At every Timberwolves game are a handful of constants: Thibs standing for the full 48 minutes, barking orders at his players and cussing out referees; the Jamal Crawford-led bench standing up until the Wolves score their first basket; Jimmy Butler controlling the offense; Taj Gibson Doing His Job; Karl-Anthony Towns playing with outward emotion, whether it be celebrating highlights or crying to the officials over missed calls; fans going bananas whenever an opposing player misses his first free throw in the fourth quarter (CHERRY BERRY!);
and Andrew Wiggins smiling during breaks in the action.
No matter if his Wolves are winning or losing by 20, or if the game is tied with 30 seconds to go, if there is a break in the action and Wiggins has 10 seconds to converse with a teammate, there’s a good chance he’ll end up chuckling about something. If Thibs calls a timeout to explode over a failed rotation or dumb turnover, there is usually a minute before they re-take the floor when everybody is just quiet and resting. After that time expires and the players check back in, Wiggins can often be seen chatting and giggling with a teammate or two. Perhaps he’s entertained by his coach’s antics, like many viewers are. His mood does not depend on what’s happening in the game, nor does it depend on his own scoring success. When he checked out of Thursday’s win over the Bucks with a minute to go, he was laughing his ass off about something. He had played well defensively, but his 7 points on 3-10 shooting were hardly the stuff to make a scorer like himself feel good about his own performance. Nevertheless, he seemed happy as can be.
Wiggins smiling so much during games is interesting because we know so little about his personality. Publicly he’s very quiet. When asked questions, Wig answers them efficiently. A question set up for a “yes or no” is liable to get the reporter exactly one word or the other; no more. This could mean that he’s annoyed by interviews and media coverage, but it never comes across that way. Wiggins is not Popovich. Rather, it seems more like he has an advanced understanding of how ridiculous everybody else’s interest in him is, and he feels no need to construct an image or persona.
Or, maybe he’s just that way with everybody.
We want to know what motivates great players. Motivation helps us follow along and understand what’s happening. It tells the why. Karl-Anthony Towns wants to be an all-time great player. His own success drives him. He has been not-subtly-at-all working to craft his own brand as The Perfect Player since the moment he entered the league. Jimmy Butler is an Alpha Dawg. He works. He expects his teammates to do the same. His voice will be dominant. He’s funny at times, possibly overbearing at others.
Wiggins is not great yet, but that is supposed to be his destiny. His veteran teammates rave about how talented he is (Butler) and how easy the game comes to him (Crawford). We’d feel less anxious about his prospects if we knew what he was thinking. But when he’s asked about things like Glen Taylor wanting to meet him face-to-face before offering a max contract, he just says, “He’s offering all that money, he can do whatever he wants to do.” And then he laughs. When he’s asked about transitioning from Ricky Rubio — a player with whom he shared great on-court chemistry — to Jeff Teague, he just says that “We’ll see.” And then he smiles, teasing what might be thinking, “How the hell do I know what playing with Jeff Teague will be like?” Point taken.
This is the first time in approximately forever that Wiggins has had the same coach for two consecutive seasons. In the NBA alone he went from Flip Saunders to Sam Mitchell, to Thibs.
In that rookie season, Flip devoted the vast majority of his time, energy, and available in-game sets to ensuring that Andrew Wiggins became a special scorer and did not “coast.” That these two people — Wig and Flip — fell on opposite sides of the Talkative Spectrum probably frustrated and intrigued the gregarious Saunders. By that rookie season’s end, Wig was living at the free throw line and posting big numbers with consistency.
In Year 2, with interim head coach Sam Mitchell, Wiggins continued to progress as a scorer, but was now sharing the spotlight — and the basketball — with Towns. Mitchell was famously old-school on a lot of matters (lamenting the AAU culture in many a post-game pressers) and he could be hard on his players. He admitted, interestingly, that he did not yell at Wiggins. He said that it was not an effective way to communicate with him. This would’ve marked quite a change from Wig’s rookie season when Flip was maniacally obsessed with keeping Wig’s motor hot. Even if Sam’s bark came with more threat of a bite than Flip’s (Sam once fought Vince Carter in the locker room, for instance) the shift of treatment would seem pretty radical.
How do you coach a player who stays silent and smiles so much?
Now he has Thibs, who yells all the time at everybody. Wiggins receives no special attention in the offense, nor does he receive any special type of treatment from the coach. At least it doesn’t seem like he does. His offense is taking a backseat to Butler, his defense is showing real signs of improvement, and he just keeps on playing, keeps on smiling.
When Glen Taylor said that thing about needing to meet personally with Wiggins, he drew a fair amount of criticism. Some people thought it was offensive, for different reasons. I wonder if Taylor just wanted the conversation for his own curiosity about who Andrew Wiggins really is. None of us know, many of us would like to know, and it does not seem as if answers will be coming anytime soon. With Butler around for at least another season after this one, Wig can continue to be who he likes. He does his job and takes no days off, keeps his personality to himself, and the only thing he’ll share is that big smile.
The question we have is what’s behind it.