Hello, NBA fans and pundits. Glad to have you around for the NCAA tournament and hope you are enjoying it. The entirety of the college basketball season is pretty great–there are thrilling finishes and breathtaking performances just about daily. But, if you are only going to see the game for one time of the year, this is the right time to do so.
There is nothing wrong with waiting until March to check out the college game if you are not a die-hard. However, now may not be the time to roll out the Tom Smykowski Jump to Conclusions Mat for the purpose of assessing a player’s future.
For the NBA-inclined, you have probably heard a lot about Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, perhaps even predating his arrival to Lawrence. Wiggins is arguably the most anticipated NBA prospect since LeBron James, and with good reason. He has the frame of a forward and the skill set of a guard and seemingly limitless potential.
His freshman season did nothing to dispel the idea that Wiggins will be a superstar at the next level, but he had the misfortunate of playing his worst game on the biggest stage.
Wiggins struggled in Kansas’ 60-57 loss to 10th-seeded Stanford. That’s an indisputable fact. He scored just four points, but more striking than his lack of offense was a complete absence of any kind. He was a non-factor in all phases, finishing with as many turnovers (4) as rebounds.
No shortage of self-appointed experts who missed Wiggins’ near-singlehanded comeback at West Virginia earlier this month, or his complete domination of Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament, or even his worth-the-wait debut will question his pro credentials. Don’t buy it.
The success of high school-to-NBA stars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and James, or one-and-dones Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant might make it easy to lose perspective that these are anomalies.
Fellow top-tier freshman and NBA prospect Jabari Parker suffered through his own forgettable performance in Duke’s Round of 64 exit against Mercer.
“We got that 65‑60 lead and they showed their…maturity during that time,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in his postgame press conference, per ASAP Sports.
Parker added to his coach’s sentiment, telling reporters he graded his Duke tenure “incomplete” thus far, via The New York Times.
Following Kansas’ loss, Charles Barkley provided some kindling for the forthcoming #HotTakes when he questioned Wiggins’ and Parker’s readiness to make the leap (h/t to The Big Lead for the below video):
Barkley might be right–Wiggins and Parker might benefit from another year of experience. Even some of the former high schoolers and one-and-doners who developed into the NBA’s elite required a few years of seasoning before becoming impact players. James was an anomaly of anomalies with his immediate success, and perhaps for that reason Wiggins is destined to be held to that highest of standards.
But benefiting from more experience is not synonymous with being a bust waiting to happen, and there are surely some ready to use this tournament as evidence that Wiggins and Parker will be the latter.
More than an indictment on Wiggins or Parker’s own futures–both of which are remarkably bright–their unceremonious early exits should temper the ever-growing hype that welcomes top-tier recruits each college basketball season.
So much for the Year of the Freshmen.
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 23, 2014
So about those Elite Freshman we’ve been talking about all year…
— r/CollegeBasketball(@reddit_cbb) March 23, 2014
The hype and thus expectations on freshmen have swelled to absurd proportions. Along with James, Wiggins drew comparisons to past Kansas greats Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning, as depicted in his Sports Illustrated cover.
The freshman hype not without some logic: Durant, Rose and Michael Beasley all took college basketball by storm in their one-year layovers. However, only Rose escaped the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Beasley and Durant were bounced in consecutive seasons by USC, a program not exactly synonymous with March success.
Now, there certainly are freshman phenoms who led their teams to tournament success. Rose came a few missed free throws and a Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer away from winning the national championship in 2008. Anthony Davis powered Kentucky to the 2012 title. But their success isn’t the rule for standout freshmen, more the exception.
The tide indeed shifted to upperclassmen in 2014, and this tournament is a microcosm of this. Compare Wiggins’ disappointing performance with the game that directly preceded it, Connecticut’s ouster of No. 2-seed Villanova. Huskies guard Shabazz Napier took over in the second half, putting on arguably the best individual of the tournament with 25 points, five rebounds, two steals and three assists.
In no way is Napier’s performance a barometer for his pro future, any more so than Wiggins’ is of his.
The best is still to come for Andrew Wiggins, so rest assured you NBA’ers just getting acquainted with him: Sunday’s effort is not a reflection of the season leading up to it, nor is it foreshadowing of what’s to come.