TrueHoop: Andrew Wiggins
July, 18, 2014
By D.J. Foster and Fred Katz
Thirteen notable performances from Day 7 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: B+
The good: Wiggins went to the line a whopping 20 times, drawing contact against smaller defenders and getting fouled on step-back jumpers and swing-through moves. The bad: Down three with the game on the line, Wiggins allowed a blow-by in an isolation situation, then turned it over the very next possession. The ugly: All the quiet time spent at the free throw line was interrupted by a fan yelling “You’re going to get traded!” -- Foster
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz | Grade: D
If this was your first time seeing him, you’d probably wonder what all the fuss is about. This was Exum’s worst performance in summer league by a long margin, as he mostly floated in the background and deferred to a fault. Even when he’s stuck in the mud of a 1-for-8 shooting night, though, you can still catch a little glimmer: Exum attempted a two-footed, Derrick Rose-style dunk from outside the paint that he was fouled on. You just wish there was more of that, though. -- Foster
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers | Grade: C+
After briefly making the city of Philadelphia nervous by leaving the game with injury, Noel returned to the floor. Even though there weren’t many flashy moves or insane athletic displays, Noel planted himself right in front of the action at the front of the rim and used his superior length to his advantage quite nicely. He’s capable of much more, but it’s nice to see that he knows where he’s needed. -- Foster
Jordan McRae, Philadelphia 76ers | Grade: A
He was almost perfect. McRae scored 25 points and didn’t miss a single shot all night until, ironically enough, he air-balled an open 3-pointer late. You hear a lot about length leading up to events like this, but McRae puts his crazy 7-foot wingspan to real use offensively on the wings, as his ability to get shots off in traffic and finish over the top of defenders bodes well for the next level. -- Foster
Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls | Grade: B
A lot of the rookie hesitation in Snell’s decision-making has gone by the wayside, as he pulled the trigger a few times with little breathing room to spare. That willingness to fire up shots coming off screens is a nice development, as Tom Thibodeau runs a pretty structured offense that largely revolves around his ability to get shooters open looks from off-ball action. There aren’t many potential contributors for championship contenders here, but Snell is one of them. --Foster
Shabazz Muhammad, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: B
It happened. Muhammad finally had his first eye-opening summer league performance, dropping 24 points in a “playoff” loss to the Kings. It’s not that Muhammad hadn’t scored at all before Thursday; he just hadn’t done so efficiently. Against the Kings, he got to the hoop, made a few moves out of the post and attempted 11 free throws, a high for him at summer league, while also making more than half his shots in a contest for the first time in Vegas. -- Katz
Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat | Grade: C-
Apparently, Shabazzes offset. The man with two z’s in his name looked like he was catching some z’s throughout the game, appearing lethargic getting back on defense and while guarding in the half court. Napier wasn’t impressive on the other end, either, settling for jumpers (he was 5-for-18 on field goals) and failing to create for his teammates off the dribble just one night after his appearance at the ESPYs. -- Katz
Austin Daye, San Antonio Spurs | Grade: C-
It’s simple: Daye has to make 3s to warrant playing time again at the next level. His 2-for-9 showing from behind the arc is a bad sign for his stretch 4 aspirations, as it’s incredibly unlikely he’ll be able to get into the paint at the next level due to his lack of speed and molasses first step. The silver lining here, though? Daye isn’t passing up open looks when they come his way. Play for the job you want, right? -- Foster
Isaiah Canaan, Houston Rockets | Grade: A
The Rockets are a fun summer league team to watch, if only because you can clearly identify who has previous experience on their 3-happy D-League affiliate team in Rio Grande. Canaan is one of those players, and his unabashed love for pull-up 3s (4-for-8) and hard drives right to the rim (28 points) tips it off. It’s fitting that Canaan’s trademark moment -- a lefty drive against Wiggins with a strong finish to ice the game -- came in such a manner. Keep his name in your back pocket. -- Foster
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz | Grade: B
He’s a no-frills player. Hood has a really good sense of when to beat off-balance defenders with strong straight line drives to the rim, and his intelligence cutting to open spaces on the floor at the right time would make former Utah coach and Flex enthusiast Jerry Sloan proud. On nights like this when nothing is coming easy for the young backcourt of Exum and Trey Burke, Hood can act as a low-risk safety valve. -- Foster
