When Player Comparisons Go Wrong

Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing (USA TODAY Sports)

Here’s a hot take: ANTHONY EDWARDS IS NOT ANDREW WIGGINS! There, I said it. It feels good to finally get that off of my chest. We’ve all heard it, at nauseum, throughout the entire draft process about the alarming similarities between the two players.

Two quick questions: Why do we even compare players? And, what are the costs and or benefits for doing so? I’ll start by confessing that while I often bristle at the flippant ease with which individuals throw names around, conflating player styles and personalities to serve their personal end goals, I also understand that it can be a useful tool for scouts, coaches and front office personnel when trying desperately to ascertain which players might best suit their organizations. And thus creating greater fan interest, fervor and perhaps more importantly to the brass, securing future employment.

I’ll dive more into the reasoning behind my hot take in a sec.

But all of this “Anthony Edwards is Andrew Wiggins 2.0” chatter has got me thinking of when all of the athlete analogies and comparisons originated? We know that sports, and the passion for sports, are often passed down from generation to generation. I don’t think there’s any doubt that fan passion is the engine that propels the entire world of sports. It’s far more than entertainment, it’s a way of life to many, and something around which people often derive a sense of purpose and pride. That’s a pretty powerful phenomenon.

There are families of sports-loving fanatics, and there are droves of ex-athletes whose careers end long before high school, or even late-comers who have discovered the joy and pain of giving their hearts to a team or individual athlete. In the end there is one ultimate and inevitable truth: Debates are gonna happen.

The answer to “Who’s the GOAT?” may simply be a function of the age of the person answering the question? Some might say Bill Russell, as he’s the greatest winner. Some others might claim LeBron’s 10 trips to the finals, and multiple championships with three different squads in this modern era makes him the greatest. Hell, him beating that 73-win DUBS squad with the Cavs might alone be enough? But most would argue, with little resistance, that Michael Jeffrey Jordan is the true GOAT.

And to that end I’ll revisit my initial assertion surrounding what I consider a lazy comparison between Wiggins and Edwards.

Mike Jordan was eight years into an all-time career when Harold Miner (google him) appeared on the scene. The USC stud was electric. His college career started with him averaging 20 points per game. He would close out his career by averaging 26 points a game and becoming the Pac-10 player of the year.

He clearly modeled his game after Jordan, and he looked to have a bright future as a Jordan knockoff. Miner entered the NBA riding high as an All-American and the all time leading scorer at USC. He even housed a couple slam dunk contests early on in his NBA career, while enjoying the nickname “Baby Jordan.” But sadly for him, the NBA would prove far more different to solve than the Pac-10. And dunk contests aside, Minor would never amount to much of a NBA player. Four years later he was out of the league. This may seem like I’m bashing Minor, but he would’ve been better off without ever being compared to Jordan.

There would be others who would have varying levels of success: Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter and of course the best Jordan imitator of them all, Kobe Bean Bryant. Stackhouse had a nice career. Vinsanity and Bryant will be in the Hall of Fame. Kobe is easily a top-10 guy. But in the end there is only one Michael Jordan.

This to say it can be career suicide being compared to an all-time great.

Conversely, being compared to an under-achiever who possesses supreme athletic ability, but can appear to be lacking in the “desire to be great” department, can also be unfair. So I’d like to illuminate a few things that Wiggins and Edwards have in common — which makes for easy comparisons — and also what I consider to be very different stylistic and personality traits.

Let’s begin with what makes for easy comparisons between the two. Both players are athletic freaks. Each has a vertical leap that exceeds 40 inches, and both have the ability to easily finish over the top of helpless defenders. Both guys are also decent jump shooters but struggle mightily from 3-point range.

Each player was chosen No. 1 overall. For the record: Joel Embiid‘s medical issues paved the way for Wiggins to be drafted first. And Edwards was chosen first in what experts have called a fairly deep, but maybe not historic draft. (I guess time will tell? After all, we didn’t see Paul George or Giannis comin’.) The consensus was that there was no franchise altering-player at the top.

Both men have a reputation for lack of motor, and neither has shown nearly enough verve, awareness or consistent effort on the defensive end. This is where the questions of “desire” come in. And even though Edwards made curious comments about how little he enjoys watching basketball, I think they were blown out of proportion. Wiggins has demonstrated his lack of passion over and over again.

Who can forget my man Glen Taylor needing to look him in the eye before giving him a max deal? That didn’t go well. Wiggins really struggled mightily the year Jimmy Butler led the Wolves to the playoffs. He was ineffective as a third option, causing him to drift, which severely tested Jimmy’s patience. Most Wolves fans, including me, thought Jimmy just struggled playing with young guys. His reputation said as much, and then he joined the Miami Heat, and Butler and those neophytes seem to get along famously, making it all the way to the NBA Championship.

Soo… it turns out it’s the kind of kid that counts, which brings me to my conclusion.

What are the important contrasting characteristics between Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Edwards?

While I think both players are on the quiet to shy side. Edwards’ personality seems more magnetic while Wiggins seems just this side of withdrawn. It seemed damned near impossible getting a rise out of ol’ Wiggs. Wiggins could ever be confused for an inspirational cat. I’ve heard Tom Crean describe Edwards as a GREAT teammate. One who enjoyed setting screens, and finding open teammates as much as he enjoyed leading the team in scoring.

I think it’s important to add that Edwards choosing to stay close to home and play with a very young, and not too talented Bulldogs team contributed to his shot selection issues. This changes the minute he joins KAT and DLo. The weight of the world will no longer be on his shoulders. He’ll have a chance to play to always play to his vast, but developing skill set.

Wiggins was nicknamed Maple Jordan early on. But he never possessed a fragment of Jordan’s drive or killer instinct. It’s like he grew bored with dunking over Rudy Gobert? Wiggins will never be confused with being rough and tumble. Some might go as far as calling him soft. They’d be right.

Now contrast that with the kid who played running back in football. If you’ve never played football, and many basketball players haven’t, it can be hard to appreciate the savage contact that goes down. And if you’ve played running back — AT ANY LEVEL — you can never be called soft. The contact is real. I see a freed up Ant Man on the attack and never growing tired of the contact. Edwards refers to himself as a dog. If a player refers to him or herself as a dog, that’s a thing. Edwards says he admires the way Jimmy Butler plays the game. I think that’s something too. Maybe even a comparison that will be thrown around some day.

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Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing (USA TODAY Sports)

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