When Minnesota traded for Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014, the franchise hadn’t reached the NBA Playoffs in a decade.
That postseason-less streak continued for three more years before Wiggins played a part in putting an end to if Wednesday night — on the last day of the regular season, and in overtime to boot.
In what amounted to a Western Conference play-in game for the final available spot, the Timberwolves edged Denver, 112-106, in Minneapolis.
It was still a one-possession game in the final 20 seconds of OT until Wiggins, the fourth-year small forward out of Kansas, drained a pair of clutch free throws with 14.6 seconds showing on the clock, pushing Minnesota’s lead to 110-106.
The 74.1-percent career free-throw shooter even managed to deliver after the Nuggets’ Will Barton paid him a visit at the charity stripe — no doubt reminding him about his 3-for-6 night at the line up to that point — just before the freebies.
Wiggins just smiled, laughed and proceeded to knock down both free throws.
“My man Wiggs hit the two biggest free throws of his career,” veteran all-star guard Jimmy Butler said in an on-court interview immediately after the Timberwolves sealed their playoff berth. “This was a team effort.”
The two crucial foul shots came just more than a minute after Wiggins passed to Jeff Teague for a go-ahead jumper.
The 6-foot-8 wing known for his next-level athleticism, as well as often leaving observers wanting more, finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3-for-5 3-point shooting in the victory that pushed Minnesota into the postseason for the first time since 2004.
The win gave Minnesota a 47-35 record for the season and the No. 8 seed in the West. The T’wolves will take on the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs, the Houston Rockets (65-16).
Hey, remember that guy who played basketball at Kansas with Joel Embiid a few years ago? Andrew Somethingorother, I think his name was. Canadian kid. What ever happened to him?
Oh, yeah. Andrew Wiggins. With soon-to-be Rookie of the Year and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Embiid capturing the attention of the entire league, the 7-foot-2 center has overshadowed his former teammate of late in the NBA.
Well, Wiggins delivered a nice reminder of his prominence within The Association Tuesday night, capping a 31-point outing at Phoenix with a buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper.
His Timberwolves trailed by one with the fourth-quarter clock ticking toward 0:00, when Wiggins ran off a pair of picks to catch a pass from point guard Ricky Rubio on the right wing. Then, with Suns veteran P.J. Tucker checking him, the wiry third-year T’wolves wing angled for a potential drive with less than four seconds left on the clock. Wiggins went so hard on his first step (and may have drawn some contact), he nearly lost control and fell over, allowing Tucker to recover in time to force Wiggins into a low-percentage, contested fadeaway jumper. And the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft drained it for a 112-111 Minnesota win.
“I was taking what the defense gave me,” Wiggins said in his postgame interview with FOX Sports North. “You know, they played up close, so I went to my one-dribble pull-up fade, and it was money.”
Following his sixth game this season with 30 or more points — Wiggins also has scored 29 on four occasions — the low key 21-year-old said he could tell he would make his 11th basket on his 22nd shot as soon as the ball left his hand.
In the final seven minutes of the game, Wiggins took over, scoring 14 points to get struggling Minnesota (17-28) a rare road victory and its third straight win.
“My shot was falling,” he said. “I felt comfortable on the court. My teammates got me the ball when I needed it. They’re making big shots, too. Everyone was together tonight.”
Wiggins’ coach, Tom Thibodeau, who is in his first year with the franchise, praised his players’ mental toughness following the victory, referencing Minnesota’s several losses this season in which the team has relinquished leads in the second half.
Thibodeau said the final play had three options out of the set, and Wiggins getting the ball in a spot to either drive or shoot was one of them.
“In the fourth quarter you have to have the courage to take and make,” the coach said, “and he does. And so the more he does it, the more comfortable he’s gonna get. We all have a lot of confidence in him.”
Though the coach thought Wiggins, one of his young stars, alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, might have been held in the final sequence, he liked how the former Kansas standout fought to get to “his spot” on the floor before hoisting the clutch shot.
