Wiggins to Kansas creates many questions — for him, the Jayhawks and college hoops
The Andrew Wiggins Decision Drama ended Tuesday, when the mega-prospect selected Kansas over Kentucky, North Carolina and his parents’ alma mater, Florida State. But now that Wiggins has decided to spend his one pre-NBA season in Lawrence, it creates a number of other questions that will have a significant impact on the 2013-14 college basketball season.
1. What does this do for Kansas’ personnel?
The Jayhawks will be replacing all five starters from last season’s Sweet 16 team, so landing a player who is a near-lock to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in 2014 (or whenever he decides to declare, if he somehow wants to stay more than one season in college) is an enormous boon. But the Jayhawks were bringing back (and in) more talent than a lot of people were acknowledging prior to this announcement. As a result, the addition of Wiggins not only gives the Jayhawks a bona fide star, but also makes all of the quality pieces around him that much more formidable. Complementary players can now focus more on what they do very well without the pressure of having to do more than that.
Sophomore forward Perry Ellis came along well down the stretch of last season. He was an excellent rebounder (by percentage) at both ends of the floor, actually grading out as a better overall glass man than 7-footer Jeff Withey. He also got to the free throw line a ton for a freshman big, and made 74 percent of his attempts from there. He was productive carrying a solid usage rate when he was on the floor, and with Wiggins and others arriving, he doesn’t have to be a primary scorer for this team, which should make him a really good piece in the equation for this season.
The other crucial returnee is junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, a quicksilver pass-first specialist who now should have an array of options to look for, both in half court and in transition. Tharpe’s shooting struggles were well documented last season, but with the firepower elsewhere on the court and the way KU likely will play more this season (see below), Tharpe will probably improve offensively. He’ll have more open 3s and be able to finish more on the break, as needed. Imagine Kendall Marshall’s role at North Carolina as a desirable outcome.
Kansas is also bringing in numerous other elite freshmen, starting with Joel Embiid, a rapidly developing 6-foot-11 big man from Cameroon, a product of the “Basketball Without Borders” project in Africa. He lacks significant high-end game experience, but his raw rebounding and shotblocking ability combined with very nice extended range with his shot make him scream potential. Wing Wayne Selden is another top-20 recruit, a strong-bodied player who should thrive in transition as the rest of his game continues to develop. Add point guard Connor Frankamp and 2-guard Brannen Greene, both of whom also are arguably top-50 national recruits, and this newcomer class is loaded.
Add in sophomore Jamari Traylor and redshirt freshman Landen Lucas, and Bill Self will have a lot of options to sift through as he designs his approach and rotation. And that doesn’t even count Memphis transfer Tarik Black, who is also considering the Jayhawks and would provide additional shotblocking.
2. What will this do to Kansas’ style of play for this season?
There will be a number of questions to answer, but defensive excellence is an annual thing at Kansas. Per KenPom.com, the Jayhawks have ranked in the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency in each of the last eight seasons, and have been in the top four in defensive 2-point FG% in seven of those eight years. So while it’s easy to look at Jeff Withey’s departure and assume losing his shotblocking prowess will hurt (and it does), Bill Self has established this as his footprint. With the various pieces at his disposal, this season shouldn’t be any different, at least once the team matures and gels over the course of nonconference play.
The offensive side of the ball has been where the Jayhawks have been more variable, with the last two seasons being relatively less potent (and moderately slower in tempo) than the two before that, where Self had the Morris twins, Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and other efficient offensive talents to use. Eyeballing both the inexperience and style of players Self will have at his disposal, you’d have to believe this team is going to run more and be very, very potent in transition. In the halfcourt, there likely will be a heavier move into earlier high and off-ball screening to create space for a team that may be better going to the rim than it may be shooting from the perimeter, at least when they’re challenged. This roster also should be better on the offensive glass than the last two seasons, getting closer to where KU historically has been under Self.
