Andrew Wiggins was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, a talented two-man wing with the physical gifts to someday become an NBA All-Star. Although Wiggins showed enough promise and productivity to land a max contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he remains one of the league's most puzzling talents. Now off to the best start of his career, two members of our NBA.com staff debate whether or not his hot start is sustainable and if so, what it means for the Timberwolves moving forward.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Before the season, Andrew Wiggins said there aren't 100 players better than him after he wasn't included in ESPN's annual player rankings. He took quite a lot of heat for it at the time, but it's safe to say that he's backed that up with his play to start this season.
Through 11 games, Wiggins is averaging 25.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists, all of which are career-highs. Beyond that, he already has 1.2 win shares, which is double the amount he had last season. At this rate, he's going to blow his current career-high of 4.2 win shares - set in the 2016-17 season - out of the water.
All of this begs the question: Is what Wiggins has done to start the season sustainable?
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): No.
But let's be more diplomatic than a one-word retort, because his play certainly shouldn't be discarded so easily. His play commands more respect that simply "no."
I 100% agree that Wiggins has been one of the best stories of the first month of the season. His growth and transformation is, to be blunt, stunning. But I need to see more before I'm convinced that it's sustainable or permanent.
Rafferty: See, I'm leaning more towards it being permanent. Not that he'll average 25.9 points per game at career levels of efficiency for the entire season, but the way in which he's getting his numbers stands out to me.
First and foremost, he's not shooting nearly as many as midrange jumpers. He's gone from attempting nearly a third of his shots from midrange to less than a fifth. He's instead driving a lot more, which is a far better use of his skills.
Secondly, he's proven to be a more willing passer this season, some of which has to do with the system he's playing in. Ryan Saunders basically has him playing with four shooters at all times, with Karl-Anthony Towns at centre, which greatly simplifies his reads. It basically boils down to him scoring when he has a clear lane and kicking it out when defenders crash on his drives.
If he can continue to do both of those things - take smarter shots and make the right reads - that'll go a long way in him sustaining his play to start the season.
Adams: Hey Google, what's the tallest mountain in Canada?
"The tallest mountain in Canada is Mount Logan."
/climbs to the top of Mount Logan
Here's the thing... I can't or won't disagree with anything you just said. But have we really reached the point where five games carries more weight than 400? Because from everything we know about his game over his first five seasons, this feels like an aberration.
Rafferty: But we also can't ignore how this is the best stretch of his career, right? He already has six games this season in which he's scored at least 20 points and dished out at least five assists. That's already the most in his career! His previous career-high was five such games.
Again, I'm not necessarily saying Wiggins is going to sustain the numbers he's put up to start the season. There's a good chance he'd be an All-Star this season if he does. But I do think he's changed for the better.
Adams: Not once in his first five seasons did he ever have back-to-back games with at least 25 points and five assists. He's now done that in each of his last five games.
The passing and playmaking is what stands out the most to be. Here are his assist averages entering this season: 2.1, 2.0, 2.3, 2.0, 2.5.
That he's now almost at four a game feels like he might as well be in LeBron-type territory at the top of the league. That's how stunning it is to watch him rack up five, six or seven dimes in one night.
Rafferty: It sounds like you are sort of buying what he's doing, then...
Adams: I'm incredibly impressed at what he's doing. I just don't think he's going to keep it up. None of it makes sense and I'm a proud math nerd, which puts me in the camp that 400 > 5.
Why are you so sure that this will keep going?
Rafferty: For the reasons I mentioned. I think him taking smarter shoots and actually looking to pass signals a change in his mindset. It also seems like he has a great relationship with Saunders, which matters. He's playing with a level of confidence I can't really remember seeing from him before.
Adams: The driving and aggression is just as perplexing as the passing. He's essentially driving twice as much as he did in previous years. Even if he's not attacking at the level of a James Harden or DeMar DeRozan, he's been a much bigger threat putting the ball on the deck instead of settling for those 18-footers he's been prone to fall in love with.
Rafferty: And again, I think that has a lot to do with the system and the players surrounding him. I'm not excusing how he has played in previous years, but playing alongside four shooters at basically all times greatly simplifies his options, both as a scorer and passer.
Does that mean Wiggins would be the player he was last season if the Timberwolves still had, say, Taj Gibson playing alongside Towns in the front court? Maybe? But Gibson is no longer on the team and Wiggins is showing that he can thrive in a five-out offence.
Adams: Towns developing into Dirk Nowitzki certainly helps open things up a bit.
OK so let's say I'm wrong.
Let's say that Wiggins Island turns out to be all it's cracked up to be from here on out with beachside cabanas and swim-up bars and perfect weather and lavish amenities.
What does that mean for the Timberwolves moving forward?
Rafferty: It gives them a clear one-two punch they can build around in Wiggins and Towns.
Adams: It gives them who they thought they've had all along then... just a few years later. Delayed gratification so to speak.
Towns is obviously a stud that's only getting better. There are some defensive shortcomings to be sure but nobody has ever doubted the talent. My biggest fear coming into the year with Minnesota was the $121 million dollar hole lining up alongside Towns. That's the amount owed Wiggins over the next four seasons, including this one as he's in the second year of a five-year max deal that was signed way back in October 2017.
They've suddenly gone from a cap-strapped future with limited flexibility and a borderline untradeable contract to a team with, as you said, a legitimate one-two punch that are both still just 24-years-old.
Rafferty: And I think they're going about it the right way. Having someone like Robert Covington next to Wiggins and Towns is perfect considering he's a high volume 3-point shooter who doubles as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.
The biggest thing they're missing is a point guard. This is the last season on Jeff Teague's contract and I doubt he returns. Who the Timberwolves replace him will go a long way in determining how good this team can ultimately be.
Adams: Do you think Teague and Covington and the rest of the current roster is good enough to make the playoffs this season?
Rafferty: I'm leaning towards no, but they have the seventh-best record right now despite Towns and Wiggins missing some games.
What do you think?
Adams: I don't think they have enough. It's partially because I'm not convinced that this new version of Wiggins is the one we'll see the rest of the reason, but also just the reality of the Western Conference. Luka Doncic has the Dallas Mavericks looking spry. The Suns are rising like a Phoenix. The Kings are suddenly looking closer to the fringe playoff team we thought they'd be after an abysmal start. Even with teams like Portland and San Antonio stumbling, I'm just not sure the Wolves have the horses to ultimately finish in the top eight.
Rafferty: Regardless, their future looks much brighter does than it did even two months ago when we didn't know Wiggins had this in him.
Adams: Wiggins Island is one of two things:
- A five-star (All-Star?) luxury resort
- Fyre Festival
Only time will tell!
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