-- Kevin Pelton: Chad, the 2014 NBA draft discussion was dominated by one question: Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker? Two-plus years later, as both players are progressing toward making good on the potential they showed as college freshmen, the question still remains relevant.
Who has more star potential?
Pelton: First off, to set the stage, let's go back to that draft. What did scouts like about Parker and Wiggins, what questions did they have, and what ultimately led the Cleveland Cavaliers to take Wiggins over Parker before subsequently trading him to the Minnesota Timberwolves as the centerpiece of the package for All-Star Kevin Love?
Ford: Parker started his high school career as the No. 1 player in his class. He received considerable hype as a high school freshman with a number of media outlets and scouts wondering whether he was the next big NBA superstar. However, a foot injury suffered over the summer before his senior season, combined with the rise of Wiggins -- who reclassified from the high school class of 2014 to 2013 -- helped Wiggins leapfrog Parker.
While Parker had the superior offensive basketball skills, Wiggins' elite athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions really intrigued scouts. Parker's lack of elite explosiveness and questions about whom he'd guard in the NBA were his main weaknesses. For Wiggins, the concerns primarily centered on his shooting and some passivity offensively at Kansas.
By draft night, virtually every team in the league had settled on Wiggins as the top pick. Upside matters at the top, and most teams felt his ceiling would be higher than Parker's, although it should be noted that, had Embiid not been injured in a pre-draft workout, he likely would've been the No. 1 pick.
There was at least one team that wasn't on the "Wiggins for No. 1" bandwagon, though. Sources on the Milwaukee Bucks told me before the draft that they preferred Parker to Wiggins. The Bucks felt that he had a stronger work ethic and greater leadership skills than Wiggins. They also felt that he'd be the superior offensive player, a bigger need for them at the time. Had the Bucks had the No. 1 pick, I think Parker would've been the choice.
Before the draft, which player measured out statistically as the better prospect, Kevin?
Pelton: Parker had the substantially better WARP projection by virtue of his superior scoring. Parker used a higher percentage of Duke's plays (32.7 percent) than Wiggins did at Kansas (26.3) and was equally efficient as a scorer. Yet I put Wiggins higher in my subjective draft rankings -- albeit both behind Dante Exum and Marcus Smart, who had the best WARP projection in the draft -- because of his wing defense and concerns about Parker's defense in the pros.
That's maybe an interesting place to turn the discussion to where the scouting reports and statistical projections have been right and wrong about these two players, since Wiggins has lived up to scouts' expectations as a scorer but has yet to do so at the defensive end.
How do they stack up now?
Ford: I actually think Wiggins has exceeded scouts' expectations as a scorer. Remember, the knock from the media and from scouts was that Wiggins was too passive offensively. He wasn't selfish or aggressive enough. At the age of 21 he's already a top-10 scorer in the league (averaging 26.3 points per game) and just hung a career-high 47 points on the Lakers on Sunday night. Even more surprising, Wiggins is shooting a red-hot 55 percent from 3.
Those numbers aren't going to stay that high, and we're dealing with a small sample size this season, but I don't think there's any question about his scoring ability or offensive aggressiveness.
I do think Wiggins has been a disappointment in all the other areas where we expected him to shine, especially on defense. His real plus-minus (RPM) ranking last season defensively was a major disappointment. He showed the physical tools and the willingness to defend at Kansas.
What's the issue, Kevin?
Pelton: Yeah, it's safe to say Wiggins' shooting is going to regress. The confidence interval on a 31-shot sample like Wiggins currently has from 3 is about 18 percent in either direction. (Which, I suppose, does mean he could really be a 70 percent shooter. But probably not.)
Beyond that, Wiggins has kept increasing his usage rate, which now ranks 14th in the league at 30.8 percent. He's also drawing more fouls than ever, improving what has probably been his best NBA skill.
Yet you're right that Wiggins hasn't yet shown improvement this season in the nonscoring areas of his game. Given his athleticism, it's hard to understand why Wiggins gets so few steals (four this season), blocks (four) and rebounds (his defensive rebound percentage is below average for a guard, let alone a player spending so much time at small forward).
Last season, Timberwolves color analyst Jim Petersen pointed out that too often Wiggins wasn't in a defensive stance and ready to make a play off the ball, which explained the discrepancy between his mostly good one-on-one defense and his poor off-ball defense.
I hoped Tom Thibodeau's arrival would force Wiggins into better defensive habits. So far that doesn't seem to be the case. Minnesota's defensive rating ranks 22nd in the league, and the Timberwolves are allowing 3.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with Wiggins on the bench, per NBA.com/Stats. That number is likely to fluctuate, but it matches up with what Wiggins' individual stats are telling us.
What have you seen this season?from Parker?
Ford: He's having the best season of his career, but I think he has been a less dominant offensive player than the Bucks had hoped. He's a bit caught between positions, and that shows on both ends of the floor. As a wing, he's not quite the shooter or ball creator Milwaukee needs. As a 4, he has proved to be a mismatch problem offensively but a liability as a rebounder and defender.
The fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo has the ball in his hands so much has limited what Parker does a little, I think. I don't know whether that will be a permanent problem. They're both young and will continue to figure out how to play together, but he has looked more dominant when Matthew Dellavedova runs the point.
Who has more potential?
Ford:?Parker has been good. Maybe he'll be very good. But I'm not sure I see a superstar yet in him the way I still do with Wiggins.
What do you think, Kevin?
Pelton: I'm a little more optimistic than you are. Parker has basically carried over what he did in the second half of last season, and while most people took that as a floor, given he was coming off ACL surgery, that wasn't a guarantee.
Parker has even improved his usage a little, and at 26.3 percent he's not far behind where Wiggins was last season (27.2). We're also seeing Parker take and make more 3s -- eight in nine games after he made just nine last season (all of them after the All-Star break) -- which is important for his development at either forward position.
I'm also more hopeful for the Antetokounmpo-Parker frontcourt, which has outscored opponents playing together since Milwaukee put the ball in Antetokounmpo's hands after last season's All-Star break. Antetokounmpo's size and athleticism help counter some of Parker's defensive limitations, and that pairing could get even better as Parker continues to improve his shooting.
Based on your comments, I'm guessing that in the final analysis your decision between Parker and Wiggins is pretty easy?
Ford: I wouldn't say it's easy. Parker is looking as if he has the potential to be an All-Star someday. But I still see Wiggins as having a higher ceiling and more upside, assuming that at some point he brings his considerable athletic talents to the boards and the defensive end -- something I do think Thibs will eventually demand and get from him.
If they both hit their ceiling, I still think Wiggins is the best prospect. You still feeling Jabari?
Pelton: No, I'm going Wiggins, too. I feel the same way about the chances of Thibodeau eventually getting more out of him defensively.
And even if Wiggins doesn't broaden out his game, I think he's more on the Carmelo Anthony career path than the DeMar DeRozan or Rudy Gay comps thrown out by statistical analysts. So I'd take my chances with Wiggins.