“The physical similarity with McGrady was obvious. Great size and length (6' 8''), freakish athleticism, little lack of weight (Wiggins is listed at 200 lbs), albatross-esque wingspan, versatility, superior ability to get close to the rim and keen court vision are common for both players."
In 2013, Wiggins was named Mr. Basketball USA and also won Naismith and Gatorade awards as the best high school player in the nation. He was ranked as the 1st prospect on both Rivals.com and Scout.com sites. Behind him were Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, the Harrison brothers and others. Andrew decided to play for the prestigious Kansas Jayhawks College and coach Bill Self.
The whole draft generation was considered to be the best and deepest in recent memory and many thought that the 2014 NBA draft would be historically great, just like the 1984 generation (Hakeem, Jordan, Perkins, Barkley, Robertson, Thorpe, Stockton), or the 1996 class (Iverson, Marbury, Allen, Walker, Bryant, Stojaković, Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, Ilgauskas) or even the 2003 class (James, Anthony, Bosh, Wade, Hinrich, David West, and Kyle Korver).
Unfortunately for the 2014 class, they didn’t meet the expectations. Embiid’s, Randle’s, Parker’s and Gordon’s injuries and a tough period of adaptation of some other rookies (Smart, Stauskas, Vonleh, Exum, Warren etc.) slowed down this group and thwarted their ambitions of becoming one of the all-time drafts.
The sole flag-bearer of the 2014 class hopes and predictions is here, however. And you’ve guessed it right - it is Andrew Wiggins. But, we’ll talk about this later.
Let's return to the 2013/14 NCAA season. Like I said, expectations for Wiggins and Jayhawks were sky-high and a bit unfair. Everything good that Andrew would do on the court was considered to be normal and usual because of the great hype surrounding this Canadian phenomenon. On the other hand, every bad (“bad“ in this case means average) move, game or performance of Wiggins was seen as catastrophic, end-of-the-world-like and horrific. The pressure on the 19-year-old Wiggins was enormous. His freshman stats weren't as good as Kevin Durant's for sure, but weren't shaky either.
On the contrary, Wiggins posted very good and prolific numbers: 17.1 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 44,8% field goal shooting. He had some terrific performances: 41 points against West Virginia, 30 against Oklahoma State in one game and 17 points plus 19 rebounds in another, 29 points against Iowa State, 27 against Texas Christian and 26 points on Florida.
At the end of the season, Wiggins was named to 2nd team All-American and 1st team All-Big 12 Conference. So I said to myself: “Man, you better stop that Wiggins wagon and jump in before it’s too late!“
After center Embiid’s injury, it was clear that Wiggins was going to become the second Canadian to be selected as first pick on the NBA draft (after Anthony Bennett). And he did, but problems for Andrew started just after the draft night. Cleveland Cavaliers were lucky again (some would say way too lucky) and for the third time in four years they were given the top pick. That’s crazy! Imagine Blake Lively and Margot Robbie asked you, yeah YOU, on a date at the same time. That crazy.
Not long after that, Lebron James announced that he was returning to Ohio, and James, as you may know, is playing on the same position as Wiggins. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, another two dominant ball-handlers were on the Cavs roster. This meant limited playing role and minutes for Wiggins, because James and Irving wanted to win it all and win it now.
After acknowledging that Cleveland and Minnesota were discussing a possible trade that would include the superstar Kevin Love, it was clear that Wiggins was an undesirable and expendable piece in Cleveland. And the young man felt like that. "I just want to play for a team that wants me. So whichever team wants me I'll play for", Wiggins told ESPN's "SportsCenter" in August 2014. Then, the trade that ended Wiggins’s agony happened.
He and Anthony Bennett were on their way to Minneapolis, James was was happy to get Kevin Love as a teammate and Sixers sent Thaddeus Young to Minnesota while receiving Alexey Shved, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the draft pick from Cavaliers.
After NBA-ABA merger in 1976, this marked just the second time that the top draft selection was traded without playing a single game for the team that originally drafted him. Chris Webber was the first player to experience such a thing in 1993. Orlando Magic and Golden State Warriors exchanged Webber and Penny Hardaway (3rd pick on the same draft) just a few days after the draft.
Arrival in Minnesota finally allowed Wiggins to breathe and relax. The Timberwolves may not win many games, but Andrew will get enough time to develop and elevate his skills. And so it was. A couple of days ago Wiggins became just the fifth rookie in Timberwolves history with 1000 scored points. The other 4 are Christian Laettner, Isaiah Rider, Stephon Marbury and Jonny Flynn. “Garnett and Love?” you may ask.