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks | Grade: C
Everyone likes to make the Rajon Rondo comparisons with Schroder, but at this point, the greatest similarities between the two point guards probably come on defense. Rondo may not drain 3s, but he has a killer midrange game. Schroder, who started Thursday’s game off with a couple of turnovers in the opening minutes, is still learning how to shoot, clanking a few 16-footers off the bounce after dribbling around screens. Per usual, the German was a pesky on-ball defender, but if the shots aren’t falling, he can’t afford to toss careless passes in the wrong direction. -- Katz
P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: B+
After a pretty rough stay in Vegas thus far, Hairston showed why he’s considered such a natural scorer. Other than a few impressive feats of athleticism on dunks at the rim, the thing that stood out most was the quick, high-arcing release on his jumper that he’s certainly not bashful about letting fly. Even though he’s a high-usage player, Hairston’s penchant for shooting a high percentage of his shots from behind the arc (4-for-9) is a good sign for a Hornets team that desperately needs that type of production. -- Foster
Ray McCallum, Sacramento Kings | Grade: A-
Just because he was in relative basketball obscurity at Detroit Mercy, we all forget that McCallum was a highly coveted recruit coming out of high school -- and even at summer league, playing on a floor conducive to chaos, he looks like a coach’s son. At least against guys who are still learning how to play the game, McCallum has turned “making the right play” into his M.O. Now, he’s even added some moves, including a nice step-back off the dribble, to his arsenal. -- Katz
July, 15, 2014
By D.J. Foster and Fred Katz
Eleven notable performances from Day 4 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: A-
All we’re going to talk about is that dynamic dunk off Wiggins’ dreidel move in the second quarter of the Cavs’ game against the 76ers, and maybe that’s deserving. That was maybe the smoothest offensive move he’s made at summer league, but all that being said, it may not have even been his best play of the game. That belonged to a Mutombo-like swat he had on Nerlens Noel, coming over in help defense and skying as high as the rim to slap away a potential layup. All he was missing was the finger wag. --Katz
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers | Grade: B
Watching the 76ers' summer league team is entertaining if only because this could end up being their actual regular-season roster –- and Noel only helps with that entertainment factor. There aren’t many guys who can re-jump quite like him. That’s part of what makes him so successful on the court -- his ability to leave the ground quicker than everyone else after the initial leap. Monday, he showed that off as a defender, blocking four shots. He also ran the floor as well as any big man in Vegas, finishing on a couple dunks in transition. --Katz
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers | Grade: B
Randle’s got handles? Monday, he showed off exactly how skilled he is on the perimeter. There were possessions in the fourth quarter when the Kentucky product was actually running point forward -- taking the ball up the floor, penetrating and facilitating for teammates, even kicking out for a corner 3 off a drive once. Grant Hill compared his dribbling ability to Anthony Mason’s. It was a little Blake Griffin-like, as well, exuding a sort of controlled chaos. He did struggle a bit on the boards and his screen-setting was ineffective at times, but the offensive production with the ball was solid enough to make for a quality performance. --Katz
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: C+
The comparisons to Carmelo Anthony are apt, at least in the sense that Parker is similarly high-maintenance when it comes to space to operate. When Parker’s defender was on an island, his moves were brutally effective. But when there was weakside help or a crowded lane? Parker’s attempts were essentially sets for Rudy Gobert to spike. Is Milwaukee going to be able to provide Parker with the space he needs to thrive? --Foster
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz | Grade: B
Don’t let the uninspiring stat line 6-and-2 fool you. Exum was quick and decisive in the pick-and-roll, looking more like a veteran practitioner than the “unknown entity” he was labeled as leading up to the draft. While there weren’t nearly as many flashy displays as there were in his debut, Exum showed tonight that there’s some steak with his sizzle. --Foster
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz | Grade: A
