Author: Gerald Bourguet
Minnesota Timberwolves: What's Up With Andrew Wiggins?
The Minnesota Timberwolves are off to an impressive 2-1 start to the season, with their only loss coming on an emotional night that paid tribute to the team’s dearly departed head coach, Flip Saunders. The Wolves might not be a playoff team this year, but the awfully impressive play of one of their franchise cornerstones has Minnesota with a record over .500 for the time being.
Just for reference, the franchise player in question has been rookie Karl-Anthony Towns, not Andrew Wiggins.
Granted, three games is a pretty minuscule sample size, and there’s no question that Wiggins is going to be a star in this league. The reigning of Rookie of the Year is coming off a season in which he put up 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 36.7 minutes per game on 43.7 percent shooting.
After the All-Star break, Wiggins emerged as a 20 points per game game scorer for the Wolves despite shooting an abysmal 16.1 percent from three-point range. Given his athleticism, length, defensive skills and promising scoring ability, this 20-year-old is a few years and a serviceable three-point jumper away from being a stud.
Nevertheless, his slow start to the 2015-16 season has already prompted the “sophomore slump?” questions, premature and silly as they may seem.
For the record, it’s highly unlikely Wiggins will experience the dreaded sophomore slump this season; there are simply too many minutes available for him on such a young team and he’s far too talented to let all that development time go to waste.
But so far this year, the shots simply haven’t been falling for Wiggins, who is averaging 14.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 27.7 minutes per game. He’s only shooting 30 percent from the floor after going 2-for-10, 5-for-13 and 5-for-13 in his first three games, and he has yet to make a single three-pointer after six missed attempts.
A look at his shot chart shows he’s not finishing well around the basket, an area where he converted 55.8 percent of his attempts as a rookie:
Even more concerning, Kevin Martin has been playing exceptionally well off the bench, stealing some of Wiggins’ minutes in the process. Though K-Mart is averaging an exceptional 20.3 points in 28.3 minutes per game for the Timberwolves, the fact that he’s earning more minutes per game than the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft is a bit of a concern.
The transition from Flip Saunders to Sam Mitchell was sudden and unexpected. No one could have prepared for it and it’s hard to blame Wiggins for struggling to adjust to a new influence after the passing of the only NBA coach he’s ever known. Some of the blame actually needs to go to Mitchell as well.
Again, three games is a tiny sample size, and it’s hard to blame Mitchell for sticking with the hot hand off the bench as Wiggins has struggled with his shot. Wiggins is also dealing with a back issue, which could be impacting him more than anyone’s admitting at this point.
But it’s not just that Martin is currently earning more minutes than Wiggins; it’s also that Mitchell has switched Wiggins over to the shooting guard spot withTayshaun Prince starting at small forward. The move was designed to help the 6’8″ Wiggins capitalize on mismatches, attack off the bounce and bully opposing shooting guards as a slasher to the rim.
That plan doesn’t work when a complacent Wiggins settles for contested midrange jumpers and fails to convert around the basket like he did last year, which is in no way Mitchell’s fault.
Wiggins has said the change of positions isn’t the problem, even going as far as calling Mitchell “a player’s coach.” The young wing certainly isn’t the most aggressive personality, and so far, he’s seemed content to fade into the background with the arrival of Towns, a player who’s proving himself worth of being a focal point in the offense.
But no matter whose “fault” Wiggins’ early struggles should be blamed on, the makeup of this current starting lineup will still be called into question if those struggles continue.At this point in the season, the Timberwolves are trying to win ball games. The team already has a winning record and Mitchell is trying to prove to the organization that he’s worthy of being Saunders’ successor for the long-term.
But starting the 35-year-old Tayshaun Prince in Wiggins’ preferred spot — which also just so happens to have relegated Zach LaVine to the bench and a meager 18.0 minutes per game — is a trend that will need to come to an abrupt halt if Wiggins continues to struggle adjusting.
Sending a message to LaVine that he needs to play defense (something that Prince brings to the table) is fine and well, but even as the Wolves try to be competitive, the biggest goal for the season should still be developing the young talent.
After starting out the season 2-0 on the road, the Wolves dropped a second home game last night. Despite heading into the half down by only five points, Minnesota couldn't keep up with Miami and watched a rough third quarter turn into a 96-84 win for theHeat.
Minnesota looked terrible offensively, with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Townscombining to make just 8 of their 31 shots. Shabazz Muhammad led the Wolves for scoring with 14 points.
It's safe to say that Minnesota is still feeling rattled with losing head coach Flip Saunder less than two weeks ago and logistically adjusting to Sam Mitchell now being at the helm. Add to that a new-look roster, and a bit of transition time is definitely to be expected. Hopefully, the team will settle into a groove soon.
Coming up next, the Wolves will head on the road again to play Chicago Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 5:00 p.m. CT; don't forget to tune in for the earlier start time!