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Evaluating Aaron Wiggins as an NBA prospect

The former Maryland star hopes to hear his name called on Thursday night.

NBA: NBA G-League:Combine David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

When Maryland men’s basketball’s Aaron Wiggins announced on July 5 that he would keep his name in the 2021 NBA Draft and forego his remaining years of college eligibility, many Terp fans were surprised with the junior guard's decision.

Fans expected, or maybe just hoped, Wiggins would return to College Park for one more year to a roster that would have been considered one of the best in the country with Wiggins on it.

That expectation changed when Wiggins impressed at the NBA Draft combine and workouts with individual teams. The reality is Wiggins is a 22-year-old prospect whose draft stock may not have changed all that much had he decided to return to school, even if he put up an impressive senior campaign.

Prior to and since Wiggins announced his decision, he has been working out for various teams in hopes of hearing his name called on Thursday night. Some mock drafts have him falling in the mid-to-late second round and others do not have him getting drafted at all.

One of the biggest factors that led to Wiggins keeping his name in the NBA Draft was the positive feedback he received from teams throughout the process. When evaluating Wiggins as an NBA prospect, he certainly has the intangibles that make scouts scribble his name down on the whiteboard.

Wiggins is long, quick and athletic, all traits that appeal to NBA decision-makers and make him an NBA-ready defender. Coaches love to find perimeter defenders capable of switching onto a multitude of positions. As a big guard, Wiggins certainly fits that bill.

Wiggins is 6-foot-6 with an 8-foot-7 standing reach, both of which ranked top five among guards at the NBA Combine. He also led the pack in the shuttle run and posted a 36-inch vertical leap.

Here he is using his length and instincts to jump in the passing lane, intercept a pass and take it down the other end for a dunk.

However, his inconstant play in his three years at Maryland has some teams wary to draft him. Let’s take a look at Wiggins the NBA prospect while diving into where he will be able to make an immediate impact and where he’ll need to improve.

Wiggins thrives while operating in the midrange

While much has been made of the three-point revolution that has taken place throughout the NBA over the last decade and the death of the middle ball (sometimes too dramatically), there is still a valuable place for scorers who can operate in the midrange in today’s NBA.

Wiggins’ bread and butter is in the midrange. Whether it’s coming off a curl for a short jumper, shot faking a defender to get into a one-dribble pull-up or stopping on a dime for a turnaround jumper, few players in college basketball utilized the midrange game the way Wiggins did last year.

A large part of that is Wiggins’ impeccable footwork that allows him to get to his spots and create space to get his shot off. Footwork translates to the next level. When players are guarded by bigger, more athletic defenders, using deceptive and effective footwork is the optimal way to create space. Wiggins already has that foundation in place that can help him score at the next level against stiffer competition.

As the three clips above indicate, Wiggins mastered getting to his spot, coming to a two-foot jump-stop and bumping off his defender for a turnaround jumper. His footwork is on display as he regains his balance while falling away from the basket. This move is reminiscent of DeMar DeRozan, a player who is a legitimate three-level scorer but loves to control the game in the midrange.

The above clips are more examples of how Wiggins can create for himself in the midrange with his footwork and his ability to change speeds and direction with his dribble moves to get to his spots.

Wiggins will need to shore up inconsistencies from deep

Make no mistake, Wiggins has the potential to be a three-level scorer in the NBA, or at least a solid rotational 3-and-D guy teams desperately crave when putting together a roster. However, Wiggins didn't always show that during his time as a Terp, which is likely why he is not a projected first-rounder.

His scoring prowess from the midrange has been made clear. But for Wiggins to have a steady career in the NBA, he is going to need to improve his three-point shooting and his finishing at the rim.

As a freshman, Wiggins’ shot 41% from three-point range on over four shots per game off the bench. There was reason to believe Wiggins could turn into a dominant three-point threat in his time at Maryland. That’s not exactly how it turned out.

The following year, Wiggins’ three-point percentage dropped 10 percentage points down to 31% on 5.4 attempts per game, while his overall field goal percentage stayed roughly the same. This past season, Wiggins’ three-point percentage improved from the previous year to 35% on 5.2 attempts per game.

However, throughout the season, the inconsistency in the shot was still on display. In 18 of Wiggins’ 31 games played, he shot 33% or worse from beyond the arc. But in the final two games of the season in the NCAA Tournament, Wiggins shot 66% and 62%, respectively.

Wiggins is certainly capable of knocking down threes, but not at the level he needs to carve his path in the NBA.

Here he is catching and letting it fly from deep with great success. But for every one of these shots from last season, where Wiggins looks confident firing away, there is one like the clip below.

Wiggins catches the ball in the corner with plenty of space to let it go. Instead, he hesitates, which allows the defender to close out. Wiggins then jabs and throws up a contested shot to no avail, a much worse look than he had on the initial catch.

It’s not only catch-and-shoot where Wiggins needs to improve, but as a guard, he will need to improve his shot off the dribble as well.

The bottom line is if Wiggins can develop a knockdown three-point shot, which many players have developed after they got to the NBA, he will be a great role player in the league for years to come.

As a 6-foot-6 guard with the handle and athleticism Wiggins possesses, the Greensboro, North Carolina native never struggled to get downhill and attack the rim. However, Wiggins needs to become a better finisher at the rim through contact, particularly against bigger defenders.

There were times throughout the year Wiggins made tough, NBA-caliber finishes and others where he attacked with no plan and was unable to convert.

Wiggins uses his long strides to get downhill but struggles to finish through contact on the left side. At the next level, Wiggins will need to find ways to convert those opportunities.

This is another clip of Wiggins executing a nice backdoor only to get blocked at the rim. Wiggins has the athleticism, footwork and touch to be a creative finisher at the rim if he attacks with better plans.

Here is a tough finish from Wiggins where he keeps the ball high and finishes over two defenders through contact. If he can consistently capitalize on finishes like these, he’ll stick around for a while in the association.

Wiggins is an underrated playmaker with strong vision

While Wiggins does not get a lot of credit for his playmaking ability, he showed an improved ability to create for teammates through his solid vision and passing during his time at Maryland.

For a 6-foot-6 guard who does not handle the ball a ton, Wiggins is an underrated playmaker. Whichever team ends up with Wiggins may be pleasantly surprised at his ability to make quick decisions and create.

Below are a number of clips of Wiggins’ vision and setting up his teammates for buckets.

It would be a mistake for Wiggins to go undrafted on Thursday night. While the concerns about his inconsistencies are valid, there is a ton of upside in drafting Wiggins with a second-round pick, even as he turns 23 in January. It shouldn't shock anyone if Wiggins turns into a quality player in the NBA who sticks around for more than a few years.