This was fearless rim protection at its finest. Gobert seemingly contested every Buck bold enough to venture into the paint, and even when Giannis Antetokounmpo caught him on a dunk, he came right back down the floor and returned the favor. Jazz-Bucks was one of the best Summer League games I’ve seen in four years from an individual performance standpoint, and the presence of a shot-blocker and athlete of Gobert’s quality only made it feel more legitimate. --Foster
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz | Grade: A
This might have been the best shooting performance we’ll see this year at Summer League, but there was more to it than just knocking down 7-of-10 from deep. There was a lot of nuance present here as well, as Hood put it on the ground and found open teammates, and when he was off the ball, his ability to float to open spaces and relocate was downright superb. Having a corner shooter like this with a point guard who can penetrate (think John Wall-Trevor Ariza) can lead to some beautiful jazz. --Foster
Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings | Grade: B
He may have deferred a tad too much when it came to creating offense, but Stauskas made good on nearly every open chance he received on the perimeter by letting loose with that picture-perfect release. It’s not often you see a high draft pick readily accept a lesser role offensively and be patient for the ball to find him, but considering the makeup of Sacramento’s roster, that tendency might not be the worst thing. --Foster
Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: B+
There’s something to be said for looking comfortable out there, and Vonleh seemed so fluid, even as his team got rocked by the summer Knicks. He may have finished with a tame 13 points and five rebounds, but Vonleh did a little more than advertised in his third summer league contest, including dishing out some crafty big-to-big passes from the high post. He was a bit hesitant to shoot at times, but what we saw Monday was someone who was more physical and versatile than just a pick-and-pop big. --Katz
Austin Daye, San Antonio Spurs | Grade: B+
I’m filing a motion to approve the nickname “slow-mo-bros” for Kyle Anderson, Boris Diaw and Austin Daye. There’s a high degree of difficulty with this particular Gregg Popovich reclamation project, simply because Daye is incapable of bending his knees and moving laterally. Even with that being the case, it’s just so hard to quit on a 6-foot-10 guy who can display all the traits of the modern stretch 4, no matter the speed at which it all happens. --Foster
Bruno Caboclo, Toronto Raptors | Grade: C
At the draft, Fran Fraschilla described Caboclo as “two years away from being two years away.” We saw some of that Monday, especially on the defensive end, where his 7-foot-7 wingspan stayed mostly dangling by his hips (or knees) rather than stretched out. He didn’t dribble much, but when he did, it was usually a panic move. Bruno’s microcosmic end to the third quarter was all you needed to see from his disappointing day: sitting on the bench, towel over his head, after following up getting dunked on with a technical foul. --Katz
July, 14, 2014
By Kevin Pelton
LAS VEGAS -- It was only the second quarter, but Andrew Wiggins won Monday's NBA Summer League game pitting his Cleveland Cavaliers against the Philadelphia 76ers with his incredible dunk. Dribbling toward the baseline, Wiggins spun free and rose above the defense to dunk powerfully yet gracefully.
The crowd in the intimate Cox Pavilion went wild. Writers declared Wiggins a superstar, too good to trade for Kevin Love. Fans chanted for a replay, and booed when it failed to materialize on the video board.
The dunk was breathtaking. It was athletic. It showcased Wiggins' potential. It was also his only basket of the first half. Consider that a microcosm of the disconnect between the excitement generated in Las Vegas by Wiggins and his fellow No. 1 pick (and Canadian), Cavaliers teammate Anthony Bennett, and their production on the court.
Wiggins has delivered multiple flashes of the talent that made him the top pick in this talented draft. Shortly after his dunk, he rose to reject a Nerlens Noel attempt from behind, the kind of defensively play few wings can make. And he's been a consistent presence at the defensive end of the floor, racking up deflections with his long arms.
As at Kansas, however, Wiggins' offensive contributions have come and gone. His scoring totals have gone down each game, from 18 in Friday's debut to 13 on Sunday to just 10 points Monday. Philadelphia rookie K.J. McDaniels, the No. 32 pick, took defending the No. 1 pick as a personal challenge, keeping him from seeing any airspace in the half-court offense. (When Wiggins shook free for the dunk, McDaniels was on the bench.)
Something similar is true of Bennett, who's enjoying the soft bigotry of low expectations. Bennett was so bad as a rookie that any positive contributions are met by huge excitement. Consider the positive response to Bennett getting in shape, something that's usually a bare minimum for NBA players.
