BROOKLYN – Andrew Wiggins left the NBA draft interview room and stepped into a Barclays Center hallway occupied by Jabari Parker.
Minutes earlier, Parker followed Wiggins – hearing Adam Silver call his name, standing up, hugging those closest to him, walking onto the draft stage, shaking Silver’s hand, going through an interview circuit – in a clear pecking order. The Cavaliers drafted Wiggins No. 1, and the Bucks took Parker No. 2.
Ever since Joel Embiid’s foot injury, Wiggins and Parker had been the clear favorites to go 1-2. Only the order remained uncertain. Cleveland, Milwaukee and analysts everywhere debated the choice.
Once it was made, there was no ill will between the prospects. Parker said he and Wiggins wished each other well when they crossed paths.
“You always want to wish good on people,” Parker said. “We don’t take a good enough job embracing each other and uplifting each other.”
There’s certainly potential for an individual rivalry between the top two picks, both headed to Midwest cities. They met once in college, when Wiggins (22 points and eight rebounds) led Kansas over Parker (27 points and nine rebounds) and Duke in November.
These are the storylines David Stern wanted to foster when setting the age limit and Adam Silver wants to enhance by increasing it. It’s working, returning the days when players were easily identifiable – and marketable – upon entering the NBA.
Last top-two picks to play against each other in college? Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams in 2011.
Last top-two picks to play the same position? Andrea Bargnani and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006.
Last top-two picks to play the same position and play against each other in college? Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn in 1997.
Wiggins (a 2/3) and Parker (a 3/4) can play multiple positions, but they’re primarily small forwards. Of course, both stressed their versatility and willingness to play wherever desired.
They also agreed that any talk of a personal rivalry was unwarranted, at least from their perspective.
“Good players will always be compared to each other, you know, but I never think of anything as a rivalry,” Wiggins said. “I think that’s what the media portrays it to be.”
“It’s not my job to compare,” Parker said. “I’m going to leave it to y’all. It’s your duty and your job to stir up controversy.”
I’ll give it a shot. Wiggins won his college matchup with Parker. Did Parker believe he lost again by not going No. 1?
“No,” Parker said. “What does the draft really give entitlement to, the best player? You got Doug McDermott scoring 3,000 points. Shoot, you got Julius Randle went to the national championship. Shabazz Napier won two National Championships.”
That’s nice spin, but it’s not reality. College success does not translate directly to the NBA, and according to most evaluators, Wiggins and Parker were the draft’s top prospects.
Wiggins-Parker could evolve into an must-watch rivalry.
Of course, that’s not a given. Williams, Bargnani and Van Horn never held up their ends of the bargain with Irving, Aldridge and Duncan.
This will develop only if Wiggins and Parker become stars.
It would help if the pair expressed more interest in challenging each other, but don’t count on that.