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

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source: Getty Images

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.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.