What’s all the hype about? By now, even the casual NBA fan has caught wind of the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft, which has been heralded as the most talented draft class in a decade. The headliner of the class is Andrew Wiggins, who was relatively unknown before blowing up YouTube with his high school highlight mixtapes. The 6-foot-8 smooth and slender guard hails from Vaughn, Ontario, which is a northern outskirt of Toronto.
In the Great White North, however, Wiggins was a readily known commodity in a sports crowd that lives hockey 24/7. Seriously. Think of how football is covered in America, and that’s how hockey is covered in Canada. Both of the two major Canadian sporting networks, TSN (ESPN’s Canadian affiliate) and The Score, feature hockey as the lead story on a near daily and nightly basis on their respective equivalents to ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Yet, TSN picked up the rights to televise every University of Kansas basketball game this season, the school Andrew Wiggins committed to play his college ball at. Toronto’s NBA franchise has a willing and supportive fan base, but college basketball has been conceded as exclusively American by most Canadian hoop fans. What TSN did by airing Kansas’s games is unprecedented, and it’s solely because of Wiggins. Not to mention TSN’s advertising campaign of Wiggins, which is steadily aggressive.
Canada traditionally has had a countrywide affiliation with its professional athletes, whereas in America our athletes are more territorialized. Guys from Chicago or New York are representatives of their city, not necessarily the entire United States. That’s the difference between Wiggins and every other prospect in the 2014 draft. Wiggins carries the weight of a country whether he wants to or not.
The desire Canadians have to see Wiggins succeed outweighs the sky-high pressure they have also simultaneously placed upon him. His situation is similar to that of what Freddy Adu was to American soccer once upon a time. Fortunately, Wiggins embraces his nationality, publicly saying he would want to play for his hometown Raptors. But when you add expectations and talent like Wiggins possesses, you get hype. Substantial amounts of hype. LeBron James-like hype.
Since the Kansas season began, one thing has been clear: Andrew Wiggins is not LeBron James. The hype that was thrust upon him was a culmination of anonymity and mystique from two countries curiously awaiting to see what Andrew Wiggins could do on a basketball court. What two nations found out is that Andrew Wiggins is still a raw basketball player who is unselfish to a fault at times, and is inconsistently aggressive. And I’m inclined to agree with those assessments.
Even by Wiggins’ own admission, his transition to the college game has been more difficult than he expected. But, I’m of the belief that Wiggins’ game is currently better suited for the NBA. What Wiggins does best: score in transition, defend his position as a hybrid 2/3, and rebound are all skills he can perform at a higher level than any other player in the draft at his position. To me, Andrew Wiggins is the prototypical guard / forward combo that today’s NBA teams now place the highest premium on having. He’s in the mold of a Tracy McGrady.
Is he a great shooter and ball handler? No. If Wiggins becomes the elite level player he’s projected to become, those two skills will be invaluable in his ascension to stardom. But if you watch him play, he can score 20 points with ease purely off athleticism. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, and while he remains unpolished and is a project, I’d still consider him to be the #1 talent in this draft class. Canada longs for its own native superstar athlete in a predominately American sport, and I believe Andrew Wiggins to be just that someday.