Andrew Wiggins had 16 points against the Los Angeles Lakers last night. Only 32,017 more to make Kobe Bryant proud. After the Los Angeles Lakers legend passed Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list in his team’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves last night, Bryant said that Wiggins is “like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago.”
Via Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
“I remember being Andrew Wiggins,” [Bryant] said. “I remember playing against Michael my first year. To be here tonight and play against him, seeing the baby face and the footwork and the little technique things he’s going to be much sharper at as time goes on, it’s like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago. It was pretty cool.”
And it’s also understandable. Bryant entered the league in 1996-1997 as a lauded, skinny teenager with limitless potential but obvious room to improve. Sound like a player you know? The minute-adjusted per game numbers of Kobe and Wiggins through their first 23 professional outings are eerily similar:
The freaky athleticism, defensive disposition, and effortless movements are just further indication backing up Bryant’s assessment.
But while Kobe was hardly the late-game killer or all-around dominant force as a rookie that he was just two years later, Wiggins is still behind his predecessor in terms of development. What set Mamba apart from his preps-to-pros peers was a skill-set that belied his age. He had the handle and footwork of a veteran from the very beginning, aspects that Wiggins lacks in his first NBA go-round.
It bears mentioning that Bryant didn’t use those talents to great effect or even great frequency during his rookie season. The 18 year-old averaged just 15.5 minutes per game in his inaugural campaign, playing behind All-Star Eddie Jones for a playoff Lakers team. Wiggins, obviously, isn’t afforded the same benefit – Minny has thrown him into a fire of responsibility and losing. Despite that, his efficiency numbers are on par or even slightly better than rookie Kobe’s. The lesson? It takes time for young players.
After the game, Wiggins was in awe of Bryant’s accomplishment:
Said Wiggins: “That’s Kobe. That’s what he does. … I witnessed greatness tonight. A living legend just passed Michael Jordan, who everybody thinks is the greatest player of all time.’’
It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Wiggins has the potential to someday reach Bryant’s level. Wings with his combination of size, athleticism, and natural shooting ability are few and far between.
What will ultimately decide whether he mirrors Kobe or not more than anything else is Wiggins’ drive for excellence. Bryant’s is unparalleled, and critics of the Canadian sensation point to his casual on-court demeanor and less-than-ideal motor as why he’ll underachieve.
Dwyane Wade already asked Wiggins if he wanted to be great, and Kobe clearly thinks he can. So remember this self-comparison in 19 years or so. It could be what helped propel Wiggins to heights only reserved for Bryant and the game’s true legends.
What do you think?
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