Andrew Wiggins And The Freshman Phenom Hierarchy

Sunday was disastrous for the Wiggins family—and their brackets. Nick is a reserve forward for Wichita State while Andrew is the prodigy Sports Illustrated compared to Danny Manning before the season. Both were weighed on the scales and found wanting Sunday.

On the deciding play of Kansas’ season, the freshman who took the final shot wasn’t Andrew Wiggins. That was an unimaginable scenario five months ago.

Instead, Naadir Tharpe spurned the dribble handoff to Andrew before willingly handing off to freshman Conner Frankamp who launched the game-saving trey. All Wiggins could do was float to the other wing and watch helplessly as it misfired and the clock expired. From a strategic standpoint, it was a sound decision. Frankamp made every single Jayhawks three pointer during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. However, the sight of Wiggins getting used as a decoy or being waved off by his starting point guard on the most important play of the season was enough for the average kneejerk amateur basketball couch analyst to drop him into the bottom half of their NBA lottery projections.

“It’s my fault we lost. I know it’s my fault we lost,” Wiggins conceded after the game. “I didn’t play good. I played really bad. I didn’t do anything to help my teammates this game. I blame myself for that.”

Taking a big picture approach though, Wiggins’ freshman year fell short of a national championship, but it succeeded in reaching the cosmic plane of Danny Manning’s Kansas career. Before the season, Sports Illustrated dropped Wiggins on their cover and compared him to Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning. It was a minor step down from the Maple Jordan nickname that trailed him throughout high school though.

Manning is remembered as the Big Eight Conference’s leading scorer, a first-team All-American and the catalyst for Kansas’ 1988 national championship. It also took him four years to reach his lofty status in Jayhawk history. 

What the guardians of college hoops legacies don’t consider is Manning’s freshman season. Wiggins’ scoring average and rebounding are superior to young Manning’s. However, because he’s likely bolting once Kansas’ plane lands in Lawrence, he’ll simply be a bookmark in the Jayhawks’ thick basketball history. Wiggins’ scoring arsenal needs some refining, but if he evolves as a player the same way fellow Canadian Nik Stauskas has since last year he should be on his way to becoming a superior Paul George-type swingman on the wing.

However, But Manning's freshman season isn't what Wiggins was supposed to be chasing.Uusing freshman one-and-done archetypes as the barometer for how to measure the context of Wiggins’ collegiate swan sing, it doesn’t change the fact that Wiggins’ scored just four points against a 10 seed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Shareef Abdur Rahim – Abdur Rahim’s 21.2 points per game, 8.4 rebounds and numerous offensive records couldn’t prevent his freshman season from ending tumultuously in the first round of the ’96 Tournament. A few weeks later, show-cause penalties resulted in head coach Todd Bozeman getting axed by California. The fun part is that Bozeman’s final season is recorded as a 2-26 campaign that ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Future civilizations will uncover those records and assume those two wins were in the conference semis and championship games. The future third overall pick of the Vancouver Grizzlies was held to seven points in the second round loss to Iowa State before accumulating empty statistics on lottery teams during the majority of his NBA career. If there were still a franchise in Vancouver, it would be the perfect franchise for Wiggins.

Kevin Durant – Equally meek off the court, the difference between Wiggins and Durant’s freshman seasons was that KD was Bruce Banner. On the floor, he hulked out with a mix of Jabari Parker’s bottomless bag of scoring tricks, Wiggins’ length and athleticism at his disposal. Unfortunately, Texas couldn’t play a lick of defense as KD Buckets splashed 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting in a vitruouso performance. However, his teammates only combined to score 37 points while USC poured in 87 in a rout.

Michael Kidd Gilchrist – Gilchrist didn’t begin his sophomore season as highly-touted as Wiggins, obviously, but he was the first player to go No. 2 overall to his own teammate in the NBA Draft. It’s probably the fate that awaits Wiggins once he declares. Upon further inspection, it appears Kidd-Gilchrist may never be the second or third best player on a championship team again.

