When Andrew Wiggins woke up Friday morning, he was one of the faces of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ franchise, a status befitting his No. 1 overall selection in the NBA Draft last month.
Then LeBron James announced he was returning to Northeast Ohio while the Cavaliers’ summer league team was having its pregame shootaround. Suddenly, a ton of pressure and high expectations were removed from the 6-foot-8-inch rookie guard’s shoulders. He could just play and have fun, which is what his first taste of NBA life was later in the day at Cox Pavilion.
Wiggins played 31 minutes and scored a team-high 18 points in his Vegas Summer League debut. Oh, yeah, and the Cavaliers won, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 70-68 before a standing-room only crowd.
“It was fun,” said Wiggins, who was 7 of 18 from the floor, including 1 of 8 on 3-pointers. “I didn’t shoot the ball as well as I would have liked. But I admit I was a little nervous out there.”
Wiggins, who attended James’ Skills Academy twice as a high schooler in Canada, said he can’t wait to play alongside the world’s best basketball player.
“It’s exciting,” Wiggins said. “It definitely changes things with LeBron (in Cleveland).”
There has been speculation that Wiggins might not get to play alongside James. The Cavaliers reportedly aren’t done dealing, and Wiggins’ name has been prominently featured in a rumored trade between Cleveland and Minnesota that would send Kevin Love to the Cavs and Wiggins and possibly former UNLV forward Anthony Bennett to the Timberwolves.
When a reporter tried to ask Wiggins about that possibility, a Cavaliers spokesman stepped in before Wiggins could answer and said, “We’re not talking about that. Next question.”
Wiggins had a somewhat bemused look on his face. He probably wasn’t used to having that sort of protection from the media at Kansas.
But Wiggins appears to be of the attitude that he’s going to play alongside James and for first-year coach David Blatt. The Cavaliers made it public Friday that their intention is not to trade Wiggins, so Blatt will get a chance to work with him daily.
“I thought he did really well for the first time,” Blatt said. “He obviously has tremendous athleticism, and he seemed to have a good understanding of what goes on out there. Like most college players, making the transition to the NBA (3-point) line is a big adjustment. But he’ll figure things out, and I’m very much looking forward to working with him.”
What was supposed to be the main storyline of Day One of the summer league — Wiggins vs. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick — was reduced to a subplot after James’ announcement. Parker posted similar numbers to Wiggins — 17 points, nine rebounds and four turnovers in 30 minutes — and Wiggins said he enjoyed going head-to-head with his fellow high-profile rookie.
“We’ve known each other a long time, so it was good to be out there competing with Jabari,” Wiggins said. “I thought we both did a good job competing, and it was fun.”
He also had fun reuniting with Bennett, a fellow Canadian. In his first summer league appearance, the former Rebel looked good, running the floor, finishing at the rim and, more important, staying on the court for extended periods. Bennett played 31 minutes and finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. He also had eight fouls (the summer league has a 10-foul limit).
“We go way back with Team Canada and AAU,” Wiggins said. “I thought he did really good, and I know A.B. had a tough year last year. But he’s healthy now, and it was great seeing him do what I know he can do out there.”
Assuming he stays in Cleveland, Wiggins will get an opportunity to learn playing alongside a legendary player in James, someone who can elevate Wiggins’ game and also take some of the heat off him in his development.
“I can’t think of anyone better to learn from,” he said. “I think everyone got excited when they heard the news that LeBron was coming back (to Cleveland). It’s going to be amazing having him as a teammate.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.