Bennett too has offered momentary reminders of why he was considered a consensus top-five pick a year ago, if a surprise at No. 1. He's been aggressive in attempting to dunk any opportunity around the rim, and his rebounding (26 in 94 minutes, a cool 10.0 per 36) has been impressive.
The concern remains Bennett's shot selection. If Wiggins can occasionally get too passive on offense, that's never been an issue for Bennett, who's happy to lob off-balance 3-pointers at the rim if given the slightest opening. Bennett has shot 2-of-11 from 3-point range (18.2 percent), a step back from the 24.5 percent he made during his rookie season.
Still, there's plenty of time for such skepticism during the long regular season. Summer league is all about dreaming on players, and Wiggins' dunk and Bennett's explosiveness have given Cleveland fans reason to keep dreaming.
July, 14, 2014
By D.J. Foster
Ten notable performances from Day 3 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: C+
You can see how the narrative about the lack of a “killer instinct” got started. Wiggins seems to have a nasty habit of letting his defender off the hook after a lightning-quick first step or dribble move, opting to shoot his pet step-back jumper instead of really punishing weaker defenders. Even though he had some nice moments, the pedal wasn’t close to the floor.
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers | Grade: C
His debut provided some hope that he won’t kill floor spacing at the 4. Even though Randle seemed to be hovering around aimlessly on the perimeter, he did a nice job of waiting until the perfect moment to dive to the rim on a few occasions. It’s tough for post players to really work with their back to the basket in this setting, but Randle’s willingness to face up is a good sign, even if the overall results were pedestrian.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: D
Dreadful shot selection, bad decision-making, mental lapses defensively and selfish play marred Parker’s night, as he seemed uncomfortable with the idea of letting anyone else make a play with the ball. There’s pretty much no reason for someone with Parker’s speed and strength to draw just one shooting foul, especially against this level of competition. This was a troubling performance for the second overall pick.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: B
His weight is down, but his appetite is up. Bennett looked more interested in hitting the boards (14 rebounds) and running the floor than he was during most of his rookie season, and those are two critical areas of concern for a player who projects to be a nonfactor defensively. Bennett loves the top of the key and playing as a pick-and-pop specialist, but it’s reasonable to expect this level of effort elsewhere on a consistent basis.
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks | Grade: B+
You have to ding him a bit for coughing up the ball during double-overtime sudden-death basketball (yes, that’s a thing), but Schroder’s ability to get his man on his hip and force his way into the paint all game was awfully impressive for someone his size. There were lot of ambitious drives here (30 points, eight turnovers), but Schroder showed he’s a handful to guard when he’s in attack mode like this.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls | Grade: A-
There he is. After a shaky debut, McDermott got back to the ridiculously efficient scoring he was known for in college, piling in 31 points on just 12 shots. Often matched up against a smaller defender, McDermott did a nice job of bumping his way into contact and getting to the line. Really, though, it’s his spot-up 3-point shooting that should put a smile (or at least less of a scowl) on head coach Tom Thibodeau’s face.
Seth Curry, Phoenix Suns | Grade: A
It runs in the family, right? Seth brought an NBA vibe to the proceedings, as there was something comforting about seeing a Curry wearing the No. 30 jersey bomb from deep and deliver daggers. Curry finished with 26 points on a tidy nine attempts, and with perimeter shooting at a premium around the league -- just look at what Stan Van Gundy’s paying in Detroit -- you have to think Curry helped his chances to land a roster spot this season with this barrage.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: B
A timed pump-and-go from the 3-point line to the rim should be the NBA’s version of the 40-yard dash. It sounds obvious, but it really is absurd how much ground he can cover in just a few short steps. Defensively, open shots become contested, and once he’s by you with his first step? He’s by you. There were mistakes and blown finishes, but he’s getting where he wants to be on the floor seemingly at will.
Glen Rice Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: A-
Another game, another really convincing performance. Rice’s stroke opens up the rest of his game so well, as defenders simply can’t stay pressed on him because of his athleticism going to the rim. If you had no idea of his draft position, you’d think for sure he was taken well before the more ground-bound Otto Porter, right? Keep an eye on this position battle.
Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets | Grade: C+
After Houston’s offseason, Motiejunas is pretty important all of a sudden as the projected third big man. It doesn’t look as though he’s added a whole lot to his attack, but he’s still sneaky good in the post with his quirky movements around the rim. Ideally, you’d like to see Motiejunas lock in defensively with more regularity, but he's useful when he's an offensive focus.
July, 12, 2014
By Fred Katz
Ten notable performances from Day 1 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: C+
Wiggins found ways to score inside, but his aversion to dribbling was well on display Friday. The athleticism, defense and transition game are all there. One of the most exciting plays of the entire day was a half-court alley-oop that just barely went over the fingertips of the flying Wiggins. Yes, 18 points look good, but a 1-for-8 night from 3-point range looks a little worse, and the way he got those points still needs to improve.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: A-
All we hear about Parker is his skills as a scorer, but on Friday we saw some of his distributing ability. The rookie might only have totaled one assist, but he moved the ball within the Bucks' offense and had a couple of beautiful interior passes to set up his teammates. Parker still scored at a commendable rate -- 17 points on 11 shots -- but in Las Vegas, between the facilitating and the nine boards, he showed exactly why he’s so much more than just a scorer.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks | Grade: A-
Hardaway might never pass the ball in Vegas. Seriously, it could never happen, but that’s perfectly fine if he’s going to shoot like he did Friday. The Michigan alum dropped in 25 points on just 15 shots in chucking his way to becoming the day’s high scorer. There aren’t many guys out west with the arsenal Hardaway possesses, tallying points off the dribble and spotting up from long range. The Knicks should be excited about the prospects of yet another volume shooter.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: B-
Bennett might have disappointed in his rookie season, but he looked notably slimmer in his first Summer League contest Friday evening, finishing with 15 points and even throwing down one of the dunks of the day, a vicious finish in transition. He still struggled a bit on the defensive end, but just imagine what the Cavs could be like with contributions from Bennett this season to add to their refreshed roster.
Ricky Ledo, Dallas Mavericks | Grade: B-
Ledo might have shot just 4-of-14 from the field, but his performance was more about grace and command than anything else. Sure, maybe he wasn’t that effective, but he surely looked the part, galloping to the hoop seemingly whenever he wanted to get there. Considering the 21-year-old is 6-foot-7 and is learning to play either guard spot, that’s a pretty useful skill moving forward.
Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: D-
Noah? More like NO-ah. Vonleh couldn’t have struggled more in his initial summer league game, clanking like he was playing the lead in "Stomp." Vonleh ended his first ever pro contest scoreless, finishing 0-for-13 from the field, 0-for-4 from long range and even missing his only two free throw attempts. Vonleh could easily come back and wow in his second match, but he set the bar extremely low in Game No. 1.
Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers | Grade: B+
Clarkson might not have been the biggest name entering summer league, but he was surely one of the most impressive performers on the first day, knocking in 21 points, including some nifty finishes around the basket. It wasn’t just about finishing at the rim, either. Clarkson was distributing off the bounce as well, finding teammates down low as he dribbled around screens. If the 6-foot-5 point guard can lock down his shooting form, the Lakers could end up very happy after selecting him with the 46th overall pick.
Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings | Grade: B
It’s always encouraging to see a scorer who can shoot in a variety of ways. Stauskas showed off those exact skills in his first summer league performance. In college, he earned a reputation as more of a spot-up shooter, but he progressively learned how to hit shots off the dribble. Friday, we saw him dribbling around screens and accurately pulling up for controlled attempts off the bounce. He might have attempted just nine shots, but the way he got them was plenty encouraging.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: B+
Last season’s rookie darling is starting to show off a more refined skill set in Vegas. He’s packed on some extra brawn to complement the two inches he’s grown since being drafted last summer, important if only because it gives his jersey a little extra room to spell out his surname. After playing with a more hesitant offensive mindset as a rookie, Giannis was assertive during his first summer league contest, dropping 17 points on 12 attempts and coming up with the block of the day in the process.
Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs | Grade: B
Can Slow-Mo work in the NBA? Anderson enters summer league as one of the most intriguing prospects in Vegas. Watching him in his first game, you could see what you wanted to see. At times, he was a little slow to dribble by his man. At others, he found space and when he did that, he always seemed to find an open teammate. He made arguably his best play of the game driving baseline, pulling in a help defender and kicking to an unguarded Marcus Denmon for a corner 3. That’s Anderson: polarizing, but always fluid.
July, 11, 2014
By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Any No. 1 overall pick works under a lot of scrutiny, but today’s events created a bizarre strain of scrutiny trained on Andrew Wiggins. His showdown with Jabari Parker at Las Vegas Summer League was sure to be hyped before Friday’s LeBron James news. After James’ epic announcement, the main Summer League event reached another level of intrigue.
LeBron’s entrance to Cleveland brought with it Kevin Love’s shadow. James did not mention Wiggins by name in his “I’m coming back to Cleveland” announcement letter, leading to questions about whether the Cavs might trade their 19-year-old rookie for the services of Minnesota’s available, unhappy star.
The Cavs have made pitches for Love, according to reports, but none so far that involve Wiggins. Given the struggles of Cleveland’s previous No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett, it’s difficult to envision how the Cavs could get a Love deal done without surrendering Wiggins. For now, the Cavs seem unwilling to part with him.
All the LeBron and attached free-agency frenzy was enough to make you forget that Jabari Parker is Wiggins’ perceived rival as a rising young wing. This would be the first time we’ve seen the two measure up against each other since Kansas beat Duke at the United Center last November.
Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesAndrew Wiggins outscored Jabari Parker in their first matchup as pros.
The suspense in the cozy Cox Pavilion was palpable from the jump. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson took courtside seats to watch their Raptors play in the game before Bucks vs. Cavs. That’s not notable, but here’s what is: The Raptors players didn’t move after their team’s game ended, preferring to hold their seats as the crowd slowly entered the arena. That’s rarely seen in a Summer League setting where established veterans file in and out.
Wiggins’ athleticism was on display, even if his shot and handle were shaky (he finished with 18 points on 18 shots). Terms like “athleticism” can be too reductive when describing players because everyone moves in their own way. Wiggins’ way is so much lighter than commonly seen. He’s perpetually on the balls of his feet, bouncing softly around in a manner that feels more ballet than basketball. That is, until he uncoils those springs in his legs and attacks. He probably didn’t attack enough, electing to loft eight 3-point attempts, but the Cavs did win in the end 70-68.
Parker impressed in spurts, but might have to do something about his conditioning. He was noticeably winded throughout the contest, but he didn’t let that stop him from scoring 17 points on 11 shots. His strength was on display when he converted a late bucket by posting up Wiggins out of the picture.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Bennett actually generated the best highlights in this one. Bennett uncorked a monster two-handed slam in transition, and Antetokounmpo managed to easily dunk after dribbling twice from behind half court. It was a great game for yet-to-be-realized potential.
Maybe LeBron sees the talent on Cleveland’s side and believes in that potential. Maybe he believes in David Blatt’s ability to get something more out of this Cavs roster, even if he’s met Blatt only twice, as Cleveland’s new coach indicated in an interview.
James is approaching 30 years old, but betrays little fear of his own aging process. Despite not mentioning Wiggins upon arrival, he’s waxing patient. In his announcement letter, James specifically said, “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic.”
If James is indeed willing to help rebuild the Cavs slowly, then Wiggins is more protégé than trade piece. It’s difficult to foresee if Wiggins will eventually fulfill his promise, but the future feels bright in Cleveland. The question is whether LeBron’s talents will last long enough for it to arrive.
December, 17, 2013
By Blake Murphy
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
Dave Sandford/Getty ImagesThe Raptors have struggled to tap into their national identity in almost two decades in Canada.The Toronto Raptors began their journey in the NBA in November 1995. The feelings of inferiority among the fan base were born just two and a half seasons later.
Damon Stoudamire was the first draft pick ever made by the franchise and the face of NBA basketball in Canada up to that point. But after two losing seasons with the expansion team and faced with another, the point guard demanded a trade. He wanted out.
He wouldn’t be the last.
