I’m not sure if I’ve shared this story on here before, but back in the summer of 2007, I tried to stop being a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Prior to 1995, Larry Bird and Chuck Person were my two favorite NBA players. I liked guys with a brazen shooting conscience and a mouth without a filter. The stories of players ripping your heart out and telling you how they were going to do it prior to coming through on their promises delighted me.
Then in 1995, the Wolves selected Kevin Garnett with the fifth pick in the draft. Immediately, my basketball heart had been won. Someone was confident enough to forgo the “necessary” college experience altogether because they felt they were good enough as a teenager. He had the frame of a big man and the spirit of a combo guard. He was loud. He would scream. He was going trash talk your face off.
For the next 12 seasons, I would ride or die with KG as the face of the Wolves. He was my favorite player. He remains my favorite player of all-time because his work ethic, enthusiasm, and historically transcendent presence (Yo, by the way make time to read this incredible in-depth piece by Key Dae) in the NBA were everything I wanted to experience as a hoops-phile. Then the summer of 2007 came and I started pouting.
It had been three years since the Wolves’ incredible run to the Western Conference finals that made it seem like they were on the cusp of becoming a powerhouse in the NBA. We convinced ourselves that the injury to Sam Cassell was the only thing keeping the Wolves from competing for an NBA championship, which may or may not have been true. Hell, it had been three years since the Wolves even made the postseason. Fans had turned into Jim Mora, Sr. parrots.
The team was going nowhere. Well, that’s not true. The team was going away from the playoff picture. 58 wins became 44. 44 wins became 33. 33 wins ticked down to 32. The Wolves were more worried about jockeying for lottery balls than playoff positioning. There wasn’t a lottery hero in sight to provide an immediate turnaround and the biological clock on Garnett’s championship dreams was ticking. But KG was loyal to ‘Sota. He was going to go down with the ship if that’s what they wanted him to do. That was just how he was built.
The Wolves tried to trade him to the Boston Celtics. It was a no-go because he wasn’t going to necessarily agree to a contract extension with Boston. There were thoughts of moving him to Phoenix for Amare Stoudemire or maybe even have him find his way to the Lakers. But eventually, the Celtics acquired Ray Allen to team up with Paul Pierce. A month later, Garnett was dealt to Boston for Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, and two first round picks that would become Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn.
An era of KG with the Wolves was officially dead, and I was furious. I wasn’t mad that they traded KG. I wanted KG to move on and become a champion because I hated the criticism thrown his way and knew a title wasn’t happening in the Wolves’ uniforms. I was mad that it had come to this. The Wolves had wasted 12 years of one of the most complete players in NBA history and couldn’t figure out how to even put a solid roster around him. Look at the teammates he shared the most games with during his time in Minneapolis.
Rasho Nesterovic. Trenton Hassell. Wally Szczerbiak. Anthony Peeler. It was a joke what he had to try to drag into the playoffs every year. It was a joke that he was getting blamed for a lack of playoff success. It was a joke that their final breakthrough last one year. I was fed up.
I even went so far as to “find a new team” to root for. I had a criteria of not wanting to be a bandwagoner, finding a relatively young roster that wasn’t too good but maybe could have potential, and just throw myself into rooting for that team. I ended up choosing the Charlotte Bobcats. They had Raymond Felton (he wasn’t fat yet), Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace (exciting version), and Jason Richardson. They had Matt Carroll as a shooter off the bench.
I lasted a week into the season before I retreated back to rooting for the Wolves. I just couldn’t do it for whatever reason. My anger with the organization was there, but I was defeated. Over the next few years, I would hope for a proper rebuild and settle for just some exciting play on the court. Kevin Love brought hope. Ricky Rubio brought hope and excitement. Draft picks were butchered. Hope was built and it was lost.
I started getting to the point where I wondered if the Wolves would ever have a player that could even approach what Kevin Garnett meant to this organization and its fan base.
Andrew Wiggins is special. Andrew Wiggins is so special that half a dozen teams were intentionally bad in the 2013-14 season just to get a 25.0% chance at drafting him. They were willing to forgo potential revenue from the playoffs (well, for the teams in the East) and money coming in at the gates just in the hopes they could add him to their team. A series of random blunders of the years and incompetence in past regimes led to Flip Saunders having the opportunity to trade for him.
In finding an indirect route to being the team that gets to develop Wiggins’ seemingly limitless potential, the Wolves have fallen backwards into potential success. You have to have the guy before you can have the franchise moving in the right direction. That’s just how these things works. With Wiggins, it appears they’ve hit the jackpot on both ends of the floor.
The Rock Chalk Rookie, as Dave Benz once exclaimed after Wiggins dunked on one of the Morris twins, was reliable as a rookie. I’m not sure how often you can say that about someone in their first season. I’m not sure how often you can say that about a teenager in the NBA. But that’s exactly what Wiggins was. You knew he was going to accept the challenge of defending the best scorer on the other team every night. You knew he was going to accept whatever minutes he was called upon to play. You knew he was going to continue to build on becoming a scorer as a rookie.
Defensively, Wiggins had to wear many hats while being one of the only players left standing on Minnesota. In his 82 games and nearly 3,000 minutes, he defended just about everybody. It was his assignment from the start, despite having a veteran “defensive” player like Corey Brewer on the roster. He got roasted by Joe Johnson and learned. He got worked by Dwyane Wade and figured it out. He accepted the challenge of stopping James Harden in a season in which Harden was the runner-up in MVP voting.
In one match-up against Harden, the Rockets’ star finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists in an 11-point victory. During that game, he was just 7-of-20 from the field and a big part of that was going 2-of-12 against Wiggins. He stayed with the one guy who seems impossible to stay with because of his ridiculous handle.
As an isolation defender, Wiggins was in the 62nd percentile, which is pretty good especially for a rookie. Of the 15 players in the NBA this past season to defend at least 100 isolation possessions, Wiggins was eighth. Only Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Serge Ibaka, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Klay Thompson, and Boris Diaw were better. Of the 15 players on that list, Wiggins had the lowest free throw rate allowed of 4.6% and Wiggins allowed just 86 points on 39.1% from the field in 109 possessions.
Remember, he’s a rookie.
Offensively, he was a work in progress but he progressed most of the season. There were plenty of things he can improve on. He needs to be a better jump shooter. He needs to be a better 3-point shooter. He needs to be a better creator off the dribble. He needs to be a better playmaker for others (hey, he averaged 4.0 assists over his last eight!).
You could see the light at the end of the tunnel for all of those things though. As the season went on and the minutes piled up, his outside shot plummeted. He was 35.8% before the All-Star break and an abysmal 16.1% after. I’m going to assume the former is more likely than the latter. He learned how to attack off the dribble and find shots in spaces he was comfortable in as the season went along.
And eventually… Wiggins dropped. That. Hammer.
I’m not sure if I’m really allowed to have a favorite player anymore because this profession is supposed to be about a lack of bias in your analysis and it’s one of the few things I take very seriously in life. I do know that there probably isn’t a player I’ve been as giddy about watching over the past year as Andrew Wiggins, and that was before he got traded to the Wolves. He was the guy I wanted to see in Las Vegas Summer League.
He’s the guy I want to watch over the next 10 years. He’s a guy that makes a horrendous Wolves’ season worth watching. And soon within the next couple of years, I think he’s the guy that will make the Wolves not have to worry about the lottery for a very long time.