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2014 NBA Draft: Andrew Wiggins Scouting Report

Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan breaks down Andrew Wiggins’ game ahead of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Nate Duncan

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Andrew Wiggins was anointed the presumptive number one pick in this draft the moment he reclassified into the high school class of 2013. At the time, he looked like the best wing prospect since LeBron James with his otherworldly athleticism. He measured at an enormous 6’8 with a 7’0 wingspan and reported 44-inch vertical leap off two feet. While Joel Embiid and perhaps Jabari Parker passed Wiggins on some draft boards during this college season, the center’s injury issues have again made Wiggins a favorite to be drafted in the top two. Despite what some might call a slightly disappointing freshman year at Kansas, no major draftniks that I am aware of him have him falling below the Milwaukee Bucks with the second pick.

Wiggins’ strengths have been well-chronicled by others, including his excellent wing defense, good motor and of course that athleticism. But despite those strengths I would not draft him before the fifth pick in this draft.

The main problem is Wiggins’ lack of upside as a scorer. While he is a fantastic leaper with great length, he does not often translate those physical gifts into finishing that befits them. One interesting study by Dean Demakis, conducted through January 31*, showed that Wiggins had dunked on only three of 44 finishes at the rim in the halfcourt. During the season, he really only had two or three spectacular dunks on an opposing defender. But more troubling than the relative paucity of dunks is how many layups he misses. Great finishers have a knack for it, possessing the ability to feel the defense and maneuver the ball and their body to avoid the block and still make the shot. Wiggins just does not have that feel right now, and he misses a ton of layups. The video below (also by Demakis) shows a number of Wiggins’ missed layups. It is truly disconcerting how many easy finishes he simply cannot convert. He shot 63 percent at the rim according to Hoop-Math.com, a disappointing figure for a player of his athleticism who gets out in transition as often as he does.

*Demakis does not have updated season-long numbers, but they might be a bit better as Wiggins finished the season strong. Also, it should be noted that I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s conclusion that Wiggins’ aggressiveness is a problem so much as it is simply lack of feel.

Another issue is his lack of off-the-dribble game. He doesn’t really create any separation with his dribble moves, possessing little shake and playing very upright. Again, he simply is not a natural when it comes to handling the ball—it often looks like he is just executing his moves in one place without getting anywhere. It is going to take a lot of work to make him a capable player out of the pick-and-roll from a handling and passing perspective. When Wiggins did make an effective drive, it was almost invariably to his right. He has two actual moves he can use regularly at this point: that straight line righty drive into a spin move back to his left and a step-back J going to his left.

Wiggins is excellent in transition, showing an ability to juke defenders with his long strides to avoid picking up charges and get to the basket before the defense gets set. But what a player does in the halfcourt possessions that make up the vast majority of the game in the NBA is far more relevant. Indeed, there is even some evidence that getting an inordinate amount of offense in transition is an indicator against NBA success relative to college because those points do not translate as well.

Shooting from the outside is an area in which Wiggins is more advanced, as he shot 35 percent from deep with may of the attempts of the difficult variety. Still, one would think his pretty shot would go in more often. While that can be projected (and I believe it will be an adequate weapon in time), there is also the very realistic possibility he does not become an elite shooter either. Certainly we have not seen enough to be confident of this result.

His trainers at P3 athletics are reportedly working with Wiggins to boost his dribble game by playing lower to the ground and improve his core strength to help with finishing at the rim. But it is indisputable that he does not possess those skills at the moment, and there is no guarantee they ever develop. Rudy Gay (a player whose upright, static off-the-dribble game he mimics at this point) never really got the shake despite his athletic gifts, and Thomas Robinson still struggles to finish at the rim in the pros. The possibility Wiggins never fixes these issues must be priced into his evaluation despite his youth.

Even if he does, most though not all observers would likely agree that his offensive ceiling is more Paul George than a true scoring wing superstar like Kevin Durant or Dwyane Wade. And “ceiling” is often a misinterpreted word. Many, without thinking of it, think of the ceiling as what the player is most likely to become if all goes according to plan in his development. But in reality, it is what happens if all goes as well as it possibly could. If Paul George is Wiggins’ best-case offensive scenario from a scouting perspective, it must be noted that the more likely outcome is somewhere well below that. In the lofty strata of the top two picks in the draft, a non-big should at least have the potential of becoming an offensive superstar. I believe his lack of natural scoring ability very likely precludes that.

