Andrew Wiggins is a superior prospect to Jabari Parker, in my opinion.
Let’s just get that statement out of the way first, before this could be misconstrued in any other way. Wiggins brings too much to the table athletically, defensively, and potentially to be considered anything other than the top prospect in this draft. There are fewer questions about his ancillary problems (such as his feet or conditioning) than either Joel Embiid or Parker. Because of that, he not only has the highest ceiling in this draft, but he also has a pretty high floor.
However, there is one word that I didn’t include when showering effusive praise upon Wiggins in relation to Parker, and that is “offensively.” Far too often this draft season, the refrain of “Wiggins only averaged two points less per game with a better true-shooting percentage than Parker, so they have to be close offensively” has been uttered by those late arriving to the NBA Draft season. I’m here to refute that statement.
Within this post, I’ll try to give a balanced, unbiased look at each of Wiggins’ and Parker’s offensive games, and try to explain why Parker’s versatile, skillful offensive game is currently more translatable to the NBA than Wiggins’ pure athleticism. The key word there, of course, is currently.
First, we’ll start with sheer scoring ability. Parker got out to a hot start then cooled off a bit, whereas Wiggins’ numbers were pretty much steady throughout both the non-conference and conference seasons (outside of a massive explosion against West Virginia). However, it is worth mentioning that after a four game cold streak in the middle of the season (where he averaged only slightly over 10 points per game), Parker finished the season on a tear, averaging 20.5 points over his last 12 games of ACC play. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of their games specifically.
Parker’s offensive game is clearly the more mature of the two. For my money, the only two players in the NCAA last season who were better at the combination of both creating his own shot and then converting were Doug McDermott of Creighton and T.J. Warren of North Carolina State. Parker has a smooth stroke, high release point, and excellent creativity with the ball when attempting to create his own shot. His basketball IQ is off the charts. Be it finding the soft spot in the zone for an easy dump off or the understanding of angles in order to get just the right amount of space for a jumper or leaner, Parker knows exactly how to get his shot despite perceived limited athleticism. Also, it seems like he’s watched an awful lot of tape from Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony and is now incorporating little wrinkles of their game into his own. Here’s an example of him taking the patented one-footed turnaround post shot that Nowitzki has become so famous for with the Mavs. He misses, but just the fact that an unblockable shot like that is already incorporated into his repertoire is impressive.
Part of the reason that it has been speculated that Parker should simply play the power forward/4 spot in the NBA is because his post footwork is already quite advanced. In fact, given his defensive difficulties, that position is probably his best fit in the NBA. If a forward-thinking organization with a strong developmental staff around him could put him at the four, pair him with a shot blocker, and work with him defensively, Parker can be a generational offensive talent because of his explosive athleticism (Don’t mistake it, Parker would be an elite level athlete among 4s because of his fluidity and vertical explosiveness), ball handling ability, and general skill level. In fact, Parker was mostly stuck at the 4 or even 5 positions this season because of Duke’s complete dearth of interior talent.
However, all of those skills I just mentioned make him a ripe candidate to play the 3 offensively as well. Parker’s supreme skill allows him to not only post up smaller players, but also drive to the rim and overpower perimeter players. Here’s an example from the end of a game against Maryland that shows his skill with the ball.
Parker does not have the fastest first step in the book for a small forward, but like Anthony he is able to utilize the jab step and the threat of his jumper to get defenders off balance from the triple threat position in order to get to the bucket. Once he gets the defender off balance, he’s able to use his brute strength to bully his way into the lane and finish. Here’s another example of him facing up at the three point line, then utilizing his strength to get to the bucket for a lay-up.
Parker uses his most common move here, the jab step, to just slightly get the defender to turn his left foot inside out. Once he gets that slight step on the defender, it’s over. He’s so strong and understands body positioning so well that smaller defenders aren’t going to be able to recover against him before he gets to the rim. At the rim this season, finished at a solid — if unspectacular — level of 63%. Part of the reason for that was because he’s often doubled in the post due to Duke’s lack of other interior options for dump offs. His passing out of the post hasn’t been particularly great, but he often wasn’t put into positions to make creative decisions for others.
