Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins Season Review

DENVER, CO - APRIL 10: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 10: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images) /

It was yet another year of treading water for Andrew Wiggins as time continues to tick on the former number-one overall pick becoming the true second star that the Minnesota Timberwolves need.

One step forward, two steps back.

It’s perhaps the best way to describe Andrew Wiggins’ career thus far with the Minnesota Timberwolves. And believe it or not, he’s already been in the league for five seasons.

The question that Wiggins continues to battle is if he is already what he always will be: a durable, inefficient volume scorer who plays largely average defense and provides precious little else on the court. Or, can he get over the proverbial hump that at least theoretically still exists and become a star — or even a solid starter — on a playoff team?

Wiggins’ Rookie of the Year award in 2015 was followed by gradual improvement in his sophomore year with the tough love of interim head coach Sam Mitchell. Then, stagnation in Year Three under the even tougher and less-forgiving love of new coach Tom Thibodeau.

And just when it appeared as though it was put-up or shut-up time for Wiggins in Year Four, the can was kicked down the road even further after the acquisition of Jimmy Butler. The addition of a true superstar on the wing forced Wiggins to handle the ball less and in turn encouraged him to make the most of his touches. That, of course, meant more ill-advised shots and a decline in his all-around play.

Wiggins largely regressed as the Wolves made the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons, and Butler not-so-passively-aggressively called out Wiggins in the media as the most talented player on the team, and it only appeared to further marginalize the former number-one overall pick. Meanwhile, the former community college star and late first-round pick Butler led the team to the playoffs before pouting his way out of town.

Last season was an odd transition, as Wiggins played a handful of games alongside Butler before being asked to once again step into a larger role on both ends of the floor. Until rookie Josh Okogie emerged as an already-elite defender, Wiggins was asked to take the toughest cover on defense. Suddenly, Wiggins was initiating the pick-and-roll more frequently in the absence of Butler and oft-injured point guard Jeff Teague.

Then, Thibodeau was fired and Wiggins was playing for interim head coach Ryan Saunders, who Wiggins has known since Saunders’ father, Flip, traded for him in 2014. Wiggins and Saunders are reportedly close; the latter even attended the former’s wedding not all that long ago.

A quick look at Wiggins’ numbers across the board under each head coach last year tells us that while Wiggins was more aggressive, his shooting numbers largely remained stagnant.

In 36 games under Thibodeau: 17.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, .403/.343/.721
In 37 games under Saunders: 18.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, .420/.335/.678

While it’s a bit damning that Wiggins was so unmotivated prior to Saunders taking over that he was able to flip a switch and average nearly two more rebounds per game — a significant midseason increase — it is still somewhat encouraging that there remained a switch to flip.

Wiggins’ increase in assists was in part due to handling the ball more in the offense, and while he was getting to the free throw line more often he struggled mightily once he made it there.

Now, Wiggins enters the second year of his massive contract following two consecutive years of clear decline. While still just 24 years old, the Wolves can’t afford to play the waiting game much longer.

Apparently, Wiggins still holds some value in trade conversations. It wouldn’t be a shock to see new front office boss Gersson Rosas shift gears and move on from Wiggins quickly, although he’s given plenty of lip service to just how much promise he believes that the former Kansas Jayhawk still possesses.

Then again, Saunders has been hired full-time and it is likely prudent for Rosas to not immediately go back on what he’s said to this point and instead see if Wiggins can indeed figure something out while playing for Saunders. If things don’t work, flip Wiggins for something at February’s trade deadline.

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Nobody is denying that Wiggins still has an incredible level of natural talent, ability, and athleticism. He does not, however, appear to have an outstanding and consistent motor or feel for the game, and unless that changes in short order, the Wolves will need to make the difficult decision to move on from the former number-one overall pick.