On Monday night, the potential future paths of Andrew Wiggins met on the floor of Oracle Arena. Midway through his freshman season, Wiggins is parrying familiar questions.
Things haven’t gone according to plan for the kid known as Maple Jordan, but at least he hasn't vanished from the rotation like his fellow Canadian Anthony Bennett. The Canadian revolution is still on. It's just been delayed temporarily.
Wiggins doesn’t possess the immediate gratification of a microwave-ready superstar swingman like LeBron James. Instead, he’s that cookout we were promised at 1 but everyone’s stomach is still rumbling at 2. You know he’s gonna be good, but will he satiate an NBA franchise’s needs for a perennial All-NBA player on the wing? That remains to be seen if he was just out at the store picking up buns or if he can't feed everyone he invited.
His teammate Joel Embiid is the smell of beef from the neighbor’s grill wafting over the fence.
The amazing thing about Embiid isn't that he records blocks and is rebounding at a per-minute pace that matches Anthony Davis’ freshman season. It's that he's blotted out the shine Andrew Wiggins was receiving for much of the year.
After wearing special NIKE camouflage unis against Oklahoma State on Saturday, Wiggins hid in the background and scored a career-low three points while Embiid’s stock scratched the apex of his burgeoning career. Embiid was erasing shots in the paint and cleaning the windows like the lane was his own minority-owned neighborhood car wash.
It's been like watching the early seasons of Family Matters morph from a family show about the Winslows into a comedy about Steve Urkel. Embiid is doing it all for the Jayhawks. Wiggins has disappeared from the narrative like the Winslow's youngest daughter getting written out of existence.
Or maybe this is just how Wiggins wants it. There have been questions about his motor in the past. When we pull the lid back on the grill, Quinoa Wiggins may turn out to be more of a veggie burger than a superstar with a cannibalistic attitude.
Monday night was a flashpoint for the potential future paths Wiggins could walk down. There are a few of them. The ceiling is Paul George territory.
Wiggins and George share the same lengthy limbs, defensive intensity, athleticism and natural ability that earned them both Tracy McGrady comparisons. It was 14 months ago that Golden State became the nexus for the accelerated evolution of George.
On December 1, 2012 George quietly put up an 0-fer against the Warriors in Oakland. That doughnut fueled a hunger in George which propelled him to become the NBA superstar we know today. Until that point, George was still a so-so starter milling around in the starting lineup until Danny Granger finished from rehabbing a knee injury.
Since that night, George has surprised the league by feasting on opposing players.
On Monday night, George scored 23, matching his season average in a win over the Warriors. On December 1, 2012 he was averaging a career-high 10 points a game.
Now that we’ve covered George as Wiggins’ ceiling, it’s only appropriate to stretch the discussion into Wiggins’ floor. On the low end of Wiggins’ potential flow chart is Harrison Bryce Jordan Barnes. Sandwiched in the middle is Andre Iguodala.
Barnes enrolled at UNC as a five-star player that was destined to be remembered as Roy Williams’ best recruit much like Wiggins is for Bill Self.
In two seasons, Barnes failed to stand out. It’s farfetched to imagine him falling out of the top five like Barnes, but their freshman season averages were very similar to Wiggins' current numbers. Barnes' offensive averages of 15.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game compare favorably to Wiggins' 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds a night.
Barnes has fallen incredibly short of living up to his middle name, but his natural talent was never going to carry him into the Air Jordan stratosphere. However, after a breakout rookie season, Barnes was relegated to the bench following the Warriors acquisition of Andre Iguodala.
The thing about Iguodala is that while he possesses more natural ability and athleticism than Barnes, we’ve always known in the back of our heads that he held a sidekick’s mentality. He's a gatherer. When he scores seven or more points, the Warriors are 16-3. They're 5-7 when he doesn't, including Monday night. George is a hunter that stays on the attack.
The Warriors gave Iguodala $48 million to be a versatile perimeter defender, run the floor on the break and be a facilitating point forward on the offensive end. Iguodala and Barnes are a pivotal part of Golden State’s success, but they barely equal one George.
Wiggins is a Canadian stereotype. Down in the States, we call cats nice with it, when ball handlers break an unprepared defender’s ankles. Wiggins is just nice.
George can be a bit churlish on the court. There are degrees of Richard Sherman in his come-up and his playing style. Wiggins needs to infuse a little attitude into his game. He can be introverted off the court without being meek on the hardwood. We've seen hints of it. After Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel wrote an in-depth piece on Wiggins that alluded to his two-month stint at a shady North Carolina prep school/basketball diploma mill, Wiggins dropped 57 and shot 24-of-28 from the field. That's the mentality the great ones are stuck in. If they have to, they develop a persecution complex and use that motivation to fuel their drive for 82 regular season games a year instead of waiting until the playoffs or March Madness.
The Oklahoma State game was the gasoline for his inner-fire. Against Baylor on Monday, Wiggins went to work s scoring 17 points in Kansas' fourth straight win over a ranked foe.
We won’t know for years whether Wiggins is a hunter or a gatherer. However, as the NCAA Tournament nears, the heat is turning up on Wiggins to show scouts a glimpse of his true potential. Time to start cookin.