Before he played a game at Kansas, Andrew Wiggins was billed as the next LeBron James.
One look at the builds of the 6-foot-8, 197-pound Wiggins and 6-8, 250-pound James shows that’s not the case, but the 19-year-old is virtually certain to be among the top three picks Thursday in the NBA Draft.
Considered a shooting guard who can also play small forward at the professional level, Wiggins could go No. 1 to the Cavaliers, who are expected to choose between him and Duke small forward Jabari Parker now that Kansas center Joel Embiid has undergone foot surgery.
“I see him as a possibility,” ProBasketballDraft.com founder and SheridanHoops.com draft analyst Joe Kotoch said of Wiggins. “I just don’t think he’s as high on their board (as Parker) right now. The Cavs are more inclined to go with Parker based on fit for the roster. If they take Wiggins, you’ll see a trade soon after with (current shooting guard) Dion Waiters.”
As a Kansas freshman, Wiggins averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and a surprisingly low 1.5 assists while shooting .448 from the field, .341 on 3-pointers and .775 at the line in 32.8 minutes per game.
He’s got All-Star potential, but physically he’s not James.
“It’s unfair when people compare him to LeBron,” Kotoch said. “They have completely different body types and games. You’re looking more at someone like Tracy McGrady — great finisher, explosive athlete. If he develops a jump shot, the sky’s the limit.”
Extremely long and quick, Wiggins also was a very willing defender for Kansas coach Bill Self, though he sometimes slipped in that area. Still, given his work ethic, talent and athletic ability, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the Cavs took Wiggins with the first pick.
“Obviously, he’s one of the most hyped guys in the draft,” NBA scouting director Ryan Blake said.
Instead of James, however, Blake compares Wiggins to Cavs small forward Luol Deng, an unrestricted free agent who is not expected to be heavily pursued by Cleveland. By that, Blake means Wiggins is athletic and multidimensional.
With an improved jump shot — Wiggins’ .775 free throw shooting shows he has good touch — that comparison could be upgraded to a McGrady-type player.
“He’s one of the best athletes in the draft,” Blake said. “He’s very quick and has a good jump shot, but he’s got to become a better shooter. He has a good work ethic.”
Blake and Kotoch have different views on Wiggins’ defense. Blake said it was inconsistent at Kansas, while Kotoch raved about it.
“He can be passive at times,” Blake said. “He needs to add strength, but your inner drive as a competitive player at both ends of the floor, he has the makeup to do that.”
“You have to love the upside,” Kotoch said. “He offers a great package of length and athleticism. It’s not hard to see him being able to defend the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant and so on as he gets stronger and physically matures.
“The thing that stands out to me about his game is defense, and defense is the hardest thing to teach these guys because it’s all about desire and motivation. If he’s already playing quality defense, I feel very good about his ability.”
Right now, Wiggins is a better scorer than shooter, but as his overall game improves he will be able to play small forward and maybe even a bit of point guard.
“With LeBron, when he came into the league, he didn’t play small forward on a nightly basis,” Kotoch said. “Wiggins is a little skinny still, so he could start off in the backcourt with (Kyrie) Irving and, as he fills out and matures, probably play small forward.
“He’s a good ballhandler, but he could be better. You’re not going to look at him and say, ‘This is Magic Johnson reincarnated.’”
Like former UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, chosen by the Cavs with the No. 1 pick last year, Wiggins is a Toronto native.
Unlike Bennett and the rest of the top picks in the 2013 draft, Wiggins, Parker and Embiid, even with his injury, are all considered worthy of going No. 1 overall.
“I can give the Cavs an A+ with any of those three guys,” Kotoch said. “This isn’t a situation like last year with Anthony Bennett.”