Embrace Debate: Zach LaVine vs. Andrew Wiggins
Despite Andrew Wiggins’ great start to the 2016-17 season, people seem to want to compare him to Zach LaVine as the best next option alongside Karl-Anthony Towns over the next decade-plus. Maybe it’s LaVine’s ascension in the second half of last season proving to not be a fluke with his play at the start of this season. Maybe it’s the persistent reluctance to accept Wiggins as an awesome young player we don’t have to pick apart quite yet.
Whatever it is… I don’t really care. That’s not what this post is even remotely about. What we’re looking at here are the two monster dunks these young guys put together in back-to-back games. Friday night in Phoenix, LaVine met Phoenix Suns center Alex Len at the rim and kindly showed him the door. The next night in Oakland, Wiggins found himself with JaVale McGee between the young Minnesota Timberwolves wing and the rim, and decided there was nothing in his way.
Since we love to compare these two this season, I’d like to just compare these dunks and decide which poster/Vine/hammer-drop ended up being the better highlight. Let’s look at these with a scientific formula* to come to an irrefutable conclusion to this debate:
* – a formula I just made up on the spot
Zach LaVine obliterates Alex Len in Phoenix
Is this the first big posterization of Zach LaVine’s young NBA career? After two seasons of gazelle-like open floor showstoppers and LaVine stalking missed free throw put-back dunks like an unhealthy celebrity crush (Hi Zac Efron), we’d been missing the Seattle kid destroying a shot blocker at the rim. Friday night against the Suns, we finally got the big one from LaVine and it was at the expense of Alex Len.
I was at the Portland Trail Blazers game against the New Orleans Pelicans in the Pacific Northwest that night, and I couldn’t stop watching this highlight on my phone. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Andy G. of Punch Drunk Wolves and AWAW fame has been pining for LaVine to find stronger drives to the basket, especially with even mild traffic in his way. Andy got what he’s been waiting for.
So how does it grade out against Wiggins’ dunk that we’ll get to in a minute? Let’s break down what’s happening here:
Opportunity: The Suns are defending Towns with Marquese Chriss and LaVine with Brandon Knight. Phoenix ICE’s the pick attempt by KAT with Knight forcing LaVine back toward the baseline, but that’s where the defense completely breaks down. Despite Ricky Rubio being the shooter in the strong side corner, the Suns don’t help off of him at all. You normally wouldn’t help off the strong side corner shooter there anyway, but you’d imagine with Rubio there you could adjust. They don’t.
Chriss is way too high up on this Towns screen and not squared up to the ball handler to help at all. That leaves Len, who is defending Gorgui Dieng on the weak elbow, and Devin Booker, who is helping not far enough off of Wiggins in the far corner, as the only help. Len is the guy to help here but he doesn’t get moving toward the rim until LaVine is two strong steps into his attack. This is a huge open lane for LaVine and to the pitter-patter of Andy G’s heart, Zach goes in with cruel intentions.
The path for LaVine to the hoop just has one giant, late-arriving Ukrainian in its way.
Position of the defender: Because Len gets there so late, he’s in prime position to get dunked on. As LaVine is launching himself into space, Len is just starting to coil into his jump and does so a step under the start of the restricted area, which is probably too deep to break the momentum of LaVine.
Ideally, Len would be exploding toward the sky the same time LaVine is catapulting himself into thinner air. On the season, NBA.com/stats has Len defending the rim by allowing 48.2% on 6.7 attempts in 23.6 minutes. Synergy Sports has Len allowing just 36.1% around the basket on non post-ups. There’s obviously a discrepancy in these numbers (as there usually is), but both show you Len is a solid enough rim protector to be a formidable opponent at the hoop.
Height of the jump: LaVine gets pretty high on this dunk attempt, but as you can see in the freeze frame just below, he’s not soaring over Len. He didn’t go to the 7th floor and drop Len off at the 5th. They’re pretty much both going to the penthouse suite.
Arm Motion and Violence: What LaVine surprisingly lacks in height of the jump vs. the protector, he makes up for with a vicious arm motion that steals Len’s sunshine. Land wars have been started over lesser violence than what LaVine does to Len here. He cocks the ball back and waits to absorb the contact from the defender before unleashing hell.
Sweet fancy, Moses!