Sorry, they didn't even reach 900 points as rookies. Just two other rookies beside Wiggins in Timberwolves history had at least 1000 points, 250 rebounds, 100 assists and 50 steals (Laettner and Rider also achieved that feat). And Wiggins still has to play the final month of the season. He is the front-runner to win Rookie of the Year award, probably unanimously. He has won all 4 Western Conference rookie of the month awards, steadily improving his game and averages.
Wiggins is averaging 16.9 ppg to go along with 4.5 rpg, 2.0 apg and 1.0 spg. He is shooting a healthy 43,8% from the field.
Kobe's numbers at the same age? 15.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game with 42,8% shooting. This doesn't mean that Andrew will be as good a basketball player as Kobe is, but I would say this is an encouraging sign.
We should remember that this isn't the first time that Wiggins is shutting the critics with his good play. After the renowned Sports Illustrated used some harsh words on „Maple Jordan“, he responded by scoring 57 points in a game! Wiggins scored 33 points on Cleveland, making them regret for their bad assessment last summer, and he did that while being closely guarded by Lebron James, one of the premier players and defenders in NBA. The Nuggets received 31, Rockets 30 and 31, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Kings 29 and again Cavaliers 27, to mention just a few Andrew’s bright sequences.
It is important to emphasize that Andrew comes from a sports family. His father Mitchell is a former NBA player (though not nearly as talented as his son) and his mother Marita was a sprinter and Olympic participant. He inherited sports genes from his parents. Imagining what Wiggins can become in the near future is frightening for 29 NBA franchises, or thrilling and delightful if you are a Wolves fan.
OFFENSE VS DEFENSE
He has liabilities in his game and he has been showing some of them continuously, but let's not forget that Andrew has just turned 20. His ability to finish around the rim makes him a feared slasher from the very beginning of his NBA career (Andrew is shooting 58% around the rim). From the corner (3pts) he is also a reliable option; 45% from the right and 35% from the left side. But the top of the key (3pts) is his nightmare, making ugly 7% of attempted shots.
On defense Wiggins still has plenty of jobs to do to become a lockdown defender, but even as a rookie he’s helping Minny. His opponents are shooting just 33% from the left wing and elbow positions (that's Wiggins’s right side), 41% from the top of the key and 33% from the right elbow. He is still bad at defending corner three-pointers, restricted area and average at defending right wing. Overall, he gets a poll degree for defensive prowess.
The Timberwolves haven't made it to the playoffs since 2004 and the Big 3 era. That season Kevin Garnett was named NBA MVP, Sam ’Alien’ Cassell appeared in All-Star game for the first and only time in his career and Latrell Sprewell reminded us that he was one of the most gifted NBA athletes over the last 25 years. After winning franchise-best 58 games in the regular season and defeating the Nuggets and Kings in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Minnesota was stopped in the Western Conference finals by the star-laden Lakers squad that featured 4 future Hall of Famers in Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, while being coached by the Lord of the Rings Phil Jackson.
Sam Cassell’s injury scattered the Timberwolves’ dreams of becoming NBA champions. Cassell was limited to just four games in the series, well below his possibilities and outbursts. This was the main reason the Wolves were defeated in 6 games.
In recent years, the team management has tried to build a competitive squad around Al Jefferson, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Wesley Johnson, Nikola Peković, Derrick Williams and Kevin Martin, but none of them is a franchise cornerstone and all these attempts have failed. Maybe it is too early, but it seems that Andrew Wiggins is what Minnesota needed to become relevant again. He is the real deal for this franchise.
Wiggins can reach All-Star level in the next season and if he stays healthy it's just a matter of time when he will join Durant, James and Anthony as the premier small forwards. There is not much “if” in Wiggins’s case, but rather “when".
How many players are there in the NBA who are 22 years old or younger that you would pick ahead of Wiggins if you were about to start building a new franchise? Anthony Davis and who else?
RUN WITH THE WOLVES
Wiggins is like a tea bag. Put a tea bag in the water and everything becomes tea. Put Andrew Wiggins on the team and everyone will look better. That’s a rare quality, even for All-Star players.
The hype wasn’t exaggerated this time. The Canadian prodigy is a game-changing factor and his flashes of brilliance sometimes make his opponents numb.
Hey, are you sure that Linkin Park's song of the same name wasn’t dedicated to Wiggins?
The future of basketball belongs to you, Andrew Wiggins.
* BONUS VIDEO