One of the first things you realize when you become a parent is that your parents had no idea what they were doing either. This isn’t a bad thing, and not just because it explains why Santa’s handwriting was so similar to your mother’s.
This realization reaffirms that your parents were often sneaky, rarely perfect and occasionally hungover; which is to say, they were merely human beings doing the best they could. As a child, you almost certainly believed them to be omniscient – but as an adult, as a parent yourself, you realize they were anything but. And that becomes a comfort.
Likewise, as your child grows into a human with a measure of independence and even a streak of defiance, your love and appreciation for them deepens. They have moments when they seem like geniuses, when they display preternatural mental or physical abilities that catch you by surprise and make you wonder at just how amazing their futures will be.
And then they fall over putting their pants on.
Turns out, the true source of wonderment isn’t found in their successes. It’s in the trying, the struggle, the way they recover from their failures. It’s not all that different from watching young players grow.
With a third of the NBA season now gone, it seems as good a time as any to start assessing the still-young career of Number 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. Based on box-score metrics, we have already been told he won’t be the next LeBron James (he might not even be the next James Posey), and even less tangible traits – Wiggins’ defensive ability, for one – seem to suggest he’s destined for a career that’s merely good, rather than great. I genuinely recommend reading those posts; small sample size aside, the numbers paint a rather interesting portrait of Wiggins through thirty-odd games.
And the truth is, there are a lot of people for whom this kind of analysis is important. Chief among them is the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, which would do well to understand the kind of trajectory Wiggins is on and do everything within their power to maximize his development. Wiggins’ case is not only interesting in terms of how his season has gone so far (not great), it’s also fairly unique. As Seth Partnow – who also does a good deal of great analytics work – pointed out, if Wiggins’ minutes load stays the same, he will only be the ninth teenager to average more than 30 minutes per game in his rookie year.
But here’s the question: Do you actually care about this?
It’s fine if you do, but really think about it, because as sports fans, it’s kind of a default setting to think about players; whether they are meeting expectations and if they can become the next great whatever. It’s only natural for you to want to know if Andrew Wiggins will live up to the hype; it’s perfectly reasonable to look at what he’s done so far and try to project where he goes from here.
But honestly? You don’t have to.
I’m only reminding you of this because I forget it all the damn time. I first fell in love with basketball because of Allen Iverson’s fearlessness, crossovers and cornrows. I didn’t particularly care that he was a high-usage, low-efficiency player. I loved Kevin Garnett for his grit and guile, for the scrappiness that suited him so well on the Timberwolves squads of my youth. And I loved Vince Carter for the dunks. My God, the fucking dunks. They don’t need context, they don’t need numerical analysis. I honestly don’t care whether he could have been the next Michael Jordan, or if his projected growth curve in his rookie season showed worrying signs of an inability to elevate the rest of his game the way he could elevate himself. It was the Slam Dunk Contest, that most spacious of empty showcases, that cemented my love for him.
I have no doubt you could ferret out a dozen different ways in which each of those players were flawed. You could do it for every player in the league. And while I might find it interesting, it wouldn’t change the way I watch the game or the players within it.
I watch it for those moments when the prodigiously talented become precociously human, for the way a player struggles to come into his own, for the way a group of players struggle to become a team, for the ways they succeed at these things but also for the ways they fall short. I want it all, and that means stats and analytics and GIFs and Photoshops and memes and outlandish draft day attire and Pistons vs. Magic in April and this and this forever and ever.
Because people being human – from parents to children to Andrew Wiggins – is really all we have. This is why I find it difficult to read articles about Wiggins that conclude advanced stats are “probably not the thing for him to worry about right now.”
Like, no shit. In a profile of the Wolves rookie for Minneapolis-Saint Paul Magazine, Drew Wood related a story about Wiggins recording a video to be played on the Target Center scoreboard in the fourth quarter to rally the home crowd.
Director: Now I need you to dig deep, look right at the camera and yell, “LET’S MAKE SOME NOISE!” Hear that weird echo? I need you to go that hard for me. If you go that hard for me, we’ll be done.
Wiggins: Target Center, let’s make some noise.
Director: Just once go, “MAKE SOME NOISE!” Scream it out.
Wiggins: I’m not going to be able to do it.
Director: You can do it. Really quick.
Wiggins [half joking]: I’m going through puberty. My voice is changing.
I don’t mean to discount the work that Wiggins needs to put in. He is, after all, being paid a healthy sum of money to work as hard as he can. But he’s 19. I don’t believe that any of the authors of the recent analytics pieces on Wiggins feel we can write him off or stop paying attention to him now, but numbers laid out on a computer screen can have a way of shutting down a conversation before it even starts.
Andrew Wiggins might never become the player people have wanted him to be since before he was in high school. Or he could be an outlier who overcomes a difficult rookie season to become great. Who he will become as a player – who any player will become – is tremendously important to a lot of people. But to me, it’s just not as important as watching it happen, and being there when it does.