“Andrew Wiggins won’t be ready for at least three years.”
That quote could be attributed to any number of basketball analysts and self-proclaimed Twitter experts.
LeBron James Cleveland’s front office has reportedly made Wiggins available in a potential trade for Minnesota Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love, the discussion has centered on the 19-year-old’s potential and learning curve.
The three-year number has some credence. Rajon Rondo won a championship in his second season, but hit the highest win share total (9.9) of his career in year three. Dwyane Wade won the NBA Finals MVP in his third season. Derrick Rose took the regular season MVP award. However, all three of those players were valuable contributors to playoff teams by their second seasons.
Of course, Rose is the only one who entered the league after his freshman season. Wade played three seasons at Marquette and spent one more year there as a redshirt freshman, and Rondo played two seasons at Kentucky.
So let’s look at how other freshmen and prep stars who were picked in the top 3 from the last 10 drafts (2003-2012) fared in their first two seasons. We’re omitting last year’s draft, as that sample size is too small.
Here’s the list: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, Enes Kanter*, John Wall, Derrick Favors, Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Marvin Williams, Darko Milicic*, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
*Kanter and Milicic played overseas, but entered the draft as teenagers.
Using those players, here’s what they brought to the court, both in terms of PER and win shares:
A few things jump out besides Milicic’s impressive negative win share number. For certain franchise players, the numbers fall in line with the eye test. Davis, James, Irving, Anthony and Howard all contributed immediately and, while they still improved considerably, the star potential was apparent. Other future stars like Wall and Durant were less impressive statistically, but the raw flashes were enough to win the rookie of the year award and, coupled with the context of their collegiate brilliance, was indication that they would eventually become all-stars. Meanwhile, there were early warning signs that guys like Beasley, Williams and Kidd-Gilchrist had holes in their games and, in hindsight, their rookie numbers were fairly close to their career averages.
It’s a mistake to assume that we won’t be able to gain anything meaningful from Wiggins’s rookie season. He won’t have the responsibility of being the primary or even the secondary option on offense. He already has one elite skill to offer — perimeter defense — which could immediately lighten James’s defensive burden. Now let’s look at year two.
First, a moment of silence for Greg Oden’s potential. James, Durant, Howard and Davis made huge leaps in their sophomore seasons, and although Anthony and Rose didn’t break out until year three, they were already the best players on their teams. On the other hand, Williams, Mayo and Beasley all posted nearly identical numbers to their rookie seasons. Kanter and Favors also failed to improve and at this point in their careers, don’t appear to be more than solid starters. Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal, Irving also averaged similar numbers to their rookie seasons, but it’s still too soon to conclusively say where they’ll finish.
Last season, Love posted the best win share (14.3) and PER (26.9) numbers of his career. There’s no question Love would make the Cavaliers a better team next season, but the argument of trading Wiggins only makes sense if you think the Warriors will make a 180-degree turnaround and suddenly put Klay Thompson back on the table. For some reason, that doesn’t appear likely, even if they should.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is still maintaining that he wants Love to stay put. The Cavaliers can trump just about any offer with their assets, so with that in mind, why not wait until the trade deadline to see what the uber-athletic Wiggins can offer? Then again, with GM LeBron running the show, that might not be an option.
For the Timberwolves, there is no rush. They should use the first half of the season to form their own conclusions about Wiggins and hope they get off to a strong start like Portland last season. Meanwhile, if the Cavaliers face any early season adversity, it would only increase Minnesota’s leverage.