Ready or not, Wiggins heading to NBA

Andrew Wiggins (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Whether he wants to or not, it’s time for Andrew Wiggins to get a job.

Like a lot of 19-year-olds, he may not be ready to join the workforce. He could certainly benefit from time developing his skills, may relish the chance to expand his horizons socially, and deep down may wish that adult life wasn’t rushing at him full speed.

His choice is this: Another year of the best times of his life, or multi-generational wealth.

He certainly sounded like he was resigned to the latter a few weeks ago when they were honouring his graduating senior teammates at the University of Kansas, before their quick and disappointing exit from the NCAA tournament.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet. That’s how quick everything went by,” Wiggins said. “I wish I had more time to stay here and do my thing, just be here with the team and the coaches and all these wonderful fans.”

In the wake of what will very likely be his final college game, Wiggins wasn’t fielding any questions about his future; he was too disconsolate about his woeful showing in No.2 seed KU’s 60-57 loss to No. 10 Stanford.

Veteran-laden Stanford – featuring Toronto-area junior Stefan Nastic and senior Dwight Powell — played zone primarily and made sure they crowded the gifted freshman from Thornhill, Ont. at every turn as Wiggins showed his inexperience when he simply couldn’t solve the puzzle.

He needed help – Kansas was lacking at point guard and didn’t have enough perimeter shooting – but as the headliner, Wiggins’ shortcomings were magnified.

He finished with four points, four rebounds and four turnovers on 1-of-6 shooting. It was a nightmare in the early afternoon and fuel for critics who doubt he has the will or the drive to achieve the superstar status expected of a potential No. 1 draft pick. No one knows better than him that that’s not how an elite player performs in a must-win situation

“My team played good. I think everyone on my team played good except me,” Wiggins told reporters after the game in St. Louis. “I missed an easy lay-up. I kept fumbling the ball. That’s not what a good player really (does), so I think I really messed up today.”

“It hurts. I let a lot of people down.”

You get the sense that if Wiggins had his druthers he’d get a do-over – come back a year from now and take the tournament by storm.

Should he? The only financial argument for it is that a star turn as a sophomore and a long run through the tournament as a dominant player would certainly help his marketing potential – as NBA player agent Bernie Lee said via Twitter.

Wiggins draft stock won’t be affected by one dud game, but his value to shoe companies likely took a hit compared to what he might have gained as the face of the Final Four.

But the math is simple: The No. 1 pick in the NBA draft is guaranteed a three-year contract likely worth $17.3-million. The other elite freshman from Toronto, Tyler Ennis of Syracuse – eliminated Saturday — will face a similar decision as he is being touted as a top-10 pick even if he could gain from a year to improve his perimeter shooting and add strength.

But failing to take that money now has repercussions – the risk of injury; the possibility that the same league executives who gush over your potential now begin nit-picking for flaws next year. More subtly, getting in the league sooner means big money free agency comes a year earlier. Getting in the league after one year gets the clock ticking towards wealth.

But it means growing up fast.

“In college you’re developing with the entire team,” says Steve Novak, the Toronto Raptors forward who played four years at Marquette. “You’re doing conditioning with the team, you’re lifting with the team, doing on the court stuff as a team. The NBA is a moving train. On to the next game, on to the next game.

“In the NBA, if you don’t want to work they’ll just find someone else to pay their money to. I’ve been on six teams in the NBA; some were really good about developing guys, some blew it off. [But] If someone is going to give you $20-million, maybe all this development talk is baloney. Go get your $20-million.”

Wiggins had a superb freshman season, is athletically second-to-none, and there is an argument to be made that the higher-paced NBA game will allow his talents to shine even brighter. But his ball-handling needs improving, he needs to get stronger so he can take more direct lines to the basket when he drives and finish through the contact when he gets there. He could benefit from another year to feel comfortable using his superior talent to assert himself, something he struggled with in college and won’t get easier in the NBA.

A game like he had Sunday in the national spotlight along with a poor showing by fellow super frosh Jabari Parker and the overall rawness of teammate Joel Embiid – Wiggins’ main rivals for the top spot in the draft – emboldens those who feel the NBA should require players to stay in college at least two years.

It’s one of the items on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s agenda and something big voices like TNT commentator Charles Barkley loudly support.

“I’ve hated one-and-dones for a long time,” Barkley said on ESPN radio recently. “I hate it because the basketball sucks … teams don’t have time to babysit players.”

If Wiggins was being honest he might choose to stay in school. By all accounts he truly enjoyed his experience at Kansas. But the reality is that one year of college was simply a prelude to the real thing.

Ready or not, here he comes.

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