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Cavs survive Wolves 106-90 as Wiggins looks to stake his claim as the next generational talent

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The Wolves fell short against LeBron and the Cavaliers in Kevin Love's return to Minnesota, but Andrew Wiggins was the show, as he made his first claim to the King's throne

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Every NBA generation has its signature player(s). Sometimes they're singular, like Julius Erving or Michael Jordan. Sometimes they're contemporaries, like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. But the league always has at least one.

And certainly there's amazing talent in step with that. Just because Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan doesn't mean Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Reggie Miller or any other superstar of that era was any less of a superstar. But at the same time, none of them were Michael Jordan, right?

In that light, the current generation can then only have one real signature player: LeBron James. And like Jordan being Jordan, James being James doesn't diminish guys like Dwyane Wade or Kevin Durant. But neither of them are LeBron James. Consider:

  • 2x NBA champion
  • 2x NBA Finals MVP
  • 4x NBA MVP
  • 11x All Star
  • 8x All NBA First Team
  • 2x All NBA Second Team

And that's just the accomplishments at the very top. Love him or hate him, LeBron is the pinnacle of basketball right now, and will go down as arguably the best player ever when it's all said and done.

But there's a question that's been creeping up this season: is LeBron's "all said and done" starting to happen now? While there's no doubt James is still a dominant force, he isn't quite as otherwordly as he was in Miami.

Pts Rebs Asts Stls Blks TOs FG% 3pt% FT%
2013-2014 27.1 6.9 6.4 1.6 0.3 3.5 56.7 37.9 75.0
2014-2015 26.4 5.5 7.3 1.5 0.7 4.0 49.3 35.5 72.9
TS% Reb% Ast% Stl% Blk% TO% PER WS/48 WP/48
2013-2014 .649 11.5 32.0 2.2 0.8 14.4 29.3 .264 .327
2014-2015 .568 8.6 37.2 2.1 1.6 15.0 26.4 .196 .223

While James is still in the top 5% of the league, his play has gone from untouchable to 'merely' one of the best. Which seems like a silly thing to dissect, but it's in fact rather poignant. Before, James was indisputable. Now...at least so far...he's not doing anything someone like Durant couldn't equal. For a King, that's a dropoff. He used to be alone on the mountain top. Now he's sharing it.

It remains to be seen if that's because of the change in scenery or father time's inevitable hold. But either way, the shift has opened speculation to whether the torch is about to be passed, and who will become the new standard bearer. Durant is young enough to still be heir apparent. But Anthony Davis has been so incredible, he might cause Durant to be skipped over. What if Derrick Rose gets back? What about Steph Curry or James Harden? What's the ceiling for DeMarcus Cousins or John Wall? Etc etc.

(Personally I would like it to be known I believe it's not too late for Kyle Korver. Ok? Ok.)

Which brings us to last night, when Andrew Wiggins made a loud and clear statement: he's looking to stake his claim as the Next Big Thing.

Wiggins never felt wanted by the Cavaliers, and openly admitted that's motivation for him. As is big crowds, the big stage, and big opportunities. "I love the big stage. I love playing in the spotlight. A lot of fans. Big crowds. That's motivation for everybody."

So it should be no surprise that last night turned into something of a showcase for the #1 overall pick. It was the Cavaliers. LeBron James was in town. Mike Miller Kevin Love made his return. All the elements for Wiggins to play with a chip on his shoulder were there, and he didn't disappoint.

Wiggins scored 31 points in the first three quarters and effectively held James to 20 during that span as well. The Wolves in fact held the lead at the end of the third, which made the game as surreal as anything that the team has done. To see Wiggins, hailed as the best talent to enter the league since LeBron James, go head to head with LeBron James and come out with the better hand...even for just 36 minutes...was nothing short of inspiring. By all accounts, Wiggins should not have been in that matchup. There's a weight difference. There's an experience difference. There's a prestige difference. LeBron is to Wiggins as Hakeem was to rookie KG. As Vader was to Bespin Luke. As Brock Lesnar is to your neighbor kid who wrestles JV.

Earlier this year we took a look at how Andrew Wiggins was faring compared to other highly touted rookies at this point in their season. The obvious conclusion was that 30 games was simply not enough to make a pronouncement on Wiggins' career. But the exercise was still an interesting glance at his progress, and worth another glance now that he has nearly 50 games under his belt.

Basic stats after 47 games Pts Rebs Asts Stls Blks TOs FG% 3pt% FT%
LeBron James (03-04) 20.7 5.9 5.9 1.4 0.7 3.7 41.1 29.1 75.2
Andrew Wiggins (14-15) 15.5 4.2 1.8 1.1 0.6 1.9 43.4 36.7 72.7
Advanced after 47 games TS% eFG% Reb% Ast% TO Ratio Ast/TO Usage Net Rtg PIE
LeBron James (03-04) .480 .435 7.9 27.0 11.9 1.58 28.0 -3.7 11.9
Andrew Wiggins (14-15) .507 .460 7.1 8.8 10.2 0.92 22.2 -10.2 7.7

(Andrew's ast/to ratio is almost 1-to-1!!!)

