All 82 games are in the books, and the Timberwolves season has come to an end.
While one Timberwolves player is a certainty to garner a league-wide award later in the month, national recognition for the rest of the team likely won’t come in the form of awards for this season.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a lock to take home the Rookie of the Year award, but while there has also been some talk about him possibly being third-team All-NBA, I don’t think enough people took notice of his play throughout the season.
He would be deserving of the honor, and I truly hope he gets it, but it feels like his play flew under the radar this season with the Wolves being an afterthought in the league until the win over Golden State late in the season.
Ricky Rubio played his typical stellar defense all year, but I again don’t think that enough people noticed how great he is on that end. Zach Lowe from ESPN.com placed him on his All-Defense second team, but Lowe stays plugged into the league more than just about anyone. While Rubio is deserving of that spot, he doesn’t generally get the national credit he should for how disruptive he is on defense.
Therefore, let’s take a more team-focused look at the award season and hand out recognition that these players should get. The easiest award to hand out will be first…
Most Improved Player — Zach LaVine
This award was, by far, the easiest choice. Andrew Wiggins was really the only other viable choice for this, but he established himself right away last year and didn’t improve much in areas outside of scoring this season.
If the fans voted on this, LaVine would be a near-consensus choice. He played in all 82 games and improved his scoring from 10.1 to 14 points per game, upped his field goal percentage from 42.2 to 45.2, and his three-point percentage bumped up from 34.1 to 38.9.
LaVine also cut his turnovers by 0.6 per game even while playing out of position at point guard for the first 50 games or so. After Sam Mitchell began starting LaVine at shooting guard, the improvement was even more vast.
In the last 29 games of the season, LaVine averaged 16.3 points on 47.4 percent shooting from the field and 43.2 percent from behind the arc. That 43.2 percent mark from deep would have been good for fourth in the entire league if he had kept it up for a full season, behind only JJ Redick, Steph Curry, and Kawhi Leonard.
Also, LaVine should get an award for this:
A very cool act by the 21 year-old. While everyone calls the Wolves a “young” team in basketball terms, the trio of LaVine, Towns, and Wiggins all seem to be extremely mature. That only bodes well for future success.
Most Lethal Scorer — Andrew Wiggins
Ok, this isn’t a real award handed out by the NBA. I did, however, want to shed some light on how good Wiggins was in clutch situations this year.
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Wiggins placed 22nd in the league in clutch scoring among those with 20 or more qualifying games, as defined by NBA.com. The list of players above him was a who’s who of NBA stars: Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul… That is the level of play that Wiggins displayed in the clutch this season.
If you limit the above list to players that matched Wiggins’ scoring output while shooting as well as him, he rises to 12th in the league. Gone are James Harden, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony, among others. Wiggins is already on the short list of top clutch players.
Karl-Anthony Towns also earned consideration for this category. He started his NBA career by showing that he isn’t afraid of the big moment, hitting a huge triple in the third game of the season against the Trail Blazers. That three-point attempt was only the second of his career to that point and it cut the deficit to just two points with under five minutes remaining.
KAT ended the season by again hitting another clutch shot against the Blazers, this time in the third-to-last game with a game-winning post shot. And there were more clutch shots in between that illustrated how fearless Towns is with the game on the line.
Towns also averaged 2.1 points in clutch situations compared to Wiggins’ 2.7, according to NBA.com/stats. Towns, however, shot 53 percent on those shots whereas Wiggins converted just 39.4 percent of his.
Wiggins earned this ‘award’ over Towns with the tough shots he was able to convert in late-game situations when defenses knew he was going to be taking the shot. Although Wiggins’ peripheral numbers were a little weak this season, his scoring prowess is already near the top of the league.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the Timberwolves End-of-Season Awards, coming later in the day on Monday.