Raised by Wolves: Part III – Wiggins Ahead of Schedule
The fine folks over at Punch-Drunk Wolves have taken in every Minnesota game this season. While we at NPH have been closely tracking the careers of Canadian first-overall picks Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins for years, these guys have the definitive eye-test for how they’ve developed this season with the Timberwolves.
In an email conversation back and forth with Andy G and Patrick J from PDW, we dissected the development of Bennett’s and Wiggins’s games, our first impressions of the would-be stars, and where their potential could take them.
PART III – THE WIGGINS TAKEOVER
DG – I found it strange leading up to the season how the hype for Andrew Wiggins had leveled off. His expectations were still high but I think the Embiid hype and the whole situation in Cleveland left his value somewhat questioned. For the most pre-anointed prospect since LeBron James, all the sudden his ceiling was Luol Deng or Rudy Gay in some circles. But he’s been far more than that. I think he’s been able to come in and make an impact, and really lead a team when thrust into that role.
Now that Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin are healthy, and the Wolves brought in Kevin Garnett, Wiggins has seemed to find his footing and consistency. But he’s really been playing effective basketball since he played in Cleveland just before Christmas and put up 27 on LeBron and the Cavs. Since that game he’s only missed scoring in double-figures twice. Rising Stars game MVP is just another platform accomplished in his ongoing Rookie of the Year campaign.
Wiggins can defend every position in isolation. He has quick feet, great anticipation and length. And he’s the Wolves’ best pick-and-roll defender.
Sometimes I wish I saw more fire from him but that’s just not who he is. Wiggins always seemed cooler than cool, so good that he just has to glide around and dominate without it ever seeming like he really tried. If he’s going to lead the best team in the NBA to a Championship, he just has to keep working with the tools he has. He can already score from a variety of sets and isos. He can shoot from anywhere, including distance. His back to the basket game is very promising.
Is it safe to call him a sure thing? Can we start believing (again) he’ll inherit the NBA some day?
AG – It’s safe to say he’s sure to be a really good NBA player. If he only polishes off the edges of the game he currently has, he’ll be a good secondary scorer who defends the opponent’s best player and wreaks havoc in transition. (Many would drop a Scottie Pippen comparison here, but that’s insulting to Pip’s legacy, which includes careful MVP consideration in one season, and many years of stat stuffing on title-winning teams.) More likely is he’ll add layers to his game over the next 2-4 years and become an All-Star.
Wiggins can play with anybody, because of his ability to defend so many positions (at least 1 through 3, probably some 4s) and because he has both shooting range and post-up skills on offense. The only thing limiting his versatility right now is ballhandling on offense and bulk to defend bigtime post players.
Whether Wiggins’ name is one day on the short list of “best in the game” (like Pip) will require some significant work — either in ballhandling to become a reliable slasher off the dribble as a primary option, or as jumpshooter both behind the three-point line and moving around off screens, sort of like how Klay Thompson gets his points. I don’t know how much he’ll improve in those areas, but if he does significantly, he could be an MVP candidate.
PJ – What die-hard Wolves fans have come to learn is that Wiggins is a sure thing. He’s perhaps the only sure thing our franchise has. There’s still a cult around Ricky Rubio, and I’m a card-carrying member. But I’m not deluding myself into expecting that Rubio’s health will be unassailable or that he’ll fully internalize the improvement to his shooting form and confidence we’ve seen since the Wolves hired shooting coach Mike Penberthy to work with Rubio.
Wiggins, on the other hand, has been a revelation. He hasn’t shied away from the nightly challenge of defending the opposing team’s best player, and he’s steadily honed his already better-than-expected offensive game into a more complete one that enables him to get off a good shot at any time, no matter who’s defending him or what the situation is.
There aren’t a lot of players in the League with those qualities. That alone makes Wiggins an All-Star in the making–and possibly more. But Wiggins combines all of these qualities with a distinctly understated confidence that he can–and will–get the job done. He isn’t over-assertive. To his credit, he’s appropriately assertive. He does what he’s told, and, when necessary, he does what he must.
Wiggins has shouldered a heavy burden on what is currently a very bad and very much rebuilding Minnesota team, and he’s done it with grace, confidence, and ability. I expected Jabari Parker to have all of these qualities as a rookie, but not Wiggins. If Wiggins would demonstrate them, it would be as a second or third year player, I thought. But, happily, I was wrong about Wiggins. His sneaky precociousness has been a godsend and bodes very well for his future as a truly elite NBA player.