It’s hard to discount anything in this dunk. Everything is good here. Every bit of this highlight is legitimate. There is no highlight-truthing here. I give it a 10!
Now let’s check out LaVine’s competition.
Andrew Wiggins detonates JaVale McGee in Oakland
Saturday night, I drove from Salem to Portland to hang out with some friends. I watched the first half of the Wolves’ game against the Golden State Warriors before making the 50-minute trek. When I got to Portland, I walked up to the bar downtown and the first thing out of my friend Nick’s mouth was “did you see the Wiggins dunk?” I tried to correct him and ask if he meant the LaVine dunk from Friday night. He directed me to the third quarter action I had missed on my drive and said, “No, that was nice but this was…”
He fired up the clip on his phone and let the Vine finish his sentence. This one was apocalyptic. Wiggins drove down the right side of the floor to the baseline and found JaVale McGee — the Shaqtin’ a Fool resident — trying to prove to Steve Kerr that he could be the coveted rim protector they need during the non-Super Death Lineup action. It didn’t quite work out here for him.
Sweet candied yams that was ridiculous! How did this one happen and how does it compare to LaVine’s? Here’s the Wiggins dunk breakdown:
Opportunity: Wiggins caught a pass from Kris Dunn on the right wing with Andre Iguodala hawking him. Nemanja Bjelica ran up from underneath to fake setting a screen, only to circle back toward the top. At some point though, Kevin Durant must have called out a screen was coming to Iguodala because it seemed like Andre was waiting for the instructions on how they’d play it and waiting for the contact, as well. It never came.
Instead, Iguodala feigned fighting through a ghost as he and Durant got their signals crossed. That left the baseline as entirely open real estate for Wiggins to claim for his family in their new pioneering life.
This is a simple miscommunication of the defense on the wing but it ends up resulting in an execution at the tin.
Position of the defender: JaVale is defending Cole Aldrich on the short weak side of the baseline area on this play. Because Aldrich isn’t likely to stretch the floor more than a tight parking spot for a Fiat, McGee can be in better position than we saw Len in the dunk from LaVine. And for the most part he is when Wiggins begins his drive. He’s a half-step from being in the restricted area but since this is JaVale, that’s where the good defensive positioning begins and ends.
Last season, McGee was an open invitation at the rim with beautiful gift bags to hand out to anybody who tried to score. In just 10.9 minutes, he defended 2.9 shots at the rim. And he allowed 57.6% at the rim. This year has been different with the Warriors. The minutes are still limited (6.9) but he’s still defending a healthy amount of shots inside (2.1). The difference now is he’s allowed just 37% at the rim (Synergy clocks him in with just six possessions and 66.7% allowed around the basket on non post-ups).
The biggest reason this is surprising is because McGee is often too far under the rim to actually protect it. We’ve seen him try to block shots and accidentally put his hand through the rim, making it a goal tend. Check out his positioning as he coils his jump (which looks to be the same time Wiggins coils his jump).
He’s directly under the rim and gives Wiggins a lot of space to get around his flailing limbs to punch it home. You’re just allowed too much room for the attacking opponent to figure out the angle they need instead of taking away their personal space. Seriously, how has he allowed only 37%?
Height of the jump: We all know McGee has freakish athleticism and a wingspan that truly won’t quit. But check out where Wiggins is on this jump. His elbow is at the level of the rim and the height of his jump and the length of his arms makes up for the fact that most distances traveled between the ball and the rim would have to be done by some type of monorail system.
Arm Motion and Violence: This is where the comparison of Wiggins’ dunk and LaVine’s dunk gets tricky. LaVine cocks it back before ripping through Len like a Hattori Hanzo blade. Wiggins palms the ball and almost whirls and manipulates time and space with it like he’s Connie Hawkins or Julius Erving. Once he gets the right angle, he’s almost dunking harder than Zach did, but he’s not going through McGee like LaVine did to Len.
They’re both felonies but the degree is tough to determine.
Let’s take a look at the two dunks in comparison form one more time thanks to the NBA YouTube account:
You’re lucky if you get this kind of fun twice in one season. LaVine and Wiggins did it in one weekend. So who is the winner?
Final Verdict: I know I gave LaVine a 10 and it’s hard to top a 10 on a typical scale of measurement, but Wiggins went into Spinal Tap mode. This one went to 11.
Congratulations to both participants but Wiggins is the winner… for now…