Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker? The stars of the 2014 rookie class have a long, long way to go to live up those storied (and ongoing) individual rivalries, and get their first chance to do so as opponents tonight.
Wiggins’ Minnesota Timberwolves and Parker’s Milwaukee Bucks face-off at 8:00 EST in Minneapolis. While the ‘Wolves have reached an early season nadir by losing seven of their last eight games, the young Bucks are among the league’s biggest surprises at 8-7. And though neither first-year player has set the league ablaze the way that a naive minority predicted, both have begun to establish themselves as cream of the rookie crop.
Forced to be more assertive offensively of late due to a rash of injuries to starting teammates, Wiggins is coming off a career and rookie high of 29 points in Saturday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings. The 6-8 wing leads his classmates by scoring 12.5 points per game, and is arguably the top first-year defender, too. What’s been most surprising about Wiggins’ start is his prowess as a three-point shooter – he’s shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc. And though that mark will prove unsustainable as he becomes more prolific, his picture-perfect mechanics make it seem as if he’s destined to develop into a three-point marksmen.
Parker has been more consistent than Wiggins thus far, and has also made major strides in recent games. He’s reached double-figures in five of Milwaukee’s last six outings, shooting a sterling 52.3 percent in the process. The burly 6-8 forward is already a matchup nightmare for opposing 4-men despite a decided lack of comfort from deep. Once Parker adjusts to added length of the NBA three-point line, he’ll be among the most versatile natural scorers in basketball. His explosiveness off the bounce and speed in transition have opened eyes, too, allowing him to fare better defensively than most anticipated. The 19 year-old starts for a team that makes its mark on that end of the floor, after all – he’s obviously doing something right.
None of this is to say that Wiggins and Parker are without their flaws. The former still lacks a relentless motor and needs to improve his handle, while the latter must be stouter in post defense and could even stand to be more aggressive offensively.
But as we’ve stressed ad nauseam, these guys are teenagers just one season of competition removed from high school play – the massive and inevitable adjustment period to NBA basketball can’t be overlooked in assessing their performance.
Which, obviously, has been solid at the very least, and for flashes even spectacular:
Whether either plays well in their first career matchup, the first few weeks of the season has made it clear that we’re due for sustained greatness from both Wiggins and Parker going forward – the only question is when it comes. And if both teenagers reach their potential, their individual battles could indeed compare to legendary head-to-head rivalries of the past.
What do you think?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.