Late-season reminder: Andrew Wiggins closing in on stardom
No one denies the talent of Andrew Wiggins, nor the promising future the 21-year-old Minnesota guard has in the NBA.
But even the reigning Rookie of the Year, less than two years removed from being selected first overall in the draft, can go forgotten during the marathon regular season while playing for a downtrodden franchise that doesn’t reside in a major market.
Tuesday night, though, Wiggins reminded the league and its fans that he isn’t too far away from existing in the NBA zeitgeist. The Timberwolves (26-52) shocked The Association by winning on the home floor of the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, as Wiggins scored 32 points in an unlikely overtime victory.
The league’s best team, Golden State had only lost one home game all season prior to the Minnesota victory. The Warriors, led by MVP-to-be Steph Curry, are in pursuit of surpassing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10) for the best mark in NBA history. Golden State figured to attain win No. 70 against the downtrodden T’wolves. Instead, the Warriors (69-9) will have to win each of their final four games to eclipse the Bulls.
“They were playing for history,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “We were just trying to get in the way of it.”
In hitting 11 of 19 shots (2-for-3 from 3-point range), securing 5 rebounds, distributing 4 assists and stealing the ball 6 times against Golden State, Wiggins reminded everyone just how far he has come since his one season at Kansas.
In an SI.com feature written by Rob Mahoney, Wiggins admitted he hadn’t yet realized how to effectively attack a variety of defensive looks when he was a one-and-done wonder at KU.
“I was just all over the place,” Wiggins told SI. “I didn't know my exact game.”
When the high-flying Canadian prospect arrived in Minnesota, via a trade with Cleveland involving Kevin Love, Wiggins received directions to start utilizing his 6-foot-8 frame in the post on offense, to his and the team’s benefit. Wiggins went on to average 16.9 points as a rookie, while getting to the foul line for 5.7 free-throw attempts per game (76% FT shooting).
In Year Two, Mahoney reports, Wiggins’ post-ups have not come as often, as the organization has turned the second-year sensation’s focus to the perimeter, with him handling the ball in pick-and-roll scenarios and taking more 3-pointers.
The internal thinking for this push, from inside to outside, revolves around not only making him a more complete player, but also the belief that Wiggins can be both a dynamic finisher and a steady passer/creator when attacking off of ball screens.
“The game definitely opened up,” Wiggins told SI. “When I come off a pick–and–roll, I just feel like I see everything. I feel everything's going a little slower than it did last year and I can just read everything better because I know where the help is gonna be, who's bumping the roller, who's covering the pop guy.”
The more skills Wiggins adds to his repertoire, the sooner he becomes a force in the NBA and helps turn a middling franchise into a contender — with Karl-Anthony Towns also playing a prominent starring role, of course.
Although Wiggins hasn’t demonstrated over a prolonged stretch that he can be a 3-point threat, he has trended that direction of late, likely striking fear in the hearts and minds of coaches around the league, as they envision him becoming even more difficult to stop.
On his way to averaging more than 20 points a game this year (20.8 ppg with 4 to play), Wiggins’ late-season 3-point success has become an often-cited statistic around the NBA.
Wiggins shot 38.1% from 3-point range in February, 42.9% in March and is shooting 41.7% in April. As pointed out by Mahoney, for SI.com, Wiggins hit just 31% from 3-point range last season and was shooting 25.7% prior to February.
In the quest to make Wiggins as complete a player as possible, the last step might come on the opposite end of the floor. According to the SI.com feature, the All-Star-in-the-making still has a number of defensive flaws that keep him from sniffing the stratosphere of his seemingly immeasurable potential.
Wiggins’ coaches remind him of that, and it’s something he understands. Still, the organization wants him to approach every night and defensive assignment with the same vigor, not just save his best efforts for matchups against the likes of Kevin Durant or Curry.
If Wiggins finds it within himself to compete at that level every time he takes the floor, well, the rest of the NBA — just like the Warriors — will be in trouble.
“My mindset was we had to win,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune after Minnesota’s upset road victory. “I had to do whatever it took for my team to win, whether it was getting on the floor, making a bucket, making the right pass. I tried to play aggressive but safe at the same time. One mistake and Golden State makes you pay for it.”