Could the Minnesota Timberwolves unleash Point Wiggins in 2019-20?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 26: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 26: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

David Vanterpool was able to maximize C.J. McCollum’s skillset during his time in Portland. Could Vanterpool be the key to unleashing Point Wiggins with the Minnesota Timberwolves?

As the Minnesota Timberwolves prepare for the 2019-20 season, many questions surround how they will maximize Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins had a disappointing season last year and must improve in order for the team to have any shot at the playoffs. Perhaps the past utilization of guards in Portland by the Wolves’ new associate head coach, David Vanterpool, can lend some insight into Wiggins’ utilization this season.

David Vanterpool had been an assistant coach for Portland since 2012. During that time, the Trail Blazers were well known for their unique rotations, especially in regards to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

The team managed to keep at least one of its two stars on the floor at all times by playing McCollum as both the starting shooting guard and backup point guard. The two players would share the floor to start and end each half but would alternate rest in between to prevent any shortage of backcourt firepower.

McCollum’s role as a starter at one position and backup at another is unique and provides opportunities for different playing styles from lineup to lineup. While sharing the floor with Lillard, McCollum was often running actions around screens or spotting up from beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, as a point guard without Lillard on the floor, he was used as more of a playmaker to drive to the hoop and set up teammates. McCollum averaged over nine drives to the rim per game during each of the past four seasons, second only to Lillard on the Blazers roster.

On the defensive end, Portland has found ways to improve each year despite the fact that Lillard and McCollum are generally regarded as below-average defenders. Vanterpool helped to create a team defense built upon attacking the ball-handler and closing out quickly using the players’ athleticism.

Portland was able to play smaller lineups and rely on their aggressive defensive style to contain opponents. This style of defense helped to propel Portland to the Western Conference Finals last season. Now, Vanterpool comes to Minnesota with the opportunity to implement similar techniques with the Timberwolves’ athletic roster.

Many people have wondered what the Timberwolves plan is at the point guard position after the team let all of their free agent point guards walk this summer. That leaves the team with Jeff Teague as the only returning point guard and the newly acquired Shabazz Napier as the backup.

For some insight on his projected role this season, Napier was previously a member of the Blazers in 2017-18 with Vanterpool and was often used as a third guard alongside Lillard and McCollum. (Our own Jack Borman dissected what Napier’s role could be this year with the Wolves.) Minnesota will have to be creative in the 2019-20 season in terms of point guard minutes and one radical option could be Andrew Wiggins.

The Timberwolves have spoke often of playing “position-less basketball” and head coach Ryan Saunders has talked about building off of Andrew Wiggins’ play towards the end of last season when used as an initiator. Minnesota could use Wiggins in a similar role to McCollum’s usage in Portland while Vanterpool served as his assistant coach.

During the first half of last season, Wiggins averaged just 6.6 drives per game, far too low for an athletic player who excels at finishing around the rim. However Ryan Saunders experimented with “Point Wiggins” late in the year, increasing his drives per game to 9.2, utilizing him in a similar fashion as McCollum in Portland. Perhaps Vanterpool can work with Wiggins to build upon his play towards the end of last season and go all-in on the idea of Wiggins as the primary initiator.

In terms of the point guard minutes available, Minnesota could utilize the rotation of Teague and Wiggins in a similar fashion to Lillard and McCollum with Wiggins starting at shooting guard and then playing a few minutes as the backup point guard. During these stretches, Minnesota could run the pick-and-roll with Wiggins and KAT early in the shot clock while their surplus of wings stretch the floor. This play-style would emphasize their two franchise building blocks while also allowing players such as Robert Covington, Josh Okogie, and Jarrett Culver to make quick off-ball cuts to the rim or outside to spot up for 3-point attempts.

Creating a unique lineup with Andrew Wiggins as the primary ball-handler also creates an opportunity for a switch-heavy defense unlike anything Timberwolves fans have ever seen.

Contrary to popular belief, Wiggins has shown growth on the defensive end, leading the team in individual defensive win shares two seasons ago and finished second on the roster this past season. Now, the team could roll out a lineup of Wiggins, Okogie, Culver, Covington, and Karl-Anthony Towns. This lineup would be a nightmare for opponents with the length, athleticism, and switching ability of each player.

The Timberwolves do not lack athletic wings who can attack the ball handler and close out quickly, and should be able to run a scheme similar to the defense employed by Vanterpool during his time in Portland. Minnesota has a long way to go before being even a league-average defense but maximizing David Vanterpool’s defensive system could be a crucial first step.

The idea of “Point Wiggins” may sound crazy, but this type of radical thinking is what Timberwolves’ fans should expect with the new regime.

Next. What will Shabazz Napier's role be this season?. dark

Gersson Rosas is going to “question the norm” this season and giving Andrew Wiggins an opportunity as the primary initiator surrounded by a lineup of explosive wing players would do exactly that.