“He had the concentration and the mental toughness to take all the stuff that happened on that play and get a good shot,” Thibodeau said. “It was a great play by him.”
That mid-range area on the right half of the court, as his coach referenced, is one of Wiggins’ favorites. According to stats.nba.com, he has made 18 of 35 (51%) 2-point jumpers in that zone, well above the league average of 38.9% for that portion of the floor.
In his third NBA season, Wiggins is shooting 44.8% from the field, 34.2% on 3-pointers and 73.2% at the free-throw line, while producing 21.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists for Minnesota.
The Timberwolves, though not yet meeting preseason expectations, are only 3.5 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
You probably already knew former Kansas standout Andrew Wiggins was a better NBA player than many around the league. Take, I don’t know, every player who starts for the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. Wiggins is definitely better than Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, D’Angelo Russell and Nick “Swaggy P” Young, right?
As if we needed any confirmation of this fact, Wiggins provided it Sunday by scoring a new career-high 47 points — as many as the Lakers’ starting five combined.
The Timberwolves’ ever-improving wing would’ve reached 50 points — and outscored L.A’s starters by himself — had a late 3-pointer not misfired.
Minnesota’s home crowd, the Star Tribune reported, badly wanted Wiggins to hit 50.
“Not as bad as me,” Wiggins said afterward.
One of the crazy factors in the 6-foot-8 small forward’s massive night is he reached 47 points with just two of five 3-pointers falling through the net. Keep in mind: Wiggins actually leads the league in 3-point shooting (17-for-31) at 54.8%.
Wiggins quickly eclipsed his previous career high of 36 — set less than a week before against Brooklyn — by working the Lakers over with his jumper and getting to the paint, making 14 of 21 shots overall.
Plus, he lived at the free-throw line, what with the Lakers’ inability to stop him offensively. Wiggins shot 17-for-22 at the charity stripe — both easily season highs — to improve his season free-throw shooting percentage to 74.1%.
The offensive explosion came on the second day of a back-to-back, after Wiggins attempted more shots (8-for-24) in a 22-point effort against L.A.’s far superior team, the Clippers.
“I shot 24 times yesterday and Coach Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) told me to be more aggressive,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “So I said, ‘All right,’ and I just went for it.”
There are still months to play in the season, but at this juncture Wiggins qualifies as one of the NBA’s better scorers. Averaging 26.3 points a game, he ranks ninth in the category. Still, Thibodeau sees even more potential in his 21-year-old wing.
“He’s smart. He’s driven,” the first-year T’wolves coach told the Star Tribune. “I think sometimes people mistakenly take it that he’s laid back. He’s competitive. He’s just scratching the surface. I think he can be a lot more. … I don’t want to put a lid on it. It’s what he wants it to be.”
Minnesota (3-6) has another future all-star in Karl-Anthony Towns, but the franchise could use an assertive Wiggins carrying much of the scoring load as the team tries to reach the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Though it seems inevitable, the Timberwolves still have quite a journey in front of them before they can reach the upper echelon of the Western Conference, and that day likely won’t come for a couple more seasons. Once they get there, though, games like this one from Wiggins will qualify as key milepost markers along that pilgrimage.
With the growing buzz emanating from Philadelphia thanks to Joel Embiid, it’s become easy of late to overlook another former Kansas basketball player on his way to NBA stardom.
Also overshadowed on his own team by superstar-in-the-making Karl-Anthony Towns, perhaps Andrew Wiggins did enough in his first two years with Minnesota to ignore his progress the first few weeks of this season.
Big mistake. The Timberwolves (1-5) have yet to prove worthy of their preseason hype, but Wiggins looks even more assertive and impressive than a year ago, when he averaged 20.7 points a game.
In four of his six starts, Wiggins has scored 25 or more points. Tuesday night at Brooklyn, the 21-year-old Canadian sensation went for career-highs with 36 points and six 3-pointers.
