NBA: Wolves’ Wiggins becoming superstar everyone expected
MINNEAPOLIS -- Andrew Wiggins is starting to become the player everyone expected him to be. Dubbed a prodigy in high school, the Minnesota Timberwolves wing was always supposed to be an NBA superstar, the type of player who can carry the weight o...
MINNEAPOLIS - Andrew Wiggins is starting to become the player everyone expected him to be. Dubbed a prodigy in high school, the Minnesota Timberwolves wing was always supposed to be an NBA superstar, the type of player who can carry the weight of a franchise.
Now, at the tender age of 21, yet two years into his professional career, he appears set to fulfill every expectation.
Wiggins has averaged 33 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in his past six games, shooting 51 percent from the floor and 53 percent from 3-point range. He ranks eighth in NBA scoring at 27.4 points a game, and is the league’s leader in 3-point shooting at 54 percent.
What has happened?
Wolves center Gorgui Dieng explains it this way: This is the first time he has seen Wiggins “be awake on the court.”
It was meant to be a joke, but it’s a perception that has followed Wiggins since his freshman year at Kansas. One game he’d be spectacular, the next he looked like he was sleepwalking. There were a few cases of that during his first two seasons in Minnesota.
Not this season. Wiggins has been aggressive nearly every night, as shown by his 94 free-throw attempts, ninth-most in the NBA.
“There were times last year I’d drift to the corner, stayed there,” Wiggins said. “Now, I’m being more active. My awareness is higher and I’m doing more.”
He’s had to. Wiggins’ list of responsibilities continues to pile up. For Minnesota to be successful, his rebounding numbers had to improve, as did his 3-point shooting. Check, check.
Wiggins went from non-threat to lethal weapon from deep after a summer spent working with his skills trainer Drew Hanlen, focusing on a balanced shot with a consistent, straight follow through.
They also worked on Wiggins’ ball handling, which has been just as important. Now he can direct the offense at key points, such as the fourth quarter, and run the pick and roll with talented big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
Get too close to Wiggins and he’ll blow past you off the bounce. Sag off a step and the 6-foot-8 sharpshooter will make you pay. Wiggins continues to learn NBA defenses, and NBA defenses are still learning about him.
The pick and roll is just another way Wiggins has been integrated into the Wolves’ offense. And Thibodeau said more wrinkles for Wiggins are on the way.
There may never be enough ways to use his talents.
“His strength is the versatility,” Thibodeau said. “You can post him up, you can put him in pick and roll. He can be the screener. He can be the ball handler. He can run catch and shoot, (and) he moves well without the ball. You can use him in cutting situations; he knows how to draw fouls.”
“The variety of ways in which he can score, that puts enormous pressure on a defense,” the coach said. “So, on the nights when he may not be shooting it great, he can score in many other ways. And he runs the floor great, he finishes great.”
Wiggins passed on playing for Team Canada this summer to focus on his individual development. This is how he saw it all playing out in his head; his goal was to be an all-star. If he continues to play at this rate, Wiggins should be a lock, regardless of Minnesota’s record.
“This third year had to really be the year for me to establish myself,” Wiggins said. “So, I sacrificed (the Olympics) and it’s paying off.”
The progress seems to motivate Wiggins, who said his early results have only inspired him to work even harder next summer. That’s exactly what Thibodeau has seen from the great players he’s been around during his coaching career, including his work with USA Basketball in Rio de Janeiro. Even the game’s best are always looking to add to their games.
That, Thibodeau said, is how you continue to get better.
“As I said, he’s just scratching the surface,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a lot that he can do.”