Of Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and the weird relationship between athleticism and camera angles
If you follow draft prospects, you know Andrew Wiggins. Despite not being eligible until the 2014 draft, he’s a bigger prospect than anyone in the 2013 draft. This is because not only is he ranked #1 in 2014, but has some extra sauce with that. He’s getting “best prospect since Lebron???” next superduperstar treatment by the media. Chad Ford of ESPN.com has repeatedly mentioned “Tracy McGrady with a motor” as his prediction for him. The basis for this hype is his physical tools. Wiggins actually has a raw skill game, with an inconsistent outside shot and shaky ball-handling. The book on him is that his physical tools are so great that it gives him unlimited upside if his skill game catches up.
Now, assessment of the athleticism of high school players is hit and miss. One reason Marvin Williams went 2nd overall over Chris Paul and Deron Williams in 2005, is that he had a Wiggins-like profile in high school as an all-time great wing athlete. Of course, we know now he’s an average athlete in the NBA. Likewise O.J. Mayo and Harrison Barnes were thought to have much more impressive athletic profiles beside their skill games and Demar Derozan was thought to be a freakish athletic specimen, only to turn out average. The best recent example may be Shabazz Muhammad, who has been an extremely underwhelming athlete during his NCAA career. Shabazz is relevant because it tipped me over an edge in regards to judging high school athletes by the footage available of them at the time. Here is a video I made before the NCAA started trying to evaluate Shabazz and admittedly, almost everything I said in it turned out inaccurate
Here are some other videos of Shabazz in high school
Watching videos like this would give no reason to doubt Shabazz’s athleticism or to call him anything less than good to great in the area. He’s blowing by defenders and playing above the rim. However this is how Shabazz has looked at UCLA:
The difference is quite striking. Perhaps it’s the competition he’s playing with, but my guess is it’s simply the camera angle that makes Shabazz look like he’s covering much less ground. The frame of reference is different. We are used to judging athletes so much based on the NCAA and NBA courts, that if the angle changes, they may be moving at a speed that looks elite based on what our eyes are used to into the NBA – but without the common denominator of the same court size and angles, it may be an optical illusion. What I now realize is that the best indicator for Shabazz’s athleticism was the Nike Hoop Summit, a game played on NBA style cameras between the top prospects.
In this game he looks identical to his UCLA version. Skilled and crafty, but with weak blow-by ability and mostly an under the rim player. After this, I’m not going to trust any more clips of high school players unless they have the frame of reference of NCAA/NBA style cameras. No more clips of players with the camera near the floor, no more highlight videos.
What does this have to do with Andrew Wiggins’ athleticism? Everything. Here are some clips where Wiggins looks like an unstoppable combination of speed and size attacking the basket and exploding above the rim
If one only saw these they would have little reason to doubt the massive Lebron, McGrady-like hype around Wiggins’ athleticism. But for the reasons I listed, the NBA style cameras during the Nike Hoop Summit may be the more reliable indicator
Wiggins’ athleticism looks shockingly underwhelming in that clip. His first step certainly does not wow, which in combination with shaky ball-handling, makes him look hardly unstoppable slashing to the basket. He has to pull up on many drives instead of taking it all the way to the basket. Even when it comes to vertical explosiveness around the rim, his supposed strength, he underwhelms. At 3:23 he awkwardly lays in a basket instead of having the power to finish the dunk. From 4:55 to 5:17 he misses multiple finishes inside in traffic. At 6:07, he misses a dunk at the rim due to a lack of power going up strong. If one saw this clip without the other, alternate angle ones or highlight videos, they likely in no way would compare Wiggins to Lebron and McGrady athletically. Wiggins looks like a great, smooth athlete, but not a freakishly explosive one. I have watched the above video many times and simply cannot see the type of athlete that should be garnering Lebron comparisons.
Now since seeing the above clip, I have tried to watch Wiggins whenever his games are shown on ESPN, which they have been regularly this season. While not as perfect a match for the NBA style cameras that the Nike Hoop Summit is, they’re filmed in a way that’s fairly reliable. Once again his explosiveness did not stand out to me, as a wing relying on his size, power, skill and feel, but not freakish speed or blow-by ability.
Does Wiggins have a chance to be an excellent wing player in the NBA? Yes. His feel for the game is elite if not transcendent. He has the shooting form to develop strongly in that area and is a natural in the post. He’s at worst, a very good athlete for a wing player. But I’m convinced his athleticism is badly overrated, possibly as much as Marvin Williams’ was.