No. 1 no longer?
Andrew Wiggins, the ballyhooed basketball player, has long been touted as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. But with the draft a little more than two weeks away, his stock has suddenly dipped a couple notches.
No. 3 instead of No. 1 might sound like an unfortunate knock but, in fact, it could be the best thing to happen for the 19-year-old phenom from the Toronto suburb of Vaughan. Cleveland holds the top pick, Milwaukee the second and Philadelphia the third, and it’s the 76ers who most covet the insane athleticism of Wiggins. And Wiggins can see himself in the uniform once worn by Dr. J and Allen Iverson.
The people around Wiggins, led by his father Mitchell, foresee riches from turning Wiggins into a brand name, a dream he’s held since his son became a YouTube sensation five years ago. And he sees Philly as a better city to launch that brand than Cleveland or Milwaukee.
It works for Philly, too. Wiggins falling to No. 3 “is a dream scenario for the 76ers,” wrote ESPN’s Chad Ford on Tuesday. “It’s a great scenario for Wiggins, as well. Of the top three teams, his camp prefers the Sixers as the best possible fit.”
The recent shift in draft predictions comes from both Ford and another leading prognosticator, DraftExpress. Their new forecasts for the June 26 draft in Brooklyn have the same one-two-three order: Joel Embiid, the seven-foot centre and teammate of Wiggins at the University of Kansas, going first, followed by Jabari Parker, the Duke power forward who once was more highly touted than Wiggins, and then Wiggins.
There is a considerable amount of flux heading into this year’s draft, with the lottery-lucky Cavs considering numerous options, including the rare move of trading the No. 1 pick – Philly, according to Ford, has chatted with Cleveland about it. And while Wiggins was ranked No. 1 for a long time, it was never in a landslide – there is a tremendous quality atop the draft, and there hasn’t been a true consensus about the top pick for months.
Wiggins has some detractors, but the same can be said for Embiid, who has awesome potential but a potentially wonky back. Amazingly, Embiid’s rookie year in the NBA will be only his fourth season of organized basketball; he started out as a soccer player back home in Cameroon. Then there’s Parker, the Chicago baller who, of the three, is figured to have the best immediate impact on a team that badly needs such an injection of talent.
As a brief aside, there are intriguing coincidences and comparisons with the 1984 draft. It was then that Hakeem Olajuwon – to whom Embiid is likened – went No. 1 and Michael Jordan went No. 3. This is not to say that Wiggins will ever be a Jordan-quality player. But if he has the impact of someone like Tracy McGrady or, contemporarily, Paul George, his NBA career would be a great success.
Beyond the swirl of attention around Wiggins, this could be a spectacular year for Canada at the draft, and it could become the NBA’s No. 1 source of international players. Beyond Wiggins there is Nik Stauskas of Mississauga, ranked as a lottery pick at No. 9 by DraftExpress and No. 13 by ESPN. Tyler Ennis, the Syracuse freshman point guard from Brampton, is forecast at No. 16 on both lists.
For Wiggins, there is a several-million-dollar comedown in salary as a No. 3 pick rather than a No. 1, as per the NBA collective agreement. The No. 1 can command a three-year, $17.3-million (U.S.) contract, while No. 3 can get as much as three years and $13.9-million. For perspective, Ennis at No. 16 would at best see three years and $5.5-million.