It’s also worth mentioning that Parker is also a pretty excellent catch-and-shoot three-point shooter for a forward. His jump shot is pretty much a perfect picture of fluidity and smoothness for a man his size. Then, to top it off, he already has NBA three point range — at least to the extent that any college player does. Here’s a video of him stepping into a three off of an offensive rebound and stroking it.
Check out his left foot when he catches the ball. It’s already perfectly pointed at the bucket so that when he brings his right foot over to step into the shot, he’s going to be perfectly balanced. The release and motion is completely fluid, and this is the perfect example of his high release point. This shot is nearly perfect mechanically. Parker shot 36% on three pointers this year, with slightly over 92% of his makes being assisted. This is an immediately translatable skill that defenders will have to respect once Parker receives the ball on the wing.
Overall, there is very little that Parker can’t do in a half court set. Dylan Burkhardt over at ShotAnalytics.com (you should all go there regularly, no one is doing what Dylan does and he’s a fantastic resource) has tabulated Parker’s shot chart this season, and it’s rather remarkable how many places he’s able to score from at an average or above-average efficiency level given the high volume of shots and defensive attention he was paid this season.
That shot chart is peppered with spots everywhere, and there are very few collegiate players who can say that their shot chart is that complete. However, there is one final place that Parker makes his mark offensively, and that’s in transition. Parker is a legitimate freight train that can take the ball 90 feet and score on any given rebound if the defense is sleeping. One of the most terrifying things for a defense this ACC season was seeing Parker fly down the floor in transition with the ball in his hands. Once he gets moving, it’s impossible to slow him down. I don’t want to exaggerate his skill in this regard and I don’t think he’s actually comparable to LeBron James talent-wise here (the explosion, coordination, and quickness aren’t the same). But as a 6’9, 250 lb forward, he attacks in transition the same way that James does, as seen in this gif:
Parker is legitimately an elite talent in transition any way that you slice it because of his ball-handling, strength, and fluidity.
Wiggins was the more consistent of the two during conference play statistically. Even though both players were right around 1.3 PPS for the entire season, Wiggins’ didn’t really consistently deviate too far away from that number outside of of a three game stretch where he scored 17, 27, and 29 points against Baylor, TCU, and Iowa State. Simply put, Wiggins’ role in the Kansas offense is much more secondary than Parker’s is. While Wiggins still leads the Jayhawks in usage, his 25.0% mark pales in comparison to Parker’s 32.7% — which was 14th in the country. Kansas boasted a much deeper roster than Duke did, and Wiggins thusly was asked to play off ball a lot more than Parker.
Even though Wiggins showed statistical consistency on a game by game basis, it didn’t really play itself out within games. When Wiggins got hot and commanded the ball, there wasn’t a better player in the NCAA. Look no further than his 11 consecutive points for Kansas in the final two minutes against Florida to bring his team back into the game. Or how about his 15 point explosion in seven minutes to start the second half against Kansas State. What about his 10 points in four minutes against TCU to end the game before halftime? And for the love of god, that 41 he hung on West Virginia was the most beautiful display of athleticism all season. When Wiggins scores, he does it in bunches. But when he’s not doing that, he can be invisible on the offensive end. So while Wiggins’ and Parker’s numbers look similar, you shouldn’t be convinced that Wiggins is Parker’s equal on offense right now.
