Friday, August 8, 2014

LaVine and Wiggins

The Minnesota Timberwolves got about as much for Kevin Love as a team could reasonably expect in the situation - the No. 1 overall pick in the draft (Andrew Wiggins), a two-way starter at Love's position (Thad Young) and a future No. 1. However, with no guarantee that Young sticks around in Minnesota or that a late first round pick becomes anything useful, it looks like their return on Love will depend in large part on what becomes of Wiggins.

But while Wiggins becomes the franchise player in waiting in Minnesota, he's probably not going to be a starter from Day 1, as they have a solid pair of vets - Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer - entrenched at the wings. And while he's a very exciting prospect, I'm not sure he has that much more potential than their original first-round pick in this year's draft - Zach LaVine.

Going into the draft, I had LaVine rated higher than Wiggins because, of the two, he's a better ball-handler, passer and shooter and he's just as good an athlete. That may seem crazy when you look at their production in college, where LaVine was a 7th man at UCLA while Wiggins was an All Big 12 performer at Kansas, but so much of what a freshman can do depends on the role they have on their team.

UCLA didn't get a ton of publicity this season, but they had a preposterous amount of talent. They returned two first-round picks on the perimeter - Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson - and another upperclassman (Norman Powell) who has a chance to be drafted next season. Kansas, on the other hand, was replacing their entire starting line-up from the year before, giving Wiggins plenty of opportunities to dominate the ball and show what he could do.

My judgment on how the two compared with each other was based mainly off the eye test, and the few games where LaVine was given the chance to dominate the ball at UCLA, but there were a few nuggets in the statistics that hint at what I'm talking about. They had the exact same FG% (44%), while LaVine was the better three-point shooter (37% to 34%) and had the better assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8-1.1 as opposed to 1.5-2.3). Assist-to-turnover ratio is the gold standard to me - that tells you what type of decisions a guy makes with the ball in his hands and LaVine had more assists than Wiggins despite far fewer opportunities.

When they were placed in roughly similar situations in Vegas, given the chance to dominate the ball on haphazard summer league teams, LaVine put up slightly better numbers. He averaged more points (15.7 to 15.5), more rebounds (4.2 to 3.8) and more assists (2.8 to 0.3) on almost identical FG% (39.7 to 40.5). The assists are the telling numbers to me - LaVine is just much more comfortable making plays with the ball and he has a better feel for the game at this stage in their careers. Wiggins had the edge in blocks and steals, which you would expect given his advantage in size and length, but the difference between the two players isn't as big as you would expect given their reputations.

Of course, now that they are on the same team, it doesn't really matter whose the better of the two in a vacuum. If anything, they should complement each other extremely well on the second team. At the start of their careers, I expect Saunders will use them a lot in tandem, coming in together and changing up the dynamic of the game with their otherworldly athletic ability. The Wolves bench will be trying to go up and down as much as possible, especially with Nik Pekovic out of the game.

Since LaVine is weaker on the defensive end and Wiggins is weaker on the offensive end, they can both look out for each other. LaVine can spread the floor and create easy shots for Wiggins while Wiggins can take the tougher of the two defensive assignments on the wings. In a few years time, they should eventually move into the starting line-up together where they will form the most exciting wing combination in the NBA. Wiggins should be a great player in the NBA, but I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes part of LaVine's supporting cast down the road.

1 comment:

  1. Those LaVine dunks in Summer League were something else.