Whether it’s just a hot start or a sign of things to come, Wiggins’ 3-point shooting in Year 3 has far exceeded what anyone could’ve envisioned for the hyper-athletic, 6-foot-8 wing. After making only 31% from downtown as a rookie and dipping to 30% in 2015-16, Wiggins has caught fire, draining 12 of 18 — 66.7% — on the young season. And while it is way too early to consider him the league’s newest marksman, the fact is Wiggins leads The Association in 3-point percentage, currently sharing that distinction with none other than Embiid (6-for-9).
If Wiggins can make defenders fear his outside touch consistently, the ferocious slasher and dunker could develop into quite a force on the perimeter.
On a career night, though, Wiggins told the Star Tribune following a nine-point road loss to the Nets he felt disappointed in his lack of production at the foul line, where he went 4-for-8. One of his biggest strengths on offense is driving to draw contact, but so far this season Wiggins is only making 68.9% of his free throws.
“I’ve been working on them,” he told the Star Tribune. “I’m shooting worse than last year (76.1%). I’ve just got to keep repetition, working on it in practice.”
Wiggins didn’t see any point in basking in his big individual success, either:
“I’d rather do less and we win. Winning is what we all want to do. Losing is never fun.”
The future all-star can be a pleasure to watch, though, especially on nights like that.
Wiggins and his young teammates are holding themselves to higher standards, but they are just getting started under a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau, and it’s hard to imagine the T’wolves continuing to lose at this rate. A couple weeks into an 82-game grind, Minnesota is in the middle of the pack in defensive rating (103.4, tied for 14th). That figures to improve under Thibodeau, and if the defense makes a jump in the right direction while Wiggins continues climbing toward significant offensive refinement, this could be the first of many successful seasons to come for the former No. 1 overall pick and the franchise.
By all accounts, Cole Aldrich, the newest member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, has no say in the NBA franchise’s uniform design. Still, the former Kansas center couldn’t help offering up a slight adjustment to the team’s look during his introductory press conference Thursday.
Seeing as how Aldrich is one of three Jayhawks on the roster, along with rising star Andrew Wiggins and recently signed veteran Brandon Rush, the 6-foot-11 big man suggested the Wolves add a Kansas patch to their jerseys, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Admittedly, the Burnsville, Minn., native feels pretty good about life in general these days, what with that freshly signed three-year $22 million contract to play for his hometown organization. As Aldrich, a six-year NBA veteran who already has played for Oklahoma City, Houston, Sacramento, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers pointed out, the free-agent deals he reached over the past few years were neither longterm nor as lucrative as his new contract with Minnesota.
“It’s great to have security, in a sense, where I have a three-year deal,” Aldrich said in the Star Tribune’s report. “For me, I’ve gone through pretty much my career on one-year deals (since a guaranteed contract as a first-round pick).”
A backup post player since leaving KU to become the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, Aldrich never averaged more than 3.3 points a game until the 2014-15 season, with the Knicks, when he put up 5.5 points in just 16.0 minutes. He matched that 5.5 average with the Clippers this past year, despite playing fewer minutes (13.3 a game).
“I finished six years in [the NBA] and sometimes I wonder how the hell I even made it this long,” Aldrich said. “Because the average career is three and a half. It’s just a blessing.”
A self-proclaimed lifelong T’wolves fan, Aldrich also considers himself lucky to be back home. He recalled attending several games during the 2004 playoffs, when Kevin Garnett led the franchise to its first Western Conference Finals berth. Minnesota hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since, but Aldrich said his affinity for the organization never wavered.
“Whether it was in another city, playing for New York or Oklahoma City or wherever, I always tried to keep tabs. You root for your city,” Aldrich told the Star Tribune. “For me to be home, I’m going to go out there and play hard. I’m not going to guarantee a championship or anything like LeBron [James], but I’m going to try to do all I can to help us win games.”
