When judged against some of the memorable recent Rookie of the Year winners, Andrew Wiggins had a quiet season. His main competition for the award and early frontrunner, Jabari Parker, collapsed with an ACL injury 25 games into the year. The Minnesota Timberwolves only won 16 games. There was a small but vocal push at the end of the season that Nerlens Noel deserved the award over him.
Maybe that's why everyone keeps overlooking him.
The most important thing a rookie can show his first year isn't a jump shot or defensive chops, but progress throughout the season. In a disappointing November, Wiggins scored just 12 points per contest on sub-40 percent shooting. For one of the most highly touted high school prospects, some saying the best since LeBron, it wasn't the entrance anyone was hoping the rookie would make.
Nothing beyond the ordinary happened on Dec. 23, at least nothing that could be described as the proverbial switch being flipped. But it was: from that point on, Wiggins averaged 19 points on 46 percent shooting and nearly five rebounds per game. After a brief slump headed into the All-Star break, he scored double digit points in every game afterwards.
While they're stuck in the Western Conference, there's still reason to believe the Timberwolves can improve. Ricky Rubio is fully healthy from ankle injuries that cost him most of last season and first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns is scheduled to start at center. The next step for Wiggins, though, is just as important. Here's how he can make it.
1. Continue his late season push
Since Dec. 23, Wiggins was great. In April, though, Wiggins lit the NBA on fire, averaging 23 points in eight games on 44 percent shooting from the floor. For a 20-year-old, Wiggins is remarkably skilled from the post, developing his game with his back to the basket or facing up.
Another promising stat from April was that Wiggins dished four assists per game. By consistently putting himself in the post, Wiggins must understand he's inviting double teams and finding the open man will be part of his job. Wiggins also averaged 3.1 turnovers in April, the highest of any month.
2. Keep developing his ball handling
Even in college, Wiggins struggled attacking the rim from the perimeter. He's an incredible athlete and he showed he could finish at the NBA level last year, but actually creating shots for himself in isolation behind the three-point line is an area where Wiggins needs work.
With a couple of dribble moves he can use to consistently get by defenders, Wiggins will be even harder to stop. If this Instagram is enough evidence, it's something he's working on this summer.
3. Figure out his three-pointer
There's some controversy here, stemming from comments late in the season from Flip Saunders. Here's what he said.
Context for Flip's quote pregame on Wiggins... pic.twitter.com/mNmd8uZZC3— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) April 9, 2015
There's several ways to interpret that quote, but as Canis Hoopus rightly pointed out last season, what matters isn't the words but what actually happens on the floor.
As young and athletic as Wiggins is, his game rightly should be focused on getting to the rim as often as possible. But passing up open three-pointers or declining to spot up behind the arc when he's off the ball isn't helping, either. Of all the good things Wiggins did in April, shooting the three wasn't one of them: he attempted just nine, making one. He shot 36 percent before the All Star break but only 16 percent coming back from it.
If Saunders is in any way discouraging Wiggins from taking the shot, that's absurd. This is their likely starting five next season.
|Ricky Rubio||Kevin Martin||Andrew Wiggins||Kevin Garnett||Karl-Anthony Towns|
The three players in bold are still the building blocks for the future (with Zach LaVine ideally replacing Martin next year or the year after), but only Wiggins projects to become an average three-point shooter. Towns could add the shot later and Rubio may hit them at a reasonable percentage, but it's unlikely either of them will ever be fully respected by defenses.
Minnesota is ready to push for the playoffs in coming years, but Wiggins turning into a viable shooting is important for them to find the right offensive balance.
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He may have started slow and he may not be the next LeBron James like some thought when he was a high schooler, but Wiggins is on the right trajectory for NBA stardom. He doesn't have to get there right away next season. He just has to take the next step.