Alert the hype police. Someone actually had the audacity to compare Minnesota rookie Andrew Wiggins with future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.
Wiggins has played all of 24 games in the NBA. Bryant, face of the Los Angeles Lakers, has five championship rings and is the league’s third all-time leading scorer (32,331 points).
Who in their right mind could look at Wiggins (303 points) and see Bryant?
Kobe Bean Bryant himself. That’s who.
On the same night the 36-year-old passed his boyhood idol, Michael Jordan, for third place in career points — against Minnesota and Wiggins — he saw a little of himself in the 19-year-old trying to stop him.
The 6-foot-8 rookie from Kansas University with the 7-foot wingspan and treasure trove of upside scored 16 points Sunday in his second meeting with Bryant’s Lakers (far better than a three-point, 30-minute performance the last week of November). It wasn’t enough to out-duel Bryant (26 points), nor for a Timberwolves win, but even on a night Wiggins shot 4-for-12, the rookie’s overall game impressed Bryant to some degree.
“Yeah, it was a strange feeling, because I remember being Andrew Wiggins,” Bryant told ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes. “I remember playing against Michael my first year. To be here tonight and to play against him, seeing the baby face and the little footwork or little technique things that he’s going to be much sharper at as time goes on — it was like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago. It was pretty cool.”
Kobe’s math might be a little off (he was still in high school in 1995), but the point is the 16-time all-star respects the Canadian teenager who has eons to go to reach that same astral plane.
Of course, Wiggins (12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds) will always remember the “legendary moment” when Bryant hit two free throws in Minneapolis to surpass Jordan, he said in an interview on the Timberwolves’ website. More importantly, the novice will carry with him the all-pro’s words.
“It’s an honor,” Wiggins said of Bryant’s comparison, following a Monday practice. “Just motivation to my ears. It strives me to work even harder to become something like him, you know. He’s an all-time great.”
Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, also the organization’s president of basketball operations, sure hopes Bryant is right. He acquired the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft in a three-team deal that sent former Minnesota all-star Kevin Love to Cleveland.
“(Bryant) saw some of the things that (Wiggins) could do,” Saunders said in an interview posted at Timberwolves.com. “He didn’t shy away from the moment and I think that’s where Kobe looks at him and probably sees himself. He’s not afraid of the moment and is pretty cool and calm in any type of situation. He doesn’t seem to get too high and just goes about doing his business.”
Kobe Bryant at 19 (1997-98: second season, 79 games)
15.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 turnovers, 42.8 FG%, 34.1 3-point%, 79.4 FT%
Andrew Wiggins at 19 (2014-15: rookie season, through 24 games)
12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.1 turnovers, 39.4 FG%, 36.4 3-point %, 70.3 FT%