The Canadian invasion of the NBA has hit a speed bump.
Anthony Bennett, the Canadian chosen No. 1 overall in 2013 by the Cleveland Cavaliers, is trending toward being a full-scale bust.
And Andrew Wiggins, the Ontario native widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in 2014 when this college basketball season began, could “fall” to No. 2 or 3 come June.
“I think Wiggins is still in the proper range,” one NBA executive told SheridanHoops.com. “No. 1 if things go well, No. 3 if he struggles.”
Let’s face it. The expectations for Wiggins — and his super-frosh brethren Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon — were sky-high coming into this season, and while all of them have played well enough — spectacularly for stretches, disappointing for others — none of them is looking like the transcendent players that LeBron James and Tim Duncan were, as Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim pointed out to ZAGSBLOG.com.
“I don’t think [Wiggins] has struggled,” the NBA executive said of the 6-foot-8 Kansas small forward averaging 15.8 points, and 6.3 rebounds. “I think expectations were too high and he’s playing on a team with a lot of talent, so he’s not featured.”
Wiggins’s teammate Joel Embiid, the phenomenally athletic 7-footer from Cameroon, could go No. 1 ahead of Wiggins, and it’s entirely possible the two Kansas freshmen could go 1-2 in the draft.
The NBA executive, who is not allowed under NBA rules to speak on the record about draft-eligible prospects, said he would take Embiid — averaging 13.4 points in his last seven games — No. 1 overall.
“It’s not a unique opinion among NBA personnel,” he said. “It’s a close call on talent, and if a team needs a center more than a small forward they could take him.”
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and much will depend on who’s picking first and what their specific needs are.
(Teams like the Celtics and the 76ers that have multiple first-round picks are in prime position to capitalize on this rich draft. Teams like the Knicks and the Nets with no picks, not so much.)
One veteran NBA scout believes that not only is Embiid going to be a better pro than Wiggins, but that the 6-8 Parker will be, too.
“Parker and Embiid will be better pros [than Wiggins],” the scout said, downplaying Wiggins’s tremendous athleticism. “Athleticism is not an upside to me. Does he play harder on a consistent basis? Can he become a consistent perimeter shooter? Does he understand time and possession of games, especially within the last 2 minutes? Does he become a better ball-handler and decision-maker with the ball? All these things need to improve as the year goes on. He is only relying on athleticism right now. I just think it will be hard for him to move past Parker and Embiid in the draft.”
Of course, Duke’s Parker has struggled recently, too. He is averaging only 10.5 points in ACC play while shooting just 30 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc.
“Jabari Parker the past couple of weeks has struggled, he’s hit a wall,” a second veteran NBA scout said. “Now everyone gears up. Parker got so much publicity that the whole thing is geared up against him.
“Parker’s a terrific player and he’s going to be a good player in the NBA. He’s smart and highly skilled and has a good feel, but he’s not the greatest athlete in the world.”
Despite the questions raised above by the first scout, the second NBA scout believe Wiggins remains the No. 1 pick.
“The thing that I like about Wiggins is that he’s built for the NBA,” he said. “I think his game will thrive in the NBA because he has elite athleticism. He has special athleticism.”
He added: “In fairness, I think they were all overhyped. They’re not LeBron James. They’re not Kobe. Those things have to be proven over time. LeBron had to prove that he had the mental toughness and everything to go win a couple of championships, with all his great physical tools. There’s an ongoing test for the guys that are special. [Michael] Jordan set the bar with the six championships, the mental toughness, and you go right down line. Kobe did it and now the bar’s set for LeBron.
“To put that burden on those kids, I think is too much. I think they’re tremendous players. They’re fun to watch but every one of them has some weaknesses. I always question how tough Wiggins is as far does he have that special thing that Jordan had, that Kobe had, and where LeBron is going now, what LeBron is doing. That’s a special thing, that has to be proven over time. But physically Wiggins is so special. He has a good skill set. He seems to be a good young guy, he wants to learn, he wants to get better and so the arrow is still pointing up. They all have different times when it goes their way. I mean, for Embiid it’s all ahead of him. And there’s an old saying in basketball, when you’re trying to decide, take the big guy. And so I don’t think you can go wrong with any of those kids.”
So Wiggins and the Canadian invasion may have hit a speed-bump, but in a worst-case scenario he ends up going No. 2, or maybe No. 3.
And he could still end up being a 10- or -15-year NBA All-Star.