Marner: Wigginton is special, but he has room to grow

Aaron Marner, assistant sports editor 2017-18

Aaron Marner

By now, Iowa State fans have seen just how talented Lindell Wigginton is, and how much of an impact he has on this basketball team.

Sixteen games into the season, the true freshman is averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game. He’s second on the team in made 3-pointers and first in 3-point percentage. Only backcourt teammates Nick Weiler-Babb and Donovan Jackson have played more minutes for the Cyclones than Wigginton, but No. 5 leads the team in usage rate (24.9 percent of team possessions while he’s on the floor, per KenPom).

Again, Wigginton is just a freshman. Only 12 freshman are scoring more points per game than Wigginton this season. Lately, he’s shown that his classification may not be relevant to anything other than the class records future Cyclone newcomers will try to break.

But here’s the thing: Wigginton still has plenty of room to grow.


After Wigginton dropped a career-high 30 points against Baylor, Scott Drew, the Bears’ head coach, raved about Wigginton’s ability.

“He’s an elite scorer,” Drew said. “He’s got great strength. He’s really good off the bounce and obviously can shoot it. When you go from Oak Hill [Academy] and you’re one of their best players for the last couple years, he’s seen everybody, played against everybody, he’s just really good.”

But at 6-foot-2, Wigginton’s NBA future likely rests on his ability to play point guard. So far, he hasn’t shown much ability to do that. Weiler-Babb is the clear floor general of this team.

Wigginton has good vision in the open court, but when the game slows down, Wigginton’s ability to create for teammates suffers.

Wigginton’s strengths are his athleticism and physical gifts, which is quite different from Iowa State’s previous backcourt leader and Wigginton’s friend, Monte Morris.

“I’m athletic, I’m kind of an above the rim type of player,” Wigginton told the Daily before the season.

Wigginton said he wanted to work on things Morris does well, like changing speeds and his footwork. And, of course, he wanted to learn how to get his teammates involved the way Morris did.

But right now, he’s second on the team behind Nick Weiler-Babb in assists. Weiler-Babb is at 7.7 per game. Wigginton is at just 2.2.

“He’s a talented kid,” said coach Steve Prohm. “He’s a freshman though, so you have growing pains.”

While he’s already an elite scorer — his 16.5 points per game would be an Iowa State freshman record if he can keep it up the rest of the year — the rest of his game needs some work. And even his scoring could be improved.

That scoring average is impressive. But the consistency isn’t. Over the team’s last six games, Wigginton has three games with 23 or more points. He also has three games with nine or fewer points.

When Wigginton struggles to score, it puts the team, and Prohm, in a tough spot. He’s the most talented scorer on the roster, but he’s sometimes turnover-prone and his ability to create for teammates on a consistent basis hasn’t quite clicked yet.

In five Big 12 games, Wigginton has gone a game without an assist twice already. He had two more games like that in the non-conference season, too.

Right now, Wigginton is an elite scorer. Not just for a freshman, but for any player. He can get to the free throw line at will, he can hit mid-range jumpers and his 3-point shooting percentage is the highest on the team. When he becomes an elite facilitator too, Wigginton will be nearly impossible to stop.


“He’s starting to understand you have to compete at both ends,” Prohm said. “And that’s what going to take his game [up a level].”

Wigginton often jumps when closing out a shooter, even biting on pump-fakes, allowing players to drive for easy buckets when the defensive rotation can’t keep up.

There’s been plenty of time to work on that, and as Prohm mentioned, Wigginton has gotten better defensively.

“He guarded [Manu] Lecomte,” Prohm said after Iowa State beat Baylor. “We put him on Lecomte and I thought he really competed on the defensive end. That’s what I’m proud of him for.”

Lecomte was held to just nine points on 2-of-12 shooting against Iowa State. That was his second-worst field goal percentage of the season and tied for his third-lowest scoring total. It was the first time since the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament that Lecomte had been held without making a 3-pointer.

But there are still areas where he can grow. He still bites on fakes from time to time. Wigginton has had a number of emphatic blocks and steals, but generally he doesn’t create many turnovers. He’s currently third on the team in blocks and tied for second in steals.

Watch this sequence at the 40:59 mark of the video. Wigginton sits between his man and the ball, watching the ball in case it’s kicked out.

When the pass is made, Wigginton’s athleticism allows him to steal the pass in mid-air. He’s smart enough to recognize the fast break opportunity and turn it into an open mid-range jumper, giving Iowa State a two-point lead in the second half at the No. 12 team in the country.

That’s what his athleticism and basketball IQ allows him to do. Even against the best teams in the nation, Wigginton stands out. Now, it’s just a matter of doing that every game.

If — or, should I say, when — he’s performing at that level on both ends of the floor on a consistent basis, Wigginton can lead Iowa State to special places. Look at how good he is now. If the rest of his game can catch up, Iowa State might have one of the best players in college basketball before long.