Last night, we finally got to see superstar freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in a prime-time game against top-flight opponents. If you weren't planning on paying much attention to college basketball this year, it's time to amend those plans. These guys are going to make this season a whole hell of a lot of fun.
The game didn't play out as a straight-up "showdown" between Parker and Wiggins—Wiggins's foul trouble and the general raggedness of both teams prevented that—but both players gave us a glimpse of what exactly makes them so special. At no point in the game were Wiggins and Parker not the two most talented players on the floor.
We'll start with Parker, who finished with 27 points and nine rebounds after putting up 19 points in the first half. Parker is big—6-foot-8, 230 pounds, allegedly. He's not big like a young guy still working off his baby fat. He's big in the way of a veteran gone a little to pot. But he's so good with the ball, and he moves with such liquid ease, that it takes a beat to realize he's built more according to the dimensions of, say, Kevin Duckworth than, oh, Grant Hill, whose name was being invoked a lot last night.
On that play, Parker made up for whatever he lacked in foot speed by dispensing with the gangly uncertainty that most players his size and age possess. You saw it a little with Wiggins, who seemed to think through his possessions—let's see, maybe I'll put my left foot here and my right foot over here .... But in this way, too, Parker looked like a veteran, one who knows his optimal speed and knows the best angle from which to approach the rim, and who has the body control necessary to glide straight through three closing defenders. Anyone else, that layup goes sailing over the rim and onto Madison Street. Parker? He looked like a guy in a layup line.
Andrew Wiggins didn't show the same roundness to his game that Parker did, but it wasn't hard to make out what he's going to be. He finished with 22 points and eight rebounds despite playing only nine minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, and he sealed the game with a step-back jumper and leak-out dunk in the final minutes. But more importantly, Wiggins proved that all that abuse we've been watching him heap onto high school kids in his many mix tapes wasn't fool's gold. Wiggins missed some jumpers and showed some rawness to his game, but he also proved one very important thing: He really is that goddamn quick.
Neither of those plays is really all that spectacular, but you can readily see his great first step and agility. That whip-fast spin move is just as filthy and unstoppable when deployed against college opponents as it is when it's used to torment hapless high schoolers, and it's a move that we'll be seeing over and over again this season.
Despite missing the shot in the second play, Wiggins showed that he's got the kind of quickness and burst that's going to make it damn near impossible for his opponents to keep him out of the lane. He zipped right past his defender with one dribble, hop stepped into the lane, and then rose up again for the shot in the amount of time it takes most players to complete just one of those feats. Once Wiggins starts finishing plays like this, he's going to be something.
Both Parker and Wiggins are going to be great this year, and what's fun about it is they'll be great in different ways. Parker will be on one end of the spectrum, showing us what it looks like when a kid with size, skill, and an NBA-ready game is unleashed upon college basketball. (Carmelo is the obvious analogy, but Parker's twice the playmaker he was at this stage.) Wiggins—lithe and twitchy, his feet moving for now just a little too fast for his brain—will be on the other side, showing us what it looks like when a set of brilliant component parts resolve themselves into a basketball player.