player (he’s the Ferrari) while Love is a good player who will never truly be great due to his inability to protect the rim as a post defender or create his own shot (you guessed it, he’s the Range Rover). Patience is a virtue and I have a feeling that if they could do it all over again, the Cavs would choose differently.