Every couple of years or so, an NBA draft class will generate a lot of hype. Think of 2003, with LeBron James leading the hype, but Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh generated enormous attention as well. Since 03, there has been plenty of talent coming out of high school/college, but no player has really generated a level akin to LeBron. The closest did not come until 2014 when a prodigy out of Canada was touted to have the potential to become the the next LeBron James. To make the excitement and comparison even stronger, he was drafted in a similar fashion, going number one to Cleveland. Andrew Wiggins faced immense pressure early on to back those comparisons up. Although he was traded to Minnesota during pre-season, the expectations stayed with him. But Before we delve into the trajectory of Wiggins’ career, check out the young players high school mixtape and see for yourself.
As Mark Jackson would say: “Mama, there goes that man…”
When a player is drafted number one like Wiggins, there are high expectations for him to put the team on his back and lead them to championship level basketball. This is especially the case when you’re expected to be the next LeBron James; there is little room for error. Thus, it would be understandable for Wiggins to feel affected by that level of pressure. Wiggins discusses this on Andrew Iguodala’s podcast Point Forward, sharing how the expectations affected him.
“There was definitely pressure, especially being from Canada, just knowing the whole city is watching," Wiggins said. "The whole country is watching. The whole country wants you to do good. They’re calling you the next LeBron, stuff like that. Ain’t nobody gonna be the next LeBron. That’s one of one."
Wiggins makes a great point about LeBron being “one of one” LeBron is a generational talent, the same way Kareem, Magic, Bird, and Jordan were. Those players are in their own category of greatness, for good reason. However, this doesn’t mean that a player like Wiggins can’t play at an all-star level. In a very subtle way, Wiggins is displaying a keen sense of self-awareness in knowing that there’s only one LeBron. Trying to surpass his greatness is not necessary to be a successful and effective player in the league. You can want to be like LeBron, but you won’t ever “be” him. Just ask Mike. Although this mentality isn’t necessarily the expectation for a #1 pick, Wiggins would demonstrate that he’s always had the talent to be an all-star, he just needed the right fit. He can play to his strengths and be an effective member of a championship team, which he has been able to accomplish in Golden State.
Players are given a lot of criticism when they leave the team and the city that drafted them for a more favorable opportunity. When LeBron left Cleveland for Miami in 2010, fans, understandably, were quick to take their LeBron jerseys to the streets and burn them (if only they would’ve known he’d be back 4 years later…). When Kevin Durant left Oklahoma for Golden State, a similar feeling of fury ensued Thunder fans. However, the difference between players like LeBron or KD leaving their teams versus a player like Wiggins doing so is that Bron and KD proved that they had the ability to win a title with their respective teams: they both made the finals once before they each left to play elsewhere. With Wiggins, he didn’t request a move but rather the team was looking to deal him. The Timberwolves were a better team with Wiggins, but with the head coach position always in flux, as well as a lack of a solid supporting cast (2018 being the exception), the ability to legitimately contend never sufficed. As evidenced by last season's championship and his first all-star appearance, the trade to Golden State was the best move of Wiggins career. Not only that, it proved to be beneficial for Minnesota as well; the Wolves reached the playoffs for the first time in four years. It’s unlikely that the team who deals a star player will end up doing better without them, but this move seemed to defy those odds. Who knows, Golden State could very well play Minnesota in next years playoffs. Would that series end in a Warriors sweep? Probably, but it’d still be fun to see.
In sports, athletes don’t always get off to a hot start. Adjustments periods vary from person to person: the time it takes a player to get situated in a single game or their career isn’t always an accurate indicator of the level of talent they possess. Stress is contextual and change, growth and development take time. Players like MJ or LeBron dominated the minute they stepped out on the floor. But for most other players, like Andrew Wiggins, the talent has always been there to dominate, it just took time to cultivate. Not only that, but an accurate assessment of his strengths and weaknesses helped Wiggins adapt rather than spiral after a disappointing start to his career. While Wiggins wasn’t able to carry Minnesota like MJ carried the Bulls or LeBron the Cavs, he found his niche in being a solid two-way player for the Warriors. As a result, he is now an NBA champion. The stats indicate that he is playing some of the best basketball of his career, but here are some highlights from last year as extra proof this is the case.