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Basketball philosophy

Andrew Wiggins is not a perfect defensive prospect

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Last night the Cleveland Cavaliers took Andrew Wiggins 1st overall. It was not a surprise after the news of Joel Embiid’s health broke.

Opinions are split on Wiggins offense at the next level, but everyone seems to agree he’s a guaranteed defensive stud. Some are calling for a defensive player of the year caliber wing. The logic seems to be he’s such an elite athlete that his man to man defense and lateral mobility will make him a one of a kind force on that end.

It’s true that Wiggins lateral mobility is exceptional for a 6’8+ SF. But lateral mobility is not the only piece that goes into defense. Consider

Length/Strength: Most agree that length and strength are important parts of defensive upside at any position. For example Kawhi Leonard not only moves better than most small forwards on defense, but has the strength and length of a power forward, which is an advantage. At the hoop summit in 2013 Wiggins measured with a 7’0 wingspan and 197 pounds. That gives him average or slightly above average length for a small forward and the weight of a shooting guard. Strength has arguably been overlooked for perimeter defenders in recent years. There are still matchups were wings to defend against post-ups, it helps wings fight through screens and it helps on the defensive glass. It also gives them versatility by allowing them to defend PFs if they need to. Wiggins strength and decent but not great length, does not prevent him from being an elite defensive prospect, but it’s leaving something on the table.

Instincts/anticipation: Being a great defender has a mental aspect by reading the floor, anticipating plays in the passing lanes, being in the “right place at the right time” defensively on rotations. I rated Wiggins feel for the game as average before the draft based on a less than fluid game and this could hurt him defensively.

Motor/toughness: Finally, a player’s intensity level and competitiveness makes a difference in defensive play. Some are concerned about intensity and motor on the floor for Wiggins. Although he should have as much energy to burn as anyone on the floor, it didn’t always show in college or high school.

Results so far: Dean on Draft wrote a good article breaking down Wiggins’ good but not great defensive season, to go along with his average steal and block rate. I’m much more on the side of talent than NCAA production for evaluating prospects, but when judging a player as a future defender, it doesn’t hurt if he dominated on that end in college. When Anthony Davis came out one of the reasons he was such a defensive lock was not only were his tools exceptional on that end, but he also paired it with destroying the NCAA defensively in his season there. The combination made him a near lock on that end.

Outside of lateral mobility, the rest of Wiggins defensive “tools” are imperfect. There are other defensive wing prospects who are longer, stronger, show better instincts defensively or play harder defensively.

It doesn’t mean he can’t be a good or even great defender. But it means he isn’t just a lock to be a Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or Andre Iguodala caliber defender, who have not only great athleticism/lateral mobility, but are also very complete and strong in many of the above areas.

Some may retort to this by saying “It doesn’t matter if Wiggins is lacking in some of those areas in comparison, because his lateral mobility is just so much better than theirs and anyone else’s”. This is something it’s hard to prove without resorting to the visual eye test, but I don’t agree. Wiggins has great lateral mobility, but I do not see “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life” lateral mobility for his position. I see a wing who moves somewhere between a shooting guard and a point guard on the defensive end, which for a small forward is very good. If he plays shooting guard this lateral speed will be less exceptional, but he’ll get extra length at his position in return for it.

Again, Wiggins is a good defensive wing prospect. He’s not such a good defensive wing prospect that I would spend a top 5 pick on him for it.

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Written by jr.

June 27, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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