Timberwolves’ Wiggins just played best game of his career. Is there more to come?
Trailing by one point with a minute to play, Tuesday, Jan. 8, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Dario Saric rose up in the corner for a good look at a three.
It clanked off the iron, sparking another battle for a board. The contenders: three Oklahoma City players, and Andrew Wiggins. In the past, Minnesota may as well have conceded the rebound. Wiggins traditionally only got the loose balls that essentially landed at his feet.
Again, that was the past. If Ryan Saunders’ debut as interim head coach signaled in a new era of Timberwolves basketball, perhaps with it comes a different Andrew Wiggins. It was Wiggins who soared above the field to grab the all-important rebound, and held on strongly while a couple Thunder players hacked away at the ball before the whistle blew.
Wiggins then went to the line to hit a pair of free throws to put Minnesota back in front.
On the following possession, Wiggins -- who had the ball in his hands for most of Minnesota’s late-game possessions -- drove to the rim, drew the defense to him, then kicked out a pass to Josh Okogie, who buried an open triple to put the Wolves up four on their way to an emotional victory.
On the evening, Wiggins finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds -- his sixth career double-double -- four assists, a steal and a critical block on a Paul George 3-point attempt late in the game.
Wiggins was the best player on the floor throughout.
“I’ve seen Andrew do a lot of things throughout my life,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “I’ve never seen as complete a game as he did today.”
No one has. That was likely the best all-around game of Wiggins’ NBA career. He was dominant throughout, particularly when Minnesota needed him to be. He made big shots and big stops, and whenever a play needed to be made, Wiggins made it. He was everything a team would hope for in a max-contract player.
“Coach put the ball in my hands at the end,” Wiggins said, “and I did the best I could to try to get everyone involved and make the plays we needed to win.”
Wiggins has been playing better of late in general after a rough start this season. He scored 28-plus points in three of the Wolves’ previous eight games prior to Tuesday’s contest. He was getting more aggressive and seemingly gaining confidence.
But it’s hard to think Wiggins’ best game coming in Saunders’ debut was a coincidence. For a man who has been accused of lacking passion, Wiggins seemed to possess a lot of that as he played for his new coach. He said he was “just doing anything I can to get Ryan his first win.”
“He was just playing with a lot of sense of urgency, real aggressive, going to the basket,” veteran forward Taj Gibson said. “He was just real aggressive the whole game, and we’re going to need more from him.”
Wiggins told Saunders he was going to be more aggressive, and Saunders put the fifth-year wing in a position to do so. Wiggins was the creator in many pick-and-roll plays Tuesday. Saunders said when he can get around the opposing team’s blitz coverages, he can get downhill.
“He did a good job just keeping attacking,” Saunders said.
But can Saunders consistently get that type of aggressiveness and effort out of Wiggins? In a radio interview Wednesday, Jan. 9, with KFXN-100.3, the new head coach pointed out Tuesday was just one game. How can Saunders make Wiggins’ performance Tuesday an every-game occurrence?
“I think that’s something I’m just going to keep between Andrew and I as our conversations and things unfold,” Saunders told KFXN. “He’s got a lot of talent, and when he plays with that passion and energy he had last night, he’s hard to stop.”
As Wiggins went up for a dunk in the third quarter of Tuesday’s game, he caught Thunder center Nerlens Noel with an elbow that caused Noel to lose consciousness as he slammed down to the floor. Noel was taken off in a stretcher, and Oklahoma City said Thursday the center has a concussion.
After that play, Thunder guard Dennis Schroder continued to jaw at and get confrontational with Wiggins and other Wolves players. Eventually, point guard Jeff Teague pushed Schroeder a couple times and was ejected.
Wiggins admits he didn’t know what was wrong with Schroder, saying, “He was just getting, he was acting crazy for no reason.”
Only instead of “getting,” some people think Wiggins said “gay.”
That caused Wiggins to take to Twitter to clarify his comments Wednesday. He insists he said “getting,” then went on to say, “I have the utmost love and respect for the LGBTQIA community and I would never use any term to disrespect them in any way.”