Film Study: Andrew Wiggins vs. Aaron Gordon and the power of hype

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We’ve all heard of blind resumes, right?

They pop up around NCAA tournament time and are a pretty effective way of evaluating who has had a better season while eliminating the bias that comes with the name associated with the teams involved.

We’re going to take a look at some blind stat-lines today:

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Player A is the leading scorer and third-leading rebounder on a power conference team that is the overwhelming favorite to win their league. Player B is the second-leading scorer and the leading rebounder for another power conference team that is the overwhelming favorite to win their league. Both teams are in line to earn themselves No. 1 seeds come Selection Sunday. Both players are noted for their ability on the defensive end of the floor, but neither of them are considered the best player on their team as of today.

Have you figured it out yet?

Player A is Andrew Wiggins.

Player B is Aaron Gordon.

Once you factor in that Gordon spends more time playing the four than Wiggins and Wiggins plays in a more uptempo offense than Gordon, I think I can safely say that the impact that Wiggins and Gordon have had on their team has been quite comparable.

In other words, these guys are both having really good years.

So why is Wiggins constantly critiqued, criticized for finding and embracing a role on his team, while Gordon is celebrated for it?

It’s simple, really: hype and expectations.

Gordon has met every expectation that was set forth for him, and frankly, he’s probably benefitted from the presence of Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and now Joel Embiid more than anyone. He wasn’t part of the Big Three entering the season. He didn’t play in the Champions Classic. He was the answer to every ‘Name Another Good Freshman’ question I got during the preseason, which is perfect for him. At this point in his career, Gordon is more of an athlete that plays basketball than a basketball player that’s athletic. His skill set will develop with time, but right now his ability allows him to play a role similar to that of Kawhi Leonard on the Spurs. Defend, rebound, hustle. He’s excelling.

With Wiggins, we heard all the scouts salivating over his potential and mention names like Kevin Durant and LeBron James and immediately expected him to be the dominant force in college basketball. I fell victim to it as well, but the issue — the one that we ignored while tossing around unfair comparisons throughout the preseason — was that Wiggins is so much more like Gordon than he is like Parker and Randle.

Parker and Randle are polished, skilled and physically mature offensive weapons that could have a major impact in the NBA right now. Wiggins? Well, he’s got a long way to go to get there, but there are times that he makes plays that just leave you scratching your head in bewilderment at what he just did. His athleticism is off the charts and there’s a fluidity to his movement that makes some of his most ridiculous plays look almost nonchalant. 

You don’t need to be an NBA scout to see his potential. All you need is two eyeballs. But after seeing Wiggins get dragged through the mud after back-to-back unimpressive performances over the long weekend, I was curious: Why can’t he consistently dominate at this level? 

So I went back and watched every second that Wiggins was on the floor of every Big 12 game he has played, and this is what I came away with:

source: Getty Images1. He can’t penetrate against a set defense: Wiggins is just unstoppable in transition. His strides are so long that when you let him get a full head of steam going towards the rim, you just don’t have a chance. His height and jumping ability allow him to finish over anyone. There was one play in the first half against Iowa State that Wiggins caught the ball at half court and needed just two dribbles to lay the ball in. It’s incredible. 

But in the half court, Wiggins really struggles beating his man off the dribble. In half court sets, he’s basically turned into a spot-up shooter, which is where 24.3% of his possessions are used. According to Synergy, 58.5% of Wiggins’ shots are jump-shots. By comparison, 21.9% of Aaron Gordon’s shots were jump shots. Last season, 66.5% of Ben McLemore’s shots were jumpers.

Part of this is that defenses are conscious of his ability, meaning helpside rotations get there a step quicker than when, say, Naadir Tharpe decides to try to put the ball on the floor. But it’s still alarming how uncommon it is to see someone as explosive as Wiggins square a defender up, beat him to the rim and score. There are three things at play here:

  • It doesn’t seem like Wiggins has all that powerful of a first step. The long strides that allow him to roast defenders in transition get choppy in the half court.
  • Wiggins is not a great ball-handler, and he seems to be aware of this. Everything time he penetrates it’s a straight-line drive at the rim, and he has an awkward habit of picking the ball up after one dribble. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t really have a feel for being able to drive-and-kick when help defenders show up. 
  • Wiggins lacks upper body strength, which brings me to my next point …

2. Wiggins needs to get in the weight room: One of the major criticisms I’ve read of Wiggins is that he’s soft. I don’t necessarily think that’s the right way to term it. He’s weak. His upper body is slender. He gets knocked off balance too often. When he gets a defender on his hip, he can’t get all the way by him. When he’s going to the rim, he can’t use his front shoulder to absorb contact; he just bounces off. 

This is part of the reason that he’s not finishing above the rim. For a guy as athletic as Wiggins is, we almost never see him on Sportscenter Top Ten. He hasn’t posterized anyone yet this season. He’s all about the floaters and the finger-rolls. His is a finesse game around the basket, not a power game.