3. What does this do to the college landscape now?
Well, Oklahoma State has a problem, and the games between the Jayhawks and Cowboys are now absolute must-see TV. At the very least, with Self’s track record and Wiggins in the fold, Kansas now has to be considered the favorite to keep its league title run going. In the bigger picture, the Jayhawks are now a legit threat to make the Final Four, joining Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina, Arizona and others in what is an increasingly competitive and compelling list. If these teams come anywhere close to living up to expectation next season, it’s going to be incredible, and that’s without mentioning any surprise teams of the sort that make college hoops so much fun.
It also makes the Jayhawks’ incredibly loaded nonconference schedule that much more compelling to follow. Kansas plays Duke in Chicago in the Champions Classic, so now we get to see Wiggins and Jabari Parker square off (as well as Kentucky’s wunderkinds against loaded Michigan State — what a doubleheader!) right out of the chute. The Battle 4 Atlantis now has a cornerstone team. Games against New Mexico (in Kansas City), Georgetown and San Diego State, along with trips to Colorado and Florida all grow in overall watchability and competitiveness.
Wiggins would have made North Carolina a strong national title contender and watching a Kentucky Experiment with Wiggins rounding out the greatest recruiting class in history would have been fascinating, but Wiggins going to Kansas creates more intrigue and overall options for next season.
4. Why did Wiggins choose Kansas?
Maybe the reasons will come out now that the decision has been made, but all the schools involved (and everyone else) were really in the dark heading into today. I had tweeted earlier in the week that, given everything we believe we know about Wiggins as a player and a person, that I would have picked Kansas for him.
The Jayhawks have a ton going for them — blueblood program, an elite coach, a track record of good NBA draft placement, a great fanbase, a great national schedule with huge TV exposure — but they offer all of that without the accompanying level of craziness of Kentucky and the possible pressure/potential clash of egos/crazy competitive league of North Carolina. Plus, there’s the talent on tap and his brother, Nick, is relatively close by at Wichita State, and Wiggins’ family focus has been a large part of this process. For a young man who, through his actions and the descriptions of those who know them, doesn’t seem to actively seek out the most attention or biggest spotlight, the decision to come to Lawrence made a ton of sense.
You can argue from a purely financial/connections/global brand standpoint that going to Kentucky and tapping into the Calipari Machine would have made the most sense. But Wiggins’ approach has been more nuanced than that from the outset, and when you’re probably worth $100 million in contract and endorsements the minute you step off the college court, you probably can mix in comfort level as part of the decision process. You can also argue that by picking KU over the other bluebloods, he’s shining the biggest spotlight on himself since Kentucky and North Carolina were perceived as having more equivalent talent, but as addressed above, I think this is the perfect mix of “No. 1 option” and “fits well in a bigger picture with good talent.”
5. Where does Wiggins go from here?
In an immediate sense, the pressure to make this decision is finally gone. The lone media member at the announcement, local reporter Grant Traylor, tweeted afterward that this was the happiest he had seen Wiggins in six months. College is a huge life decision, let alone when you are a basketball prodigy and when your parents and best friend seem to have wanted you to go elsewhere than where you ultimately felt was right for you.
In the same vein, now the pressure of expectations will start to build. In articles like this and elsewhere for the remainder of the spring and summer, we can speculate as to Wiggins’ impact on the college game, Kansas’ status as a contender, how Bill Self will bring all of this together, etc. Then, once official practices start and then the games come, the expectations on “the best prospect since LeBron” will be enormous. Wiggins’ game, which like any prep player’s isn’t fully developed, will be picked apart by media, fans and scouts. He’ll be on national TV a ton. There will be comparisons to other elite freshmen and how they’re playing, and to the teams he snubbed and whether he should have gone there instead. He’ll have to deal with team expectations created by his own presence. There’s going to be a lot on his plate as he navigates his way through a high-level college season and, lest we forget, a college environment for the first time.
From a fan’s standpoint, though? We couldn’t ask for anything more. This freshman class is absolutely loaded and we may be seeing a once-in-a-decade prospect in his formative years. Much like we knew with LeBron and with Durant and with Greg Oden (pre-injuries), we know with Wiggins. We don’t know exactly what we’ll see from him next season, but we do know it’s just the start of what should be a sensational basketball career. He’s that kind of prospect, and it’s that kind of celebratory day for Kansas.