Minnesota’s addition this offseason of Tom Thibodeau, new head coach and president of basketball operations, is expected to give the middling franchise a significant boost as all-stars-in-the-making Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns continue to expand their games. Aldrich, a projected backup center with the T’wolves, said he’s eager to work for the famously tough-minded coach.
“The grit and the grind basketball,” Aldrich responded, when asked why he will fit in well with his hometown team. “I love to get my nose dirty. As you can tell, I’ve got a few scars, and I’ve got a missing tooth.”
A regular at the draft lottery for more than a decade, Minnesota might finally be on the brink of NBA relevance again. Just ask one of the franchise’s young faces, 21-year-old forward Andrew Wiggins.
Since the dynamic wing left Kansas early and became the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Wiggins trudged through a 16-66 campaign before experiencing a 29-53 season. But he doesn’t expect Year No. 3 to be so unbearable.
In an interview with NBA TV while attending the Las Vegas Summer League, Wiggins detailed how the team’s identity is in the midst of an overhaul.
“We are young, we’re gonna be playing hard, we’re going up and down, we’re gonna be all over the place on defense,” Wiggins said. “I feel like we’re gonna be a nightmare to play.”
Many around the NBA expect the Timberwolves to be one of the breakout teams of the 2016-17 season. That optimism for a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004 began to swell when Minnesota brought on former Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau as its new president and coach. With the fiery, defensive-minded Thibodeau pushing his young stars to new heights, the thinking goes, Wiggins and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns are poised to make a significant leap, and bring the rest of the team with them.
Wiggins isn’t making any bold proclamations or guaranteeing a playoff berth for the T’wolves in 2017. His first two years in the league have taught him just how difficult it is to compete night after night. Plus, he learned not to weigh himself down with the disappointment of all those losses.
“We’ve just got to trust in the process. Nothing was built, nothing was set in one day. It’s a process,” Wiggins told NBA TV. “And every day, with some new additions and players coming back, we’re gonna be even better this year. New coaching staff, we’re probably gonna have a different kind of style of play. It should be a good year for us.”
Since Thibodeau took over as the new boss this offseason, Wiggins said the team has shown interest in everything the players do, whether that’s with the organization or on their own time. He took that level of involvement as a sign the new regime wants its players constantly evolving during the offseason.
As for Wiggins’ personal growth as a player, he’s honing in on his defense.
“… Especially with a new coach coming in, Thibs, he’s gonna really push defense and playing hard and all of that,” Wiggins said. “We’re all looking forward to it, especially with the new addition, Kris Dunn (Minnesota’s No. 5 overall pick in the draft). He’s a great player, as you can see the last couple of games (in Las Vegas) he’s played. And defensively he’s great, too, so he’s gonna help us with a big push.”
In Minnesota next season, Wiggins will have a couple of new teammates who happen to be former KU players, too, in Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush, both of whom signed with the T’wovles in free agency. Before too long, Wiggins might be asked to keep all of the Wolves, including his elder Jayhawks, in line. Those are the sorts of responsibilities that come with being one of the faces of the franchise. And Wiggins said he isn’t quite as soft-spoken as he used to be.
“It comes with growth, with experience. I’m going on my third year now, so I have a lot more responsibility than I did before,” said Wiggins, who averaged 20.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in his second season. “I’m becoming more vocal, becoming more of a leader.”
Brandon Rush won’t be playing for one of the most lethal offensive teams ever assembled next season.
After winning an NBA title in 2015 with Golden State, then contributing to the Warriors’ record-breaking, 73-win run through the following regular season, Rush won’t be a part of the revamped Warriors with back-to-back MVP Steph Curry, 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
According to various reports that surfaced Wednesday afternoon, the former Kansas star agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Minnesota.
Leaving the back-to-back Western Conference champions and a chance to win another — or multiple — rings for the Timberwolves, a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004, likely came down to Golden State’s salary cap situation. With the Warriors adding Durant in a free agency coup, the team couldn’t offer Rush much to stick around.