3. He’s a streaky jump-shooter: Wiggins has a pretty nice release. When he sees one jumper go down, he can reel off three or four in a row. But when they aren’t going in, he’s got a tendency of to throw up some bricks. When he’s on balance and he’s got his legs underneath, Wiggins isn’t a bad rhythm shooter. He just seems to rush some of the looks that he gets.

4. He coasts: It’s not just offensively, either. Wiggins is an excellent rebounder. He’s got the length and the athleticism, and he seems to have a feel for where a rebound is going to come off, but he’s not always crashing the glass. He’s got the tools to be a terrific defender — in fact, I was pleasantly surprised at just how effective he has been chasing people around screens — but he can also be slow on a close-out or get beat off the dribble. The reason that he was benched in the second half against Oklahoma State wasn’t simply because he was struggling offensively, it was because Markel Brown was lighting him up on the other end of the floor.

5. Confidence: This is my biggest takeaway. I just don’t think that Wiggins believes that he’s as good as he is. I think that he’s cognizant of what his limitations are as a basketball player, and more than anything, this is what prevents him from taking over games. He’s not aggressive in the biggest moments of the biggest games. 

Wiggins isn’t the superstar that we all expected him to be this season. He’s got a long way to go to fulfill the expectations he had coming out of high school, and he’s got plenty of time to get there. 

None of that changes the fact that he’s been a very good player for Kansas this season.

So while we can lament that the ‘Next Big Thing’ won’t live up to his potential as a collegian, we should at least recognize that fact.

NABC sends out talking points ahead of Rice Commission announcement

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Wednesday morning the NCAA will announced the recommendations of the Rice Commission, which is headed by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The commission was formed in the aftermath of the FBI’s September arrest of ten individuals in connection with an investigation into corruption and bribes in college basketball recruiting back, with the stated goal being to introduce reforms that would “clean up” the sport.

In preparation for Wednesday’s announcement the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) sent out an email to its members in which it provided “talking points” while also encouraging coaches to support the Rice Commission’s findings — whether they agree with them or not.

“In short, it is imperative that the Commission’s recommendations be met with unequivocal support from each of us. The NABC Board of Directors affirmed the necessity of this unified response on a conference call earlier today,” the statement sent out by the NABC read.

The key talking points are:

  • Change was necessary, and we knew change was coming. As coaches on the front lines, we are uniquely positioned to offer valuable insight as the Commission’s recommendations progress through the legislative process;
  • As coaches, we are committed to working with the NCAA in evaluating the recommendations and will provide appropriate input as legislation is drafted;
  • We are appreciative of the Commission’s efforts to address necessary change, and for welcoming the input of the NABC.

The Rice Commission’s recommendations are highly anticipated in college basketball circles, and it remains to be seen just how quickly the NCAA would go about implementing them. One topic that’s bound to be discussed is the “one and done” player, but it once again must be noted that this is something controlled by the NBA and its Players Association (via the collective bargaining agreement). There’s also the connection with shoe companies, which became an even bigger point of conversation in the aftermath of the FBI arrest.

Hearing what coaches have to say about the Rice Commission’s findings would have been interesting. But with the NABC looking to present a unified front, there may not be much to take from what the coaches say in the aftermath of Wednesday’s announcement.

Kansas made no written report of its athletics review

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas did not produce any written reports of an independent examination of its athletics department amid a federal investigation of corruption in college basketball because an external report wasn’t necessary, Chancellor Douglas Girod said.

The university review came before Kansas was named earlier this month as one of the schools where a former Adidas representative allegedly arranged payments to parents of athletes to ensure the athletes committed to the schools.

Girold said Monday he was given verbal briefings after last fall’s review but he didn’t receive any written reports. The university’s review was prompted by an Oct. 11 memo from the NCAA requiring Division I basketball programs to examine their men’s basketball programs “for possible NCAA rules violations, including violations related to offers, inducements, agents, extra benefits, and other similar issues.”

On April 13, Girod said in a statement that he had “complete confidence” that the athletics department had followed all rules.

“We didn’t feel the need to release an external report,” Girod said. “What we needed to be sure of is that we are comfortable and confident in the way our team operates and in meeting any and every requirement necessary.”

When The Lawrence Journal-World filed an open records request seeking all written reports related to the review Kansas officials said no such records exist. The newspaper said without a written report it was difficult to determine what the university examined and what methods were used.

Kansas hired an outside law firm but said the firm only provided assistance on technical matters.

Girod said Monday the examination reviewed several records to determine whether there is anything the university should be concerned about and found nothing.

The latest federal indictment in the wider investigation alleges that a former Adidas executive paid a mother and a guardian of two basketball players at least $130,000 to ensure they would play for the Jayhawks. No Kansas officials were implicated.

“We have gone back to look at anything we have access to, and we can’t find any evidence of that,” Girod said. “But we don’t have access to everything. That is all we really can do — make sure that on our side of the house we are doing everything appropriately and properly.”

