Saturday, July 19, 2014

LeBron and Wiggins

When projecting players to the NBA, one of the leading indicators of future stardom is plus size and athleticism for their position. All things being equal, you want to be longer and more athletic than everyone you face. That's why Russell Westbrook plays as a PG instead of a SG - he has elite size for PG's and average to below-average size for SG's - and why Orlando tried to pull the same trick with Victor Oladipo last year.

The same holds true on the wings, even though the SG and SF are interchangeable in the modern NBA. No matter how they divide up their responsibilities on offense, every team in the NBA is going to start a longer (SF) and a smaller (SG) wing. As a result, the guy playing as a SF is going to face longer and more athletic defenders on a nightly basis. Here's a look at the starting wings in the East playoff teams last year:

1) Lance Stephenson, Paul George

2) Dwyane Wade, LeBron James

3) Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan

4) Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy

5) Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza

6) Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson

7) Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

8) Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll

Would you rather be guarded by the guys in Column A or Column B?

If Wiggins (6'8 200 with a 7'0 wingspan) is being defended by the guys in Column B, he's seeing guys who are just as long and who are elite athletes in his own right. If he's being defended by a lot of the guys in Column A, he's staring down at players who are much smaller than him. As he's shown in summer league, he's not the most skilled player in the world, so you can see why the Cavs would want to maximize his advantage in length and athleticism as much as possible.

However, that only works if he's playing with a SG as big and as athletic as he is. You can call him a SG, but if you start him with a 6'5-6'6 wing, he's still going to face the other teams SF's on a nightly basis. In other words, in order to maximize Wiggins, you want to play him with a wing player whose bigger, more athletic and more skilled than he is. Coming into the draft, I was worried about Wiggins because there didn't seem like many scenario where that would happen.

And then, LeBron.

Playing with LeBron is the best thing that could have happened to Wiggins. The difference in potential match-ups is staggering. Just a few more examples from this year's Western playoff teams - Wiggins is being defended by JJ Redick instead of Matt Barnes, Monta Ellis instead of Shawn Marion, Danny Green instead of Kawhi Leonard. As a rule, that would be the pattern for him for the next 5+ years.

The Cavs would have an overwhelming advantage in size and athleticism on the perimeter. Wiggins and LeBron could absolutely suffocate a team on defense and allow Kyrie Irving to play as little D as possible. They could be like a younger version of Wade and LeBron, using their size and athleticism to blitz the ball, protect the rim and force TO's.

Wiggins would not have a ton of offensive responsibility early in his career and could focus on playing defense, getting out in transition and cutting to the basket. Meanwhile, as LeBron got older, he would have Wiggins around to compensate for any loss in athleticism. They fit together really well and could form the best wing combo in the NBA in a short amount of time.

The Cavs are built a lot like the Heat in the sense that they aren't a very big team upfront. Anderson Varejao is an undersized C, Tristan Thompson is an undersized PF and Anthony Bennett is more combo forward than big man. And if you're going to be small on the backline of the defense, you had better be big up top.

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