While winters in Minneapolis will be longer and colder than Rush’s last couple in the Bay area, the outlook for his new team isn’t as frigid. The Timberwolves, though years away from competing for a title, have two key young pieces in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, as well as a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau, who posted a winning record and reached the postseason in each of his five years with Chicago.
During his eighth NBA season, Rush filled in as a starter for Golden State 25 times this past year, and averaged 7.0 points and 3.3 rebounds in 21.0 minutes, while shooting 50% from the floor and 38-for-77 (49.4%) from 3-point range. His moments in the spotlight served as a reminder that the 6-foot-6 wing can still fill an important role in the league.
While the Timberwolves have young perimeter players such as Wiggins (another former KU standout), Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, they could use a veteran defender and shooter like Rush, who turns 31 on Thursday. The veteran guard knocked down 41.4% of his 3-pointers in his final stint with the Warriors. Wiggins shot 30% from deep in 2015-16, while LaVine hit 38.9% and Muhammad made 28.9%.
Rush will find a familiar face in Minnesota, where he’ll team up with another Jayhawk, fellow 2008 national champion Cole Aldrich, who agreed to terms with the T’wolves earlier this week.
According to basketball-reference.com, Rush made $1.2 million last season with Golden State. He played for a career-best $4 million per season in his fifth and sixth years in the NBA, with the Warriors and Utah.
It’s not exactly LeBron James returning to Cleveland, but NBA free agency provided former Kansas star Cole Aldrich with an opportunity to go home and play for a franchise that means a lot to him.
According to various media reports Sunday, the 6-foot-11 Burnsville, Minn., native agreed to a three-year, $22 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Drafted 11th overall in 2010 after a standout college career with the Jayhawks, Aldrich struggled to earn playing time in his first few seasons in the NBA, before enjoying some breakout success this past year with the Los Angeles Clippers.
After two seasons with Oklahoma City, Aldrich split the 2012-13 season with Houston and Sacramento, then signed with New York in 2013. A year ago, he signed as a free agent with the Clippers, and averaged 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 13.3 minutes a game. But even his one relatively effective season in L.A. got off to a bumpy start. Aldrich didn’t check in off the bench in 22 of the team’s first 27 games.
“It’s not easy,” Aldrich said in June of remaining patient while waiting for a legitimate chance to prove he belonged in the NBA. “It’s not. I just tried to see the big picture. The season is long, and you never know when somebody can twist an ankle or, whatever happens, somebody gets sick and somebody’s out for a few games. You’re gonna have to be ready to go in and produce.”
With Los Angeles, Aldrich saw a significant uptick in his minutes following a December quad injury to then-teammate Blake Griffin. The center parlayed the on-court production that followed into a deal with the Timberwolves.
As a teenager, Aldrich starred at Bloomington Jefferson High, roughly 20 minutes away from his new home NBA arena, the Target Center, in downtown Minneapolis.
Now 27, Aldrich, embarking on his seventh season, thinks the best years of his career are ahead of him. He told the Star Tribune playing for the organization he grew up watching will be special.
“You always kind of think it’s a possibility,” Aldrich told the Star Tribune. “You never really know. I’m just really excited.”
Although the Timberwolves haven’t reached the playoffs since Aldrich was a high school freshman, many around the league see the team on the verge of something special, with a pair of young stars in the making — Karl-Anthony Towns and former KU wing Andrew Wiggins — and a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau.
At this juncture, Aldrich projects as a backup big for Minnesota. The Star Tribune reported he’ll likely share minutes inside with Towns and Gorgui Dieng.
Last season, according to basketball-reference.com, Aldrich earned $1.1 million with the Clippers before opting out of his contract to test the open market. He’s set to bring in nearly seven times that much this coming season.
