Last in a four-part series.
The NBA Draft Lottery will take place more than eight months from now, but most of the script of that night's events has already been written.
On the evening of May 20, 2014, 14 (or so) owners will gather for a light dinner on the second floor of the Millennium Broadway Hotel in the heart of New York's Times Square.
They'll chat over the charcuterie, press the flesh, and a few may even wander down the hall to listen to newly-installed commissioner Adam Silver as he gives the NBA-equivalent of the "State of the Union" address.
Until the ping-pong balls are drawn and the team placards are placed in their respective envelopes, a palpable uncertainty will linger over the proceedings. When asked, the owners will each say that they're in town to enjoy the rare opportunity to network with other members of the NBA's Billionaire Boys Club, but it's clear that there's a far larger purpose at work. The Millennium Broadway's Gotham Ballroom is a hell of a place to hold a happy hour, but in a private moment, someone will inevitably spill the beans: They didn't show up just for the pasta salad.
The real reason why they chose to make that springtime jaunt to the Big Apple - the reason why many of the league's GMs are "embracing the tank" much like Norman Schwarzkopf and David Petraeus once did - will be in that very same room, standing less than 100 feet away.
At roughly 6'8" (he may grow an inch or two between now and then - you never know with kids these days...), Andrew Wiggins will be hard to miss. Chances are, he'll be nattily attired in a dark-colored suit, surrounded by family and friends as he waits to learn which team will be granted the No. 1 selection in the following month's draft.
Wiggins won't be the tallest nor the most physically imposing man in attendance, but by all accounts, he will be the player projected to have the biggest impact on the next level.
Much like the poster on the wall of Andy Dufresne's cell in The Shawshank Redemption, Wiggins is the one thing separating a handful of NBA teams from freedom. In this case, the prison is that nebulous purgatory that separates the haves from the have-nots in the Association, and Wiggins is widely considered to be a living, breathing, get-out-of-jail-free card.
He was tagged as "Canada's great basketball hope" at just 15 years of age, and as recently as last week, several members of the SBNation NBA team projected that Wiggins would be the 8th-best player in the league four seasons from now.
No matter how you spin it, those are pretty lofty expectations for someone who is just three months removed from his senior prom.
The NBA will have to wait at least a year, however. While Wiggins would have been the first overall pick in the 2012 draft had he been eligible, rules are rules, and the explosive swingman with the seven-foot wingspan will have to spend the next several months terrorizing the Big 12.
Wiggins could have easily headed to Lexington to link up with John Calipari and college basketball's version of the nWo (an option that he seriously contemplated), but he decided instead to accept a scholarship offer from the University of Kansas.
Lawrence will likely be little more than a footnote on Wiggins' Wikipedia page 10 years from now, but with the 6'5" Wayne Selden on the wing and 6'11" Joel Embiid on the low block, Kansas has the potential to make a run at the Final Four this season.
Enjoy Wiggins while you can, Jayhawks' fans: He'll soon show why he's destined for bigger and better things.
In terms of pure athleticism, Wiggins has few peers on the basketball court. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express wrote that the Canadian-born small forward is "one of the best athletes you'll find in the world outside of the NBA", and Wiggins gave credence to that argument when he literally out-jumped the vertical leap test at the 2012 LeBron James Skills Academy.
Given his natural gifts, it should come as no shock that both of his parents were world-class athletes. Marita Payne-Wiggins represented Canada in two Olympics as a sprinter, and she took home two silver relay medals at the 1984 Games. Mitchell Wiggins was selected 23rd overall in the 1983 NBA Draft, and despite a tumultuous, six-year stint in the league, he wound up playing professionally for the better part of two decades.
ESPN's Dave Telep broke the hyperbole meter when he wrote that "we may be staring at genetic perfection" when it comes to Andrew Wiggins. That said, the reigning Gatorade National Player of the Year is a gifted athlete with a near-limitless ceiling. Even now, the weaknesses on his scouting report (per ESPN Insider) are relatively minor for someone of his skill level:
"He must continue to be a competitor every time he steps out on the floor and expect to dominate. His passing needs to improve as he continues to demand double teams."
While the latter statement is a testament to Wiggins' talent, the first criticism isn't entirely without merit. In a February article that appeared on SI.com, Wiggins offered the following:
"When the big games come, I show up. I'm more than ready to play. When we play a team I know we're going to blow out or anything like that, I'm not as motivated."
The quote was the focal point of a highly critical piece penned by SI's Pete Thamel that questioned Wiggins' competitive spirit. Hours after the post hit the Web, the Huntingdon Prep senior dropped 57 points (on 24-for-28 shooting), 13 rebounds and four blocks on an unsuspecting Marietta College (Ohio) JV team in a 111-59 win.
"I just had to respond to the negative outlook that the reporter gave me," Wiggins told the Huntington Herald-Dispatch following the game. "I thought I responded well."
We'll never know whether the original statement was misconstrued or taken out of context in any way, but we did learn is that when challenged, Wiggins - the Naismith Prep Player of the Year - rises to the occasion.
Until Wiggins suits up for the Kansas Jayhawks in a meaningful contest, trying to point out the weaknesses in his game is akin to finding the one loose thread on the dress of the prom queen. To expect him to be a perfectly polished prospect at this stage would be foolish: Every player in the league has noticeable flaws in his game.
We'll learn all about Wiggins' shortcomings soon enough: Kansas makes an early-season trip to Chicago to face Duke in the Champions Classic on November 12. The Blue Devils will be led that evening by heralded freshman Jabari Parker - the player who used to be the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2013 before Wiggins reclassified last October. This, of course, is the same Jabari Parker who Wiggins was "tired of hearing about" prior to the 2012 Nike Peach Jam.
A broken right foot caused Parker to miss the Peach Jam (and squashed any possibility of a Wiggins/Parker showdown), but Wiggins did get the chance to square off against another big-time recruit at that same event: University of Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle. The match-up between the two was so one-sided, it caused Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports to gush for nearly 800 words about a young man who might wind up being the best Canadian export since Shania Twain:
"Wiggins made Randle look ordinary, as if he was just another Top 100 player. I will confess that I'm a huge Randle fan, but he was outclassed -- in every manner.
I felt bad for Randle on this one because he didn't have a chance. Wiggins started slow, but by the end of the game he had racked up 28 points, grabbed 13 boards and done a magnificent job turning Randle into a non-factor for most of the contest. Randle finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, but the numbers were misleading. Wiggins wanted the defensive challenge against Randle and used his length, quickness and athleticism to continuously frustrate the big Texan.
With that performance, just about everyone present at the Riverview Park Activities Center walked away with the same thought: This kid has to be the best player in the country, regardless of class."
In July, a Western Conference assistant GM told Chris Mannix of SI.com that Wiggins "isn't quite a LeBron talent, but he's right behind him."
In other words, the Ontario-born Wiggins is (according to many) a notch below one of the most transcendent figures the game of basketball has ever seen.
Of course, it's all conjecture at this point: No one has any idea how good Wiggins will ultimately be. For that matter, we don't even know where he'll begin his NBA career. But we'll have answers to both of those questions soon enough.
See you in May.