Kevin Love – Love was overshadowed by OJ Mayo’s saga on USC’s nearby campus, but the freshman power forward was a key cog in Ben Howland’s Final Four team. Love’s freshman season at UCLA ended with him being named Pac-10 Player of the Year and a first team All-American, but because of Michael Beasley’s insane numbers at Kansas State, Derrick Rose carrying Memphis like Atlas, Love’s accomplishments were relegated to the background.

Derrick Rose – Demeanor wise, the stoic DRose bares the closest similarity to Wiggins. However, Rose led Calipari and the Conference USA champs to the doorsteps of a national title. The NCAA treats Rose like a ghost hovering over the record books, but those of us who saw his explosiveness moving towards the rim with a basketball can’t erase his accomplishments from our consciousness as easily.

Carmelo Anthony – In college basketball’s modern age of freshman eligibility, Anthony’s freshman season is model by which all freshman seasons are measured. Inexplicably, he lost out on Player of the Year to TJ Ford despite finishing 16th national in scoring, breaking Derrick Coleman’s single-season record for rebounds and capped it off with a national championship.

The Brow – Soccer has Pele and Maradona. The NBA has Jordan. College hoops' freshman hierarchy has The Brow. Anthony Davis’ freshman campaign is model by which all freshman seasons are measured. A few years ago, he was a two-guard from Chicago. After a growth spurt, Davis developed into a windmill on the defensive end with guard skills on the perimeter and deadly low post moves under the basket. He even turned his Siamese brow into a trademark feature rather than taking a razor right down the middle as he does to most defenses. Once LeBron James shoots out on the other side of his prime, The Brow will probably challenge Durant as best player in the NBA. 

Wiggins’ freshman season unfortunately ended as an ugly hybrid of Abdur-Rahim and Michael Kidd Gilchrist’s. As the gravity of the games increased, Wiggins’ offensive output directly declined since his 40 pont output against Iowa State at the beginning of March—is what most sportswriters and scouts will passive aggressively wonder aloud.

This isn’t some hot sports take on Wiggins’ clutch gene as an 18-year-old. Rather an observational review of his performance down the stretch without Joel Embiid. Stanford was an especially difficult foe because their all-time leading shot-blocker wasn’t some club-footed towering paint guardian, Josh Huestis is a 6-7 fleet-footed forward who could shadow Wiggins on every square inch of the hardwood.

He was also a physically and more emotionally mature senior that set Stanford’s career blocked shots record. The other Wiggins ran into a buzzsaw in the post named Julius Randle. Randle and Andrew have been going at each other since their heralded Nike Peach Jam clash, which Andrew dominated during the summer of 2012. Nick Wiggins outscored Andrew, but Randle handed the other Wiggins an L in retribution. Randle used his rebouding superpower to dominate the glass and generate second chance points for the Kentucky offense.

However, Saturday isn’t a microcosm of their respective professional potential. Randle’s ceiling and wingspan are lower than Andrew Wiggins’. However, his specified skillset was more useful in a matchup against the nation’s best defensive rebounding team.

Randle’s one-and-done trajectory appears like it will more closely resemble Kevin Love’s. Randle’s 15.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 21 double doubles mirrors the 17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 23 double doubles Love rattled off. What Randle lacks in measurables, he makes up for in sheer intensity and confidence.

Not only do Randle and Love share identical skillsets under the basket as burly garbage collectors with a little perimeter scoring ability, but the complementary talent surrounding them is similar. The potential is also there for Randle’s blue blood program to do a little damage and reach a Final Four. Especially if Randle keeps snagging ricochets like a catcher reeling in wild pitches.

 If there’s one takeaway from Wiggins’ freshman season, it’s that whomever drafts in the top-three won’t be drafting an immediate franchise savior. Wiggins is going to take some time.

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