Andrew Wiggins was always going to be the X-factor for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. Among the Wolves’ newly constructed Big Three, he still had easily the most to prove. Jimmy Butler’s credentials as an All-NBA-caliber performer are unquestioned at this point. Meanwhile, it seems like a matter of when, not if Karl-Anthony Towns will become one of the elite big men in the league given his remarkable skill set.
It was not quite as easy to tell with Wiggins. Even though he averaged 23.6 points per game last season, he hardly contributed much else to the game. He’s been an awful defender upon arriving in the NBA (in fairness, so has Towns), not to mention a subpar rebounder given his size and athleticism. Those flaws were glaring enough that people actually wondered whether it was a good idea for the Timberwolves to hand Wiggins a $146 million max extension this offseason.
But three games into the season and Wiggins looks like he’s on a mission to show he’s worth every penny.
Continued growth offensively
It’s funny to think that the big knock on Wiggins coming into the league was supposed to be his offensive game. Through most of his first three seasons in this league, it has been anything but. He’s continued to make improvements to his game on offense, and this season is no different.
Wiggins has been by far the Timberwolves’ most consistent offensive performer through three games. He’s averaging 24.7 points while shooting 49 percent from the field. His free throw percentage is surprisingly low at 60 percent, but considering how eerily consistent he’s been throughout his career – 76 percent almost to the dot in his first three years – he’s bound to bounce back.
Meanwhile, he’s shown off the progress of his three-pointer. Not only is he attempting over six per game (nearly double his attempts last season), but he’s hitting over 42 percent. Of course, that’s still a small sample size, but his willingness to shoot it that often is already a welcome development. Given the lack of terrific knockdown shooting on this Timberwolves team, it would be a huge plus for the team if Wiggins can settle into a 37-38 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
Wiggins and Towns got a ton of reps in late-game situations for the Timberwolves last season. More often than not, though, they failed to deliver as they consistently found ways to squander winning situations. It wasn’t all their fault; Minnesota were a young, inexperienced team that just made too many inexperienced mistakes. But the Canadian did deliver at times and showed that he wasn’t afraid of the big moment.
Wiggins once again flashed that type of instinct against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He went toe-to-toe with the most clutch player in the league last season, MVP Russell Westbrook, and came up on top. He had 12 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, including the slightly fortuitous banked-in game-winner which was also aided by an illegal Towns pick.
Butler was supposed to be the man to lead the Wolves over the line in late-game situations this season. But with Jimmy Buckets having a slow start to the season, Wiggins proved he’s more than capable of carrying the team in the clutch which is an encouraging sign.
It’s also been promising to see that Wiggins is finally making a more concerted effort to contribute on the glass. He’s had at least five rebounds in each of his first three games. That may not sound like much and he’ll need to show a lot more consistency going forward, but it’s significant progress for the 22-year-old considering he had just two such stretches of five-plus boards in three straight games all of last season.
The jury is still out with regard to Wiggins’ overall defense, but again, he’s set such a low bar that any improvement should be welcome progress. Granted, he doesn’t have to worry about being the team’s perimeter stopper as Butler has taken it upon himself to fill that role. Butler was the one checking Westbrook in crunch time against the Thunder, and he’ll likely be the one to face off with the opposition’s best all year long.
Butler has taken on a slightly more complementary role within the team in the early going. With his shot not quite falling, he’s filling the holes in Wiggins’ game in terms of defense and being a facilitator on offense. That’s freed up Wiggins to concentrate more on his offense, but it’s good to see him addressing a big flaw in his game with his improving rebounding.
A good deal, so far
It’s obviously way too soon to tell three games into a five-year pact whether Wiggins was worth all the money the Timberwolves invested in him. But in those three games, he has shown the type of growth and potential which made Minnesota lock him up for the long-term.
If he can prove he can consistently provide that production for the Timberwolves moving forward, all the doubts that surrounded the 2015 ROTY's worth should slowly fade into a distant memory.
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