There were moments of excellence for Andrew Wiggins in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Blips of excellence, really.
Not enough for a player who could have been the No. 1 pick in last summer’s NBA draft. The No. 1 recruit in America can’t be ordinary.
And throughout Kansas’ tumultuous stay in the holiday tournament, which included an upset loss to unranked Villanova on Friday night, Wiggins (15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game) was ordinary on offense too often.
Between the Villanova loss and Saturday's victory over UTEP, (Wiggins had 17 points against Wake Forest on Thursday, I know), the freshman standout went 5-of-17 from the field, committed 5 turnovers, registered a 5-for-11 clip from the charity stripe, scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Jayhawks’ struggles cannot be assigned to Wiggins alone and yes, even the best have bad nights. Kansas was outhustled, outplayed and outworked in three of four halves in its last two games in the Bahamas.
But Wiggins never grabbed his cape.
Jabari Parker doesn’t have that problem. Duke’s superstar is not flawless. He’s not as athletic as Wiggins. And most NBA general mangers would probably admit that Wiggins has a higher ceiling. But Parker is the better player right now. And it has nothing to do with talent.
They’re both talented. But Parker is more assertive, especially on offense.
He knows exactly who he is every time he steps onto the court. Parker assumes that wins and losses rest on his shoulders. That’s not true, but stars think that way.
They accept the reality that they’ll be accused of playing “hero ball” when those instincts emerge and they fumble in clutch situations. They’re just called heroes when those tactics work.
Even in Duke’s losses, Parker (23.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 1.8 blocks per game) was relentless. He should be the No. 1 pick right now on the mock draft boards of smart NBA executives.
But that discussion can wait.
I just wonder if Wiggins knows how good he can be if he just turns those flashes of greatness -- see Wiggins splitting the UTEP defense on Saturday with ridiculous agility and explosiveness on one of the prettiest plays of the evening -- into sustained bursts of brilliance. The kind we all expected when he switched graduating classes and topped Parker to become the unanimous No. 1 recruit in 2013.
Kansas won’t reach its potential if Wiggins falls short of his. And so far, he has.
He’s not the player that he could be.
And a lot of that has to do with the adjustment that every freshman must make from high school to college. Wiggins has to figure out his new teammates. He has to learn their tendencies. He has to gain a better understanding of Kansas coach Bill Self’s system.
And it’s not easy to do that -- even for veterans -- a month into the season.
But there’s no excuse for the imbalanced offensive aggression.
As Villanova continued to throw jabs and uppercuts at KU’s unblemished record on Friday, I was waiting for Wiggins to do what we expected him to do the day that he arrived.
To transition into one of those takeover moments.
It never happened.
Self continues to preach Wiggins’ value to his team and the freshman’s ability to make his teammates better. And he’s right. Wiggins’ sheer fluidity and versatility make life easier on the rest of the Jayhawks.
He draws double-teams and frees up space for Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid. Wiggins can handle the ball, which always makes it difficult for opposing coaches to find defenders who can stay in front of him.
He makes an impact. Just not a constant impact.
Kansas wants to win its 10th consecutive Big 12 crown and a national title. But it won’t get there unless Wiggins plays more like Parker.
The critics will ask for mercy on the youngster. They’ll plead for patience as Wiggins matures. He deserves that. All freshmen do. And he’s off to a good start.
No one, however, faces a higher standard.
Wiggins is a very skilled athlete. He has more potential than any player in the country. And he must prove that consistently in the coming months.
That has nothing to do with the race to be the No. 1 draft pick next summer. The NBA will figure that out.
Wiggins has to be more effective and deliberate, because that’s the only way that the Jayhawks will earn a trip to Arlington, Texas, in April and compete for the ultimate crown. It’s that simple.