Andrew Wiggins is not a bad NBA player. Most teams could use him. This might seem like a controversial statement given the state of the Andrew Wiggins discourse, but it’s true. Look at some of the players the 5-time defending Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors ran out there in their opening game on Thursday. Tell me they wouldn’t insert Wiggins in that rotation if they could ignore the salary cap implications and put him in the role they think he’d fit best in (not the role he’d prefer).
In his five NBA seasons, Wiggins has at various times been good at drawing fouls, been passable at shooting three-pointers, been good at creating his own shot, been good at protecting the ball. You wouldn’t call him reliable, but he’s reliably available, missing just 10 out of 410 games in his career. Even if Andrew Wiggins is just an average NBA player — a talent befitting a second or third player off of the bench, or a spot starter — he definitely belongs in the league, on the court, in box scores.
The problem is that everyone, including Wiggins himself, hoped he would be so much more.
The problem is that Wiggins was hyped heavily in the amateur ranks coming out of Canada — he was never just a future NBA player, or a future first-rounder, or a future No. 1 pick. He was a generational talent in the making. The problem is that Wiggins had a decent rookie season reminiscent of great wings of the past: pretty inefficient, rough around the edges (especially with regards to making plays for others and on defense) but promising in terms of scoring and bringing the requisite athleticism to the league.
The problem is that Wiggins’ tools, his close athletic resemblance to other star wings always made everyone hope that greatness was right around the corner.
Friends, it was not.
The Timberwolves gave Wiggins a defensible maximum-value extension off of his rookie deal with hope that he would realize his potential. The extension came after Wiggins’ third season, in which he average 23 points per game on below league-average efficiency (.484 effective field goal percentage) at age 21.
That extension is now one of the worst contracts in the NBA as Wiggins has failed to improve. In fact, he may be getting worse as he tries to justify his position on the Timberwolves and in the NBA, taking more long jumpers to worse results. Certainly, his contract has committed the Wolves to continuing to feature him so heavily in the team’s attack and plans.
Part of that is that because the team is paying Wiggins so much, there’s not much they can do to add badly needed wing talent around him. Certainly Wiggins’ contract must have impacted Minnesota’s ability and/or desire to give Jimmy Butler the deal he wanted when he briefly buzzed in to give the franchise life. Wiggins’s contract certainly impacts the Wolves’ ability to trade Wiggins: who wants to pay an average NBA player $30 million a year?
The Wolves invested in Wiggins so heavily and have no decent option to supplant him in the starting line-up or as an offensive co-star to the actually effective Karl-Anthony Towns. Minnesota hoped Wiggins would rise to become an All-Star caliber player, as so many hoped and thought Wiggins would be as a teenager. Minnesota hoped the same for Towns, drafted a year after Wiggins. It happened for Towns. Not for Wiggins. But the hope lived long enough for the Timberwolves to invest heavily in Wiggins, which then impacted the lack of investment in Butler, which set him off and eventually out.
And here we are.
If at some point the Timberwolves can look past the $30 million salary and convince themselves and Wiggins that he is not built to be an NBA star barring major changes to his game, they could slot him in as the average bench player he is and find another solution as Towns’ co-star. But putting mustard back in the bottle is never so easy, and in these situations a trade to typically required to so drastically change a player’s relationship with their role. Benching Wiggins for rookie Jarrett Culver or Josh Okogie is way easier in theory than in practice, especially early in the season when hope, that cruel specter, is still alive.
The hope of greatness for Andrew Wiggins made Wiggins and the Timberwolves believe in something that just wasn’t there. Unwinding that to find Wiggins the right NBA role, which does exist, is going to be really difficult so long as hope for the Wiggins we all dreamed of still exists.