Milwaukee to lose top three scorers to transfer

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Milwaukee announced this week that the three leading scorers off of last season’s fifth-place Horizon League team have been given their release to transfer out of the program.

Jeremiah Bell (14.1 ppg) and Brock Stull (13.4 ppg), both junior guards, as well as sophomore forward Bryce Nze (10.3 ppg) will all pursue other opportunities, which is trouble for a program with a coach that just finished his first season and a roster that finished below .500 on the season.

“Our staff wishes this group of players nothing but the best,” coach Pat Baldwin said in the statement. “We never like to see players leave, but each student-athlete has a unique set of circumstances and feels what is best for them is somewhere else. As they all wish to pursue options at the high-major level, we do want to thank them for their contributions to the Milwaukee basketball program.”

Commission to unveil ideas to fix college basketball’s woes

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — College basketball played an entire season amid a federal corruption investigation that magnified long-simmering troubles within the sport, from shady agent dealings to concerns over athletes who’d rather go straight to the pros.

Now it’s time to hear new ideas on how to fix the complex, wide-ranging problems.

On Wednesday morning, the commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will present its proposed reforms to university presidents of the NCAA Board of Governors and the Division I Board of Directors at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. And that starts what could be a complicated process in getting changes adopted and implemented for next season.

“I expect the proposals will be strong,” NCAA president Mark Emmert told The Associated Press. “They’ll certainly break with the status quo. That’s their charge and their mission. That’s what we need.

“I think it’s going to be a very good day for college sports,” he said.

That would be welcome, considering there has been no shortage of bad days in recent months.

The Commission on College Basketball formed in October , a few weeks after federal prosecutors announced they had charged 10 men — including assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, USC and Oklahoma State along with a top Adidas executive — in a fraud and bribery scandal.

The case involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school, agent or apparel company. And it has entangled schools such as Kansas, North Carolina State , Louisville and Miami , among others, though prosecutors withdrew a criminal complaint in Feburary against one of the defendants, a youth hoops program director.

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said that case has put college sports in the position of reacting instead of proactively heading off yet-to-emerge problems.

“Sometimes unfortunately that’s what it takes,” Swofford told the AP. “You’d like to think that collectively the basketball world could’ve seen this coming and had the foresight to get out ahead of it. But that’s not reality. Organizations and people, we all sometimes need wake-up calls. And I see this as a wake-up call, and therefore an opportunity.”

One the Rice commission wants to seize.

It was charged with finding ways to reform and modernize rules, including looking at the NCAA’s relationship with the NBA, youth leagues, apparel companies and agents. It was also set to review an enforcement process that frequently takes years to resolve complicated cases of potentially major rules violations.

The commission features several prominent names in the sport, including former NBA stars Grant Hill and David Robinson, former Georgetown coach John Thompson III, retired college coach Mike Montgomery and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.

“The stage is set, certainly, given what’s happened with law enforcement and what we’ve seen in media reports around men’s basketball at the collegiate level,” Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey told the AP. “You involve Condoleezza Rice because you want an impactful outcome.”

After Rice presents Wednesday morning, the boards will meet to consider adopting the commission’s recommendations, either fully or in part. The next stop would be the Division I Council, a group mostly made up of athletic directors, to craft legislation for implementation.

Emmert said the council is already forming subgroups to deal with the targeted areas the commission is expected to address, with the goal of having legislation ready to be presented by August in time for next season.

Swofford, for one, said he’d prefer to end the one-and-done model of top NBA prospects arriving in college for one-year pit stops before turning professional, though that would also take agreement from the NBA. Swofford prefers a model similar to baseball by allowing high schoolers to go straight to the pros but require players who enter college to spend two years there.

He’d also like to see the NBA-run G League become a stronger developmental option for athletes who don’t want to come to college, a path recently chosen by former Syracuse recruit and McDonald’s All-American Darius Bazley.

Regardless, Swofford said, changes must be broad-based because “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet here” to fix everything. And he expects the commission to offer “substantive” findings.

“If we can’t react to something like this in a way that brings significant improvement to the system and to what we’re doing, shame on us,” Swofford said.

Wichita State’s McDuffie testing NBA draft waters

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Wichita State forward Markis McDuffie entered his name into the NBA draft without signing with an agent, sources told NBC Sports on Tuesday.

It was initially believed that McDuffie would return to Wichita State for his senior season. As a sophomore, McDuffie, a former top 100 recruit, averaged 11.5 points and 5.7 boards, but he played fewer than 20 minutes a night as a junior after missing the first half of the season with a broken foot.

He will be a late-second round pick at best, but is likely to go undrafted if he opts to sign with an agent. He’s expected to return.

The Shockers are already staring down the barrel of a rebuilding season. Two players, including starter Austin Reaves, are transferring out of the program while all-american guard Landry Shamet has already made the decision to enter the draft and sign with an agent. As it currently stands, assuming McDuffie returns, just four scholarship players from this year’s team will play for Wichita State next season: McDuffie, Samajae Haynes-Jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard and Rod Brown.