It seems weird to say that a freshman who should have won Big 12 player of the year and went on to be the #1 pick in the NBA Draft was underrated, but I suspect most people thought Wiggins should be lower on this list. He’s mostly remembered for his 4 point, 4 turnover effort in KU’s upset loss to Stanford in the 2014 NCAA tournament, which is both fair and unfair, but all together, Wiggins was an exceptional offensive and defensive player for the Jayhawks.
Defensively, Wiggins both stood out and didn’t stand out. He didn’t blow anyone away in terms of blocks or steals, but had the 6th season since 2010 with a block percentage of at least 3 and steal percentage of at least 2 among players who have played 500 minutes. What I’ll remember most about Wiggins, however, is his ability to completely shut down whoever he was guarding. Although not quite as versatile as Marcus Garrett, nor quite the shutdown defender Travis Releford turned into, Wiggins was the guy Kansas could switch on a scorer and keep him from scoring in the final minutes of a game.
Offensively, Wiggins gets knocked for not being aggressive, but that is definitely not fair. He led the 2014 Jayhawks in usage, and his 227 free throw attempts ranks third among all Jayhawks since 2012 according to Hoop-Math.com. He was also efficient, shooting almost 50 percent on twos and 34 percent from three. As the 3 man in Bill Self’s offense, he had to orchestrate a lot of that offense all by himself. Of all the good things Bill Self has done coaching wise, I don’t think he utilized Wiggins in the best way. There weren’t a lot of post ups for him, and weren’t a lot of pick and roll actions where he would get to attack downhill or exploit mismatches. Taking a look at some screenshots and video from the Stanford game, you’ll see a lot of the attention is focused on Wiggins, and while he didn’t do much to help himself out, it’s easy to see he wasn’t put in a great situation either. As Bill Self’s offense has continued to evolve, I think we would see a much different and more unleashed Wiggins if he were coming to college next year vs in 2013.
In all, I think a lot of the complaints about Wiggins would be better repurposed as complaints of the system at the time. He wasn’t a great offensive rebounder, but had the third highest offensive rebound rate among guards/wings this decade. He wasn’t a great passer, but no wing in Self’s system racks up the assists. He didn’t dunk enough or take enough shots at the rim, but the lane was clogged with two big men all of the time. He didn’t shoot enough threes, but none of Self’s players really did.
This isn’t to absolve him of all blame. The disappearing acts were real, and he wasn’t a very good decision maker. Still, he should have won the Big 12 player of the year award and a healthy Joel Embiid would have led to a big NCAA tournament run and fonder Andrew Wiggins memories. But even without that, it’s time for fans to put aside their weird problems with how Wiggins’ season ended and appreciate his full body of work, which is well worth being this high on this countdown.