One of the off-season questions still lingering for the Timberwolves is whether or not to give Andrew Wiggins a max contract extension this fall…
About three years ago, the Wolves traded their franchise centerpiece, Kevin Love, for a 19-year-old rookie in Andrew Wiggins. There were other pieces to that trade, including a third team, but those two big names defined the trade as a blockbuster.
At the time, Wiggins was the hottest prospect in basketball. He had just been drafted first-overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and scouts everywhere believed he had the potential to be a two-way star. He even drew (some) comparisons to a young LeBron James due to his freak athleticism. The sky was the limit for Andrew Wiggins’ NBA career.
Fast forward three years into the future and Wiggins boasts a Rookie of the Year trophy along with a career scoring average of 20.4 points per game. With just one year remaining on his rookie contract, a decision needs to be made: to max or not to max?
A max contract extension for Andrew Wiggins would cost about $148 million over five years. Owner Glen Taylor has all but guaranteed it to him, with the only condition being Wiggins promising to improve. That seems like a pretty easy stipulation when it comes to $148 million, but he wants to lock down Wiggins to a deal now rather than later. Taylor has a tough decision to make that could either leave the Timberwolves in cap hell or bring an NBA championship to the Twin Cities.
At age 22, Andrew Wiggins is still the same athletic freak with a ton of potential. On top of that, he has made great strides in his first three seasons in the NBA. He has played for three different head coaches in just as many seasons, which can thwart any players development, but Wiggins powered through it.
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Wiggins was thrown straight into the role of the team’s main scorer as well as the team’s lockdown one-on-one defender, averaging over 35 minutes per game in each of his first three seasons. Under the circumstances he was given, “Maple Jordan” did a modest job.
This past year, Wiggins averaged almost 24 points per game and shot a career high 35.6 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also in elite company when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop. The only players who had tallied more points than Wiggins by their 22nd birthday were LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony.
Locking Wiggins up for five more years sounds like a no-brainer if you’re simply looking at his offensive production.
Wiggins’ weaknesses and some concerns
Although he has a polished offensive game, the defensive half of the court is where Wiggins has lagged behind in his development.
Will he can hold his own in one-on-one scenarios, Wiggins’ lackadaisical approach to team defending can be nothing short of frustrating to watch. FiveThirtyEight even named Wiggins their “Least Defensive Player” this past season. Here’s what they said:
"Possession by possession, there are a few defenders who are as bad as Wiggins. When Wiggins contests a shot, opponents have a 56.1 effective field goal percentage; when they are unguarded, they have a 56.4 eFG percentage. Fundamentally, getting a shot up against Andrew Wiggins is the same as getting an open shot."
Wiggins’ 6’-8” frame and 7’-0” wingspan coupled with his athleticism could be menacing to opposing teams if he knew how to use it. For now though, giving a five-year, $148 million dollar deal to a guy who plays below-average defense is very hard to warrant.
Consider the money
Salary cap could be a substantial issue for the Timberwolves over the next few years. Karl-Anthony Towns is just one year behind Wiggins for a max contract offer, and Jimmy Butler only one year behind Towns. If the Wolves give all three players a max extension, they will have virtually no cap room.
Therefore, the best course of action in this Wiggins situation is to wait a year and see how this season shakes out. He will be a restricted free agent after next season, so if he makes the necessary strides in his career and another team offers him a max contract, the Wolves can match it and keep him. There’s no need to commit all that money now when this season can still be used to evaluate.
Taylor may have already stated his intentions of offering Wiggins the max extension this off-season, but he would be wise to rethink that decision. The young Canadian star needs to realize his full potential on the defensive side of the ball before he earns the big bucks.