The split for Wiggins between 30 games and 47 games is pretty staggering. After 30 games, his TS% was .478, his net rating was -12, and his PIE rating was 5.7. In summary, Wiggins is doing more, and doing it more efficiently and that reflects his split between December and January.

Andrew Wiggins Pts Rebs Asts Stls Blks TOs FG% 3pt% FT%
December 2013 14.6 4.1 1.8 0.9 0.6 1.7 40.9 33.3 68.9
January 2014 19.8 4.6 2.5 1.4 0.6 1.9 47.1 34.0 79.0

The sum total of this is that, should he stay on the path of improvement that he's on right now, Wiggins will one day live up to the expectations. Or at least come close enough that it won't be a debate. He's there with LeBron, Durant, and Carmelo at this point in their careers. He has every chance to be where they are now a few years down the road.

But the most encouraging insight on Wiggins from last night wasn't the statline; it was the mindset. Wiggins stared down the best basketball player on the planet, who (among other things) outweighs him by a good 60-70 lbs, and said "I got this". He wasn't afraid of going on the attack. He wasn't afraid of getting hit. He wasn't going to let Big Bad 'Bron bully him around. Wiggins decided he was going to do his thing, and if LeBron had a problem with that, then oh well. Too bad for LeBron.

One of the concerns expressed about Wiggins all the time before the draft was a lack of a motor. Which was a valid concern. I watched a lot of Wiggins at Kansas, and he definitely had several times per contest where he'd go 3-4 minutes without making any impact on the game. He wasn't bad. He wasn't good. He was just....there. But there's more to that as well. I think in the case of Wiggins, the "lack of a motor" cliche was really code for "does he have a killer instinct?"

The thing about Wiggins is he's very, shall we say, professional about how he handles his business. Remarkably so, to the point that it warps people's perception of him. He's not a hype up; he doesn't razzle-dazzle like John Wall or Wade. He doesn't play angry, like a Cousins or Russell Westbrook, nor yell angry, like Kevin Garnett. And he doesn't have the physical tools to just overwhelm through sheer power like LeBron.

And off the court, Wiggins is quite honestly something of a media nightmare; he talks very little, and what he does say is kind, but short, direct, and usually pretty unremarkable. He's no Marshawn Lynch. He's not starring in Citizen Kane. He's the extra in the background that sits on set for 8 hours to perfectly deliver one line; the night manager at the world's highest rated Best Western. He's Kawhi Leonard bland, and that's awesome. He doesn't want or really care about getting a blitzkrieg of attention. He just wants to do his job.

Consequently, people raise questions about his drive for basketball. He's so chill, you wonder if he's cutthroat enough to be a big deal in the NBA. But he knows, and last night he gave a pretty definitive answer, both on and off the court.

NBA seasons are long. NBA careers are longer. Right now, Wiggins is 100 meters into a 10,000 mile race. Who he is and what he'll become are still very much up for grabs. But lately, Wiggins has made a point of proving he is most definitely game for the reach. Can he be the NBA's next signature player? We'll have to wait and see. But last night, against the NBA's current signature player and the team that sent him away, he made his real claim to greatness.

Wiggins came into the NBA with monumental expectations. Almost insurmountable ones. And he's okay with that. He wants the pressure of greatness on his shoulders because he's the kind of person that uses that as motivation to become great. No hiding. No easy roads. Wiggins want's no other choice than to be the best.

"God just works in mysterious ways & I feel like this is the best spot for me. I feel like I've grown a lot more here than I would've there."

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  • Enough cannot be said about Lorzeno Brown's performance last night. As the only available point guard, he played all 48 minutes, very effectively containing Kyrie Irving (12 points on 4-16 shooting) and running a simple, effective, no-nonsense offense (team-high 9 assists) That's tremendous work for a guy on a 10-day contract who probably doesn't know more than 3-4 pages of the playbook.
  • It cannot be understated how much of a difference a competent point guard can make. If you want a case study for development, or the lack thereof, then this is it. Development happens within the structure of a coherent offense, which is reliant on point guard play far more than anything else. If the guy initiating the offense is lost, then the offense becomes non-sensical and no one gets anywhere. Brown is (so far) thoroughly unremarkable as a point guard. But just by being bookcase bland, he's more effective than Williams and LaVine. Mo's tendency to look for his shot all the time put him ahead of the young guys. Zach just doesn't know what he's doing right now. Brown enables the development of his teammates simply by setting them up then not getting in their way. That's incredibly valuable.
  • Now if only he hadn't missed that dunk....

  • Love got booed when he was introduced, and mostly bood every time he touched the ball from there on out. Does he deserve it? No. Was it inevitable? Yes. 'Sota boos Kris Humphries. We booed Pryzbilla and Marbury. We'd probably still boo JR Rider and not even remember why. It's just a sports thing. They're just boos.