Tracy McGrady left in 2000 in search of an opportunity to become a franchise player. Vince Carter, credited with putting the Raptors on the map during his six-year stint, famously followed. Chris Bosh never fully embraced the void left by Carter and was all too happy to ditch Toronto for Miami seven season later, burning bridges on his way out as he complained about getting the “good cable” and that “it’s all about being on TV at the end of the day.”
Those kind of remarks infuriate Canadian basketball fans. Sonny Weems also criticized the cable service. Antonio Davis worried about his children learning the metric system. And Othella Harrington, believe it or not, said the cream in the center of Vancouver’s Oreos tasted funny.
Sam Forencich/Getty ImagesWill Andrew Wiggins, the pride of Canada, wind up in Toronto?
Each player who has left the country had his reasons, but whatever the rationale, the takeaway was often the same: Canada isn’t a place an NBA star can be happy.
Perhaps that’s why Steve Nash’s stretch with the Phoenix Suns resonated so much with Canadian fans. While technically born in South Africa, Nash grew up here, became the player he is here. If the Raptors’ stars wouldn't embrace the country, perhaps the country could embrace one of its own.
In January 2007, the Raptors, months away from their lone division title, hosted Nash’s Suns and staged a 15-point second-half comeback. But Nash scored 13 points in the final seven minutes, sending the crowd into a frenzy with each basket. He was burying the home team at the Air Canada Centre and ruining a chance to upset one of the league’s elite teams, but the fans loved it. He wasn’t some visiting player. He was one of us.
The dream, then, became to have Nash play in Toronto -- Canada’s greatest basketball export leading what was now Canada’s only team. Canadian fans went crazy in 2012 as then-general manager Bryan Colangelo tried to lure his former point guard home as a free agent. That effort ultimately proved fruitless, but it showed a clear desire among local fans to embrace one of their own.
Jay Triano, a Canadian who served as the Raptors’ head coach from 2008-11, has seen it firsthand.
“I felt it was an honor to be in that position,” said Triano, the coach of Canada’s national team and the only Canadian-born head coach in NBA history. “I think players are happy to be in the NBA. There wouldn’t be extra pressure, but maybe extra demands on their time.”
As it stands, Jamaal Magloire is the only Canadian to have played for the Raptors, in a one-season, 34-game victory lap in 2011-12.
That could soon change. A record nine Canadian players can currently be found on NBA rosters, and it’s hardly a coincidence. Guys like Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett are a product of the first generation to grow up with basketball in this country, and the hope is that more Canadians in the league “will drive more athletes out to the playground and grow that basketball culture,” as Rowan Barrett, assistant general manager of Canada’s men’s team, put it.
When Nash won his second straight MVP award, Andrew Wiggins was 11 years old. Now the Kansas freshman is the unquestioned face of Canadian basketball, and the new homegrown product Raptors fans have chosen as their savior. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri is reportedly enamored with the idea of bringing the kid from Thornhill -- 25 minutes away from the Air Canada Centre -- to Toronto, too.
Perhaps most importantly, Wiggins seems to want to play here. When asked in July who he’d most like to be drafted by, Wiggins said: “I would like to say the Raptors. I want to play for them.”
If attracting and retaining players is difficult, building around a home-grown potential All-Star who wants to play for you is an absolute best-case scenario.
Trading Rudy Gay on Dec. 9 was viewed by fans as a sign that the Raptors were doing what they could to make that happen. The team is still too talented to tank properly, especially given how putrid the Eastern Conference is, but more moves to push them higher in the draft lottery may be coming.
“One thing I can say is we won’t be stuck in the middle, we won’t be in no-man’s land,” Ujiri said last week.
Nineteen years after the birth of the NBA in Canada, basketball’s presence in Canada probably isn’t as large as what was expected. This is unquestionably a hockey country, making the experience of a Canadian basketball fan a peculiar one. Perhaps that’s why, despite being smaller in numbers, Raptors fans are regarded as one of the most rabid and passionate groups in the league. Outcasts in their own country and afterthoughts on a league scale, they’re ready to put everything into a winning team or, failing that, a top Canadian player, as we saw with Nash.
It feels almost cruel, then, that the 2014 NBA draft is dangling a potential merger of those two interests above their heads. But given how things have gone in the first two decades of Raptors basketball, even a 25 percent chance at Wiggins is worth dreaming on.