He does do some things extremely well though, and most of those skills revolve around his transcendent athleticism. He was the most explosive athlete in the NCAA this season without question. The largest place that bears itself out on the offensive end is, unsurprisingly, in his first step. He needs to improve as a ball-handler, but on the NCAA level it didn’t particularly matter. Here’s an example of how dangerous his first step is:
This isn’t even a play where he beats his man with the first step, but it illustrates just how dangerous Wiggins’ first step is. The defender has to over-commit to the right in order to make sure Wiggins doesn’t beat him to the basket, which leads to Wiggins spinning into the middle of the lane for what will either be an easy look at the hoop or a foul. Here’s an example of Wiggins using his dribble to blow by a defender:
Here, Wiggins has essentially blown by, getting his shoulders even with the defender before spinning. He actually shows solid second level awareness, spinning away from the interior help at the rim. Wiggins could have simply gotten past the first guy, but by spinning he gave himself an easier lane to the rim. Which leads us to the next thing about Wiggins’s athleticism that he loves to show off: that spin move.
If there is one move that Wiggins is known for, it’s the spin. It’s a whirling dervish of basketball elegance, and it helped him draw nearly six fouls per 40 minutes. However, when he’s not blowing by guys and employing the spin move, Wiggins has begun to adjust to collegiate defenses through the development of a highly dangerous step back jumper.
Because the defender has to respect Wiggins’ first step so much, he’s able to push back hard off of that plant foot and get separation from his defender for an open jumper. Look at how far the defender slides back as soon as Wiggins takes his first step to the rim. He slides from above the free throw line back to the SEC logo. Another good example of where Wiggins has utilized the step back this season is in the post, where he shows the fundamentals to potentially be an above-average scorer because of his height and reach. Check out this step back against Duke:
Amile Jefferson, who has a 7’1 wingspan at 6’9, is essentially frozen here by first the long forward step, then the pump fake in his face. Wiggins gets the quick advantage, and uses his long stride to step back and knock down a 15 footer.
Wiggins has the potential to have every tool in the book to score. He gets good balance on his jumper, although I think his release point is a little bit low and the fluidity of his shot can waver sometimes. He can be every bit the offensive player that Paul George has blossomed in to. But he could also turn into more of a DeMar DeRozan-type that is extremely athletic but slightly inefficient because he tends to settle.
Part of the reason that Wiggins tended to settle was because of his loose handle. It’s by far his biggest weakness, and it hinders him from being an elite half-court weapon. Tightening his handle is the next step in his development. If he can do that, there is a chance he becomes the next Tracy McGrady. Without it, you’ll probably see the same inconsistent scoring threat that we did at Kansas. Here’s a look at his shot chart from Burkhardt and Shot Analytics:
Here, we see a bit less consistency across the floor than that of Parker. Particularly, he’s bad from the corners and the foul line. Fewer of his shots all over the floor were assisted, which means that he’s not only creating shots, but also settling for shots, as only 75% of his threes were assisted (a lower rate than it sounds like for a wing).
However, that’s not the only thing that’s problematic for him offensively. Most likely because of his handle, he’s not as assertive on offense as he needs to be. Parker is unafraid to take whatever shot he can get, and is a constant offensive threat in the minds of defenses. While he went through phases of inconsistency, Parker was always a guy that defenses had to respect because of his assertive nature. Wiggins had nine games of under ten shots attempted this season, whereas Parker only had one such game.
I don’t buy the criticism of Wiggins’ mentality being the issue. I think it’s simply a question of skill level in the half-court that is holding back his assertiveness. For every case like McGrady and Kevin Durant of a player improving his handle in the NBA, there are others like Harrison Barnes and Wes Johnson who were unable to. By all accounts, Wiggins is a hard worker that will legitimately do what he can to get better. But sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. He’ll need to go to a strong developmental situation that can foster this part of his game.
Given this fact, I’d probably take my chances that Parker ends up being the better offensive player. I wouldn’t take Parker over Wiggins because Wiggins brings more to the table, but Parker has that feather in his cap as the best offensive talent in this draft right now.
However, if Wiggins does figure it out, he’s going unquestionably be an elite offensive player in the NBA. And one that dwarfs even Parker’s high skill level.