We good now with the whole Andrew Wiggins thing, you guys?
Because it was getting pretty desperate in the first few games, despite the knowledge we had that he’s been dealing with a back thing. There was some sort of panic — at least within the things thrown at me on social media — that seemed to suggest worry that he wasn’t as good as we thought he was or he wasn’t good enough period. I wondered if it was simply because we had a new shiny toy in Karl-Anthony Towns and the nature of pro sports talk doesn’t allow for you to enjoy two budding stars on your team at the same time.
Now one game doesn’t erase good or bad play for anybody. With Wiggins, the shot has struggled but I’ve mostly been fine with how he’s attacked in the early stages of the season. The handle isn’t there yet, but the handle is going to take more than one offseason to develop. Just ask Paul George. If you’re looking for sign of development with Wiggins, this test against the Chicago Bulls was a great one, and not just because he had a monster game.
My two favorite tests for rookie Wiggins last season were against Jimmy Butler. In two games against Butler, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ building block got roasted. He really did just get tested over and over in those two games — both losses. The first contest was Wiggins’ third career game back in early November of 2014. And he got WORKED.
Butler scored 24 points in that game with Wiggins as the primary defender. He got to the line 15 times, including two clutch free throws that came after goading the rookie into fouling him on the final possession.
It was a learning experience for Wiggins and he used that into the next match-up with Butler in February. Back in March, I wrote about the task of Wiggins defending three very different types of players. This match-up with Butler was one of them. We saw Butler have another big game (28 points, 12 rebounds) and Wiggins still struggled with both his scoring and foul trouble against the bigger, stronger wing. We still saw moments of Wiggins getting bullied and Wiggins just watching instead of putting a body on Butler, but we also saw him make the Bulls’ star work.
In that game, Butler was 5-of-12 against Wiggins and 6-of-7 against everybody else. It was progress and the progress he made showed he was not just learning what to do; he was also learning how to apply his newfound knowledge, which is just as important. That’s always the trickiest part with development: knowing what to do with it.
Saturday night in Chicago, the tables were turned. Really turned. Wiggins dominated Butler for a good portion of that game on one end and never let him get going on offense. It was one of the more impressive individual match-ups we’ve seen from Wiggins, considering the work he did and who he was doing it against, in his young career. But it was also a big time learning experience for him at the same time. That’s really what all of these moments should be for him as he continues to develop.
The first half for Wiggins couldn’t have gone better. He knocked down four 3-pointers, dropped 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, and even dished out a couple of assists. We saw a calm, confident shooting stroke out of him on the perimeter with no hesitation to fire on the catch. The results of the shot are good, but you want to see that he’s no second guessing what he’s doing. Just rock and fire.
The more impressive score for the first half though was this pick-and-pop he ran with Kevin Garnett. He came around the screen on the right wing with his left hand, crossed over to his right hand in front of Nikola Mirotic, and then absorbed the contact while concentrating on making sure he got a quality shot off. He didn’t just bail on the score because he received the whistle. He got the And-1 bucket.
The shooting is nice, and I’ll definitely take more of that. But it’s the decisions with the ball to trust a crossover move and then having the body control to make it matter that will galvanize his confidence within these types of dribbling situations.
The teaching moments don’t stop there. As good as the first half was for Wiggins, the second half very much was not. And that’s the teachable moment from this game. Teams will adjust to your scoring stretches and you have to adjust back. A few of his shots were contested at the rim by Pau Gasol but still shots he should finish.
The Wolves kept also trying to get this 3-4 switch to get Wiggins against Taj Gibson instead of Butler. I just didn’t agree with this philosophy because even though Butler was being more physical with Wiggins and denying him the same looks he received in the first half, Gibson is an excellent defender and more than capable of taking away where Wiggins wanted to go on the floor.
Their biggest bucket of the game was a play they ran a couple times in the last few minutes to get Wiggins a play at the rim. He was curling off a screen on the left side of the floor, catching the pass from Rubio moving toward the middle of the floor, and then needing just to beat Gibson recovering on the move rather than set and locked in right in front of him. The first time they ran it, it got them a layup. The second time they ran it?
We need a nickname for Wiggins’ murder spin.
Wiggins went scoreless on three shots in overtime, and didn’t really have a good final 29 minutes to this game. He was 8-of-14 for 22 shots in the first half and 3-of-13 for nine points in second half and overtime. The Bulls adjusted and he struggled to adjust. But we should be encouraged by that more than wondering what went wrong. We’ve seen him learn from these moments against Butler and the Bulls in the past.
It’ll be fun to see how he applies these lessons the next time they tangle.
Random Game Notes:
- Hey, Ricky Rubio completely outplayed Derrick Rose. A few years ago, this would’ve been much more impressive than it is in 2015. Rose has fallen off dramatically due to injuries to the point that when he had a bunch of points against the Thunder the other night, the term “Vintage Rose” was used. Whenever someone is throwing “vintage” in front of your name to describe a performance, that is not saying good things about your present status.
- Rubio was very good despite not shooting or finishing well. Rose had 11 points on 3-of-13 from the field to go with five assists and five turnovers. Rubio had seven points on 2-of-10 shooting (forced a few too many decent-to-bad attempts) but that came with 10 assists, eight rebounds, three steals, and three turnovers. Rubio was disruptive to the Bulls’ offense by digging down and playing incredible help defense that deterred a lot of passing attempts.
- This lob play was so perfectly executed:
- Karl-Anthony Towns was in foul trouble early, it limited him to 27 minutes in this game, and he still finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks. Since 1985-86, only 34 players have done that kind of production in so little time. Not rookies, just NBA players of any experience. He’s the only teenager to accomplish it. The next youngest was 20-year old Andre Drummond.
- I’m running out of things to say about him and we’re two weeks into his career. Two of his blocks came in the first two possessions of overtime. Gasol posted him on the left block and had a drop-step hook shot slapped against the backboard. The next play, Rose crossed over Rubio before having a runner thrown against the glass by Towns. The next seven shots by Chicago were 3-point attempts. They never went back to the paint.
- Towns then helped clinch the victory after the Wolves killed some clock in the final minute with an offensive rebound by finding Tayshaun Prince underneath for the dagger.
- Towns can legally drink in a year and a week.
- Bulls’ scoreless first overtime period was the first one in six years. The Kings failed to score against the Cavaliers in the first overtime period in 2009 (I was actually at that game covering it). Three years ago, the Hawks failed to score in the third overtime period against the Heat. This was just the 11th time in NBA history an overtime period went scoreless.
- Nemanja Bjelica was a monster as well. 17 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists. During the FIBA games in Europe this summer, I joked that Bjelica was what Bulls fans pretended Nikola Mirotic to be. I don’t think I’m joking anymore. I’d love to see him close more games for the Wolves. He has a fantastic presence for playmaking and scoring they need in those situations.