How Andrew Wiggins can turn the Timberwolves into a Playoff Team
Five years into his NBA career, it is fair to say Andrew Wiggins is still trying to find his way in the league. The 2014 No. 1 overall pick has the physical profile of an elite two-way player, but he’s failed to become a consistent difference-maker on either end of the floor. At times he’ll flash explosive scoring or lockdown defense, but confidence and effort-levels seem to drop, especially in key moments. During this article, we will explain why if Andrew Wiggins can pick up from where he left off in his stellar sophomore season, the Timberwolves could form a top-tier power duo in Wiggins/Towns that can take the league by storm.
The NBA as we know it is changing. We are leaving the ‘super team’ era and beginning the ‘duo team’ era. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are just a few names of newly founded elite duos who are soon to be dominating today’s NBA. The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a strange spot as of now. Since eliminating All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, they have acquired and lost many assets. They recently drafted guard Jarrett Culver with the sixth pick and signed numerous high-caliber role players in free agency, such as Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell. Oh, and don’t forget about All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, the centerpiece of this Timberwolves franchise, who is coming off a career year in almost all major categories. It is fair to say that Minnesota checks most boxes. They have a veteran point guard in Jeff Teague, a top two-way player in Robert Covington, a franchise player center in KAT and an evolving young core of Naz Reid, Jarrett Culver, and Josh Okogie, who all have a very high defensive upside. But the man of the hour who we all refuse to acknowledge is 2014 number one pick Andrew Wiggins, who will be entering his sixth season come November.
Andrew Wiggins is a phenomenal athlete, there is no denying it. After being traded from the Cavaliers prior to his rookie campaign, Wiggins showed signs of elite athleticism, a swift shooting stroke, and an evolving scoring game. During his rookie season, he drew a lot of attention, gaining an invitation to the NBA Rising Stars game, where he won the MVP, posting 22 points on 72% shooting. The sky was the limit for Wiggins, as his numbers grew – so did his confidence. Come April, Andrew posted his best month – 23.3 points, 4.0 assists, and 6.0 rebounds, solidifying his case for the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year award. As the seasons went on, so did the sublime scoring. In his second year, he averaged 20 points per game, playing alongside rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. As the 2016-17 season ended, Wiggins drew Kobe-like comparisons. He could raise up and hit a jump shot over any defender, slash to the basket, play lockdown defense on your favorite team’s favorite player and even take-over games in big moments. The trending duo of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were becoming the most exciting young duo in the league.
In 2017, All-Star Jimmy Butler arrived in town and so began a slow downfall of Andrew Wiggins. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves – Jimmy Butler is NOT the main reason to blame for the slow progress of Andrew Wiggins over the last 2 seasons. Jimmy’s first season in Minnesota, 22-year-old Wiggins started off nicely. He averaged around 20 points on an above league average field goal percentage while having a much lower usage rate compared to a season ago. The Wolves at the time looked like the next powerhouse team, they began the first 10 games with a 7-3 record, best for second in the loaded Western Conference. It looked like they were going to not only make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons but make some serious noise with the talented roster and experienced coaching.
The Wolves were playing winning basketball, but questionably the player with the most potential on the roster is struggling – badly. By April, the man nicknamed the ‘Maple Mamba’ is averaging barely 14 points per night on under 37% from the field. It was obvious Wiggins was having a hard time personally. Many thought the young star was going through a “slump”, but this bad form carried on into the playoffs, where Minnesota lost the series to Houston four games to one. Inefficient, low percentage shots were taken across the floor and ultimately Wiggins had lost his touch.
We all remember the dreadful start to last season’s campaign for Minnesota. Jimmy Butler returned to practice, and the jilted star made his presence felt. At one point, Jimmy turned to general-manager Scott Layden and shouted “You f*cking need me. You can’t win without me.” He confronted long-time coach Tom Thibodeau and got into verbal altercations with Towns and Wiggins. Jimmy even played 5v5 with third-string players against the starters and won. Butler called Wiggins “soft”.
Wiggin’s confidence was now at an all-time low, but he had been dismantled by Butler and co and this was shown on the court. “Wiggins always leaves me wanting more,” one Eastern Conference scout said. “He doesn’t rebound, he doesn’t defend, he doesn’t assist, he doesn’t shoot well. He’ll score… sometimes, but that’s all he does”. The season went slowly and was very tough on Wiggins. He had career lows while going through new teammates, new management and even new coaching staff.
Surprisingly, once coach Thibodeau was fired and Ryan Saunders was brought in, Andrew Wiggins dropped a season-high 40 points in a 119-117 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Minnesota ended the season 36-46, best for 11th in another year of a stacked Western Conference, headlined by Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Paul George.
Now aged, 24 and about to enter his sixth NBA campaign, many have written Wiggins off and given him ‘bust’ labels. But what people may not realize is that Wiggins has almost everything in his favor. Not only did he end the 2018-19 campaign with his best month of the season, shooting 39% from three and 48% from the field but he has a chance at a fresh start with a new coach, new teammates, new facilities and a long off-season to work on his craft and develop a higher level of consistency.
Wiggins and Towns, who is only 23 years old, can now put everything behind them, and work on growing a culture in Minnesota with lottery pick Jarrett Culver. Who knows, becoming a surprise contender in a weakened Western Conference may be a real possibility in the coming years. Minnesota is a stronger team than expected with multiple two-way players and a great system in place for the young stars to thrive. Let’s not forget Wiggins is still very young. The Maple Mamba comparisons still make sense. Individually, Kobe Bryant averaged 18.7 points, 3.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds across his first five seasons and Wiggins has averaged 18.1 points, 2.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds across his first five with even better shooting splits. While Kobe may have championships to back up his statistics, but it is not out of the realm that Andrew Wiggins may be beginning the journey to his first. The odds have been against Minnesota for a long time now, but with a growing culture in place, it is not too late to say they could be on the rise once again.
This Wolves team is oozing with potential, now it is just time for this potential to be unleashed!
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