Previously, the burly pivot’s biggest paydays came in the third season of his rookie deal, which paid him $2.4 million for the year. The following season, he made $981,084 with the Knicks.
This summer, the NBA’s salary cap jumped up by roughly $24 million, meaning each franchise has more money to spend than ever before. Players such as Aldrich are reaping the benefits.
Darrell Arthur staying put
Aldrich was the second former Kansas star to cash in on this summer’s league-wide spending spree. Seventh-year forward Darrell Arthur, who won a national championship at KU with Aldrich in 2008, agreed to terms with Denver — electing to stick with the team that he played for the previous three seasons.
The Denver Post reported Arthur’s contract, which like all free-agent deals can’t become official before July 7, will be worth $23 million over three seasons.
While Washington and other franchises showed interest in Arthur, who averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds during the 2015-16 season, The Post reported the Nuggets made him a priority in their free agency plans.
Arthur must enjoy his situation with the Nuggets, because even though his salary increased from $2.8 million last year to $7.6 million this coming season, The Post reported Arthur might have been able to pull in closer to $10 million a year with another organization.
The 28-year-old forward who began his career with Memphis, made a personal best $3.4 million with Denver during the 2014-15 season. He’ll more than double that figure next season.
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.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t finished with a winning record in any of the previous 10 seasons, nor reached the NBA Playoffs since 2004.
This summer, however, only optimism — well, that and probably a lot of patience — surrounds a franchise that won just 19.5% of its games in the 2014-15 season.
Hope for the future springs in the Twin Cities, in part, because of reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins’ presence. The promising 20-year-old who spent one college season at Kansas has become the face of the franchise. And in 2015 No. 1 pick Karl Anthony-Towns, out of Kentucky, Wiggins has another high-ceiling running mate to help carry the burden of one serious reclamation project.
During an interview with NBA TV this week in Las Vegas, Wiggins was asked if the Timberwolves are his team, so to speak.
“I feel like I’m a big part of the team. You can put it that way,” the modest 6-foot-8 rising star said.
With youngsters such as Wiggins, Towns, Zach Lavine, Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng expected to carry Minnesota back to relevance— and beyond — in the coming years, the Canadian sensation already finds himself in somewhat of an influential role.
“I think I’m a good leader,” Wiggins said. “I still have a lot to learn.”
Luckily for him, the T’wolves just re-signed sage NBA veteran Kevin Garnett. One of the most competitive players in league history, Garnett can control the locker room and allow his apprentices to pick his brain and gain some wisdom.
“We’ve got to cherish the moments with him,” Wiggins said. “He’s a living legend.”
The Timberwolves would love if KG’s presence accelerates the development of its young troop of talent. In the meantime, Wiggins has spent his first NBA offseason trying to add some muscle onto his roughly 200-pound frame.
“I’ve been working out, trying to get prepared for next season,” he said in an interview posted on the T’wolves’ website. “It’ll be good to gain weight. I’m trying. I got a fast metabolism.”
As Wiggins told the Star-Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda, it’s been a busy summer for him. Last week, Wiggins played a major role in the opening ceremonies for the Pan-Am Games, in his native Canada. He accepted the torch from his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, and passed it on to Steve Nash.
Next month, Wiggins will play for Team Canada at an Olympic-qualifying event in Mexico.
“It’s definitely busy, but I’m prepared for it,” Wiggins said. “I’ve gotten a lot of rest.”
With names like Wiggins and Towns headlining Minnesota’s lineup, people won’t be sleeping on the Timberwolves for long. Wiggins knows it is up to him to keep evolving as a player. Once next season begins, that Rookie of the Year hardware will be old news.
“I think I can make a big improvement,” Wiggins said of his trajectory for Year 2. “I think I can improve in every area, whether it’s defensively or offensively.”
As anyone who has seen Wiggins’ freakish athleticism in person can attest, it is too early to put any limits on what the future holds for the 20-year-old. And that’s very good news for the downtrodden Timberwolves.
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