Perhaps nothing is more terrifying for a talent evaluator than when his opinion so differs from conventional wisdom. And Wiggins does have the raw physical tools to make me potentially rue this evaluation someday. However, my scouting assessment is somewhat emboldened by analytics models, as I have not seen one which ranks him higher than 10th. Kevin Pelton’s draft rater has him as the 19th best prospect in the draft.

“A possible No. 1 pick, Wiggins didn’t perform like one during his lone NCAA season,” Pelton writes. “Wiggins is better than his projection because of his potential as an on-ball defender, but nothing in his stat line suggests likely superstardom. In particular, his projected usage rate (18.8 percent) is unspectacular for an NBA-bound wing, highlighting the improvement Wiggins needs to make handling the basketball.”

Pelton’s take agrees with my own scouting-driven analysis. The bit about his low projected usage rate in particular dovetails with my observation that he doesn’t have the knack for shot-creation at this point. It is possible that may come in time, but most great scorers had shown the ability by this point in their careers. Based on the entirety of his freshman season, Andrew Wiggins has yet to do so.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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Covington’s Contract Extension Adds Value On and Off the Court

Robert Covington cashed in for himself while also allowing the Sixers to potentially cash in this summer.

Dennis Chambers

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The Philadelphia 76ers are keeping their X-factor in town for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday night, hours before the Sixers were set to tip off against the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Covington and Philadelphia were finalizing a contract extension for four-years and $62 million.

But what the Sixers did to preserve their financial flexibility for the future, while still rewarding Covington, was potentially what makes this deal so valuable. In addition to his current $1.57 million salary this season, the Sixers will renegotiate an additional $15 million into Covington’s salary for this year.

As Wojnarowski reported, that chunk of change the Sixers coughed up this season allows them to still have $25 million in salary-cap space next summer. Along with paying a large portion of the deal upfront, the four-year extension Covington will wind up agreeing to pays him around $45 million over the duration, as reported by The Athletic’s Derek Bodner.

For Covington, coming from his undrafted status out of Tennessee State, to being sent down to the D-League after a short stint with the Houston Rockets, to a team-friendly Sam Hinkie special four-year contract with the Sixers back in 2014, now finally culminating in a big payday as one of the NBA’s premier 3-and-D players, is nothing short of an amazing story.

It’s duly noted what Covington brings to the table for the Sixers on the court. After leading the league in deflections last season, along with his ability to guard 1-4 spots on the court, Covington secured votes in the Defensive Player of the Year race. This season, without sacrificing any of his defense (registering the same 105 defensive rating as last season), Covington is experiencing a renaissance on the offensive end.

Along with averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game, Covington is shooting an absurd 49.5 percent from deep on 7.2 attempts per game. Believe it or not, he has made more threes than Stephen Curry and is shooting a higher percentage from beyond the arc—Covington is 50-of-101 from three-point range, while Curry is 47-of-121.

It’s only the second week of November, but that is nonetheless impressive, and a testament to how on-fire Covington has been this season.

Playing along Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and another sharpshooter like J.J. Redick gets Covington open looks. He’s learned to maximize those opportunities.

Now, with his new extension, Covington is just as big of an impact off the court, as well.

By renegotiating his salary for this season, the Sixers are left with enough money to be serious players next summer when some marquee free agents will hit the open market. It was a stroke of genius for the front office, and also a rare occurrence, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out that a move similar to this has occurred just seven times since 1998.

As reported last season, the Sixers made a significant push to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers at the trade deadline. Part of that package included Covington. Although they love Covington in Philadelphia, they believed giving him up for George would have been worth it. Obviously, that didn’t pan out, but the good news now is that the Sixers will have the cap space to pursue George should he opt for free agency this summer.

It’s been no secret that George would like to test the open waters and find the best fit for himself. Although George is playing alongside the most talented players he’s ever had by his side with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, he is just one of many impact free agents on the market.

Covington’s brilliant extension gives Philadelphia the option to meet with a player like George, and not only offer him the promise of playing with budding stars like Embiid and Simmons, but with quality starters like Covington. And if George isn’t amenable to the possibility, someone else might be.

On a personal level, Covington embodies “the process” in Philadelphia. From his humble beginnings to now being a multi-millionaire whose efforts are being handsomely rewarded, his story is a good one. 

Not only for him, but for the Sixers, too.

Yes, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hold the keys to the Sixers’ championship hopes, but once again, Covington is proving to be the X-factor.

This time, he’s extending his intangibles off the court as well.

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