Remember the reviews of Ben McLemore when he first left Kansas?
He was a magician with the ball but Houdini without it. He'd score; he'd be the best athlete on the floor; he'd finish at the rim; and then – with crunch time creeping up – he'd disappear. And that would be it for Ben McLemore, never to be heard from again on that night.
Seemingly everyone wrote that about McLemore heading into the 2013 NBA Draft. Seemingly everyone was on the same page about a guy whose talent was explosive but whose use of that talent was suspect.
Maybe those criticisms got to McLemore's head. There's a chance it affected the way he played. There are some crazy conspiracy theories out there to be had.
Suppose McLemore actually took the "disappearing act" critique personally. Suppose all he wanted to do upon his NBA entrance was to prove the people who said that about him completely wrong. Maybe that explains why he wouldn't pass the ball at the Las Vegas Summer League. Maybe that has something to do with his 0-to-18 assist-to-turnover ratio in Vegas.
Either way, McLemore played in a Bill Self-run offense at KU, one that usually doesn't show off superstardom in crunch time. That's an offense that spreads the ball around and doesn't capitalize on the talents of one individual player. If its best player is someone who isn't actively going to seek the ball down the stretch, there's a chance that player could vanish when his teammates need him most. That's what happened to McLemore. But now, with people starting to jab those same criticisms at Andrew Wiggins, it might be time to take a step back and realize that McLemore and Wiggins aren't in the same situation.
McLemore was going away down the stretch. He was having games like the second regular-season match against Iowa State, an overtime game that was close all the way through, and one in which McLemore went 0-for-1 from the field with no points in the final 20:59. Wiggins, though, is treading water early and then taking over late, which is what we wanted from McLemore all along, isn't it?
Just look at Kansas' recent slide for reference. The Jayhawks have lost three of their last five games, all of which have come down to the wire. But those losses haven't been at the fault of Wiggins, especially the ones to Colorado and Florida.
Wiggins had six points in the final three-and-a-half minutes against the Buffaloes. He got to the free-throw line at will. He pulled down a huge offensive rebound and then another big-time defensive rebound. He commanded the ball. He took smart, but confident shots. Down the stretch, he actually stepped up his game in a contest in which he finished with 22 points on 11 shots.
Then, came Florida. The Gators were on, Scottie Wilbekin was in the zone, and Patric Young was pulling down every offensive rebound in sight. It's hard to beat Florida when they follow that formula. But that didn't stop Wiggins from trying. During a game in which he probably shared the ball too much for the first 37 minutes, he went off to bring Kansas within a puncher's chance of victory. In the final 2:26, he scored 11 straight points for KU, including hitting three three-pointers in a row.
In actuality, Wiggins is doing the opposite of what McLemore did last season. He's pacing himself throughout games, giving his teammates priority over himself, and then taking over down the stretch. We've seen that from early-season freshmen before. We've seen supremely talented, first-year players come into school, and want to be a part of the team so much that they integrate themselves with an overly unselfish mindset. But that tends to change throughout the year, usually once we get into conference play and each game becomes more important.
That might happen with Wiggins. He's too talented, too dominant not to take over college games for 40 minutes every night. Once he realizes exactly how to do that, while still being unselfish, the McLemore comparisons will go away and we'll start to remember why this guy was the consensus No. 1 pick at the start of the season.