MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty-two quick thoughts for Andrew Wiggins saving the day in Minnesota’s 116-109 win over Miami at Target Center on Sunday night.
1. Nights like Sunday are exactly why Andrew Wiggins has frustrated so many fans of the Wolves and basketball observes for the majority of his career. This type of night comes along a couple of times a year, and it has already appeared twice in three games in the young 2019-20 season.
2. Wiggins opened up the game making four out of his first five shot attempts – with all four makes coming right at the rim. After that, he missed his next eight field goal attempts, highlighted by an 18-foot pullup jumper that drew audible groans from the Target Center crowd in the fourth quarter. It was just a repeat of countless nights throughout Wiggins’ career, a story that had been seen so many times by so many people. It was a night that led to him being briefly benched in the second quarter for his play.
3. “The ability by taking Andrew out and then him being able to refocus with things, he didn’t hang his head by any means,” head coach Ryan Saunders said. “We got him back in there pretty quick. He ended up putting together a nice stat line and playing almost 36 minutes. So, that was something I credit him for a lot.”
4. The story had a different ending on Sunday night.
5. Wiggins caught fire down the stretch of the win over Miami. In fact, he was the biggest reason it was a win over Miami. In the last six minutes of the game, Wiggins scored 16 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range.
7. The final nine points for Wiggins came on three successive possessions within a span of 75 seconds that took the Wolves from a 101-101 tie game to a 110-101 lead. It was a personal 11-0 run for Wiggins after his layup knotted things up the possession prior to his first 3-pointer.
8. This version of Andrew Wiggins is the version that so many people thought he was going to be when he was selected No. 1 overall out of Kansas back in 2014. He was the guy that needed the ball down the stretch not because there weren’t any other options, but because he was the best option on the floor.
10. “It’s very valuable, because we could give it to anybody,” Karl-Anthony Towns said after the game. “We all were looking for it, and we’d just seen Andrew had the hot hand and we wanted to keep giving it to him. It worked out perfectly in our favor. Andrew, Brooklyn was another example, no matter how the game goes, no matter how he’s shooting during the game, how bad, whatever the case may be, he goes out there in the fourth quarter and he makes those shots.”
11. “He hit three 3s in a span of –Ii don’t know what it was — it seemed like close to 40 seconds,” Saunders said. “He was able to get downhill in Brooklyn, he was able to shoot from behind the line here tonight. The midrange wasn’t really there. I’ll say it again, growth, and I like that.”
12. The growth is what continues to give the most optimistic of Wolves observers hope about Wiggins and what frustrates the more pessimistic ones. Wiggins has always been capable of doing this, he just hasn’t done it consistently.
13. The growth is also what Saunders has touched on in at least a couple of settings this season. He brought it up after Wiggins dribbled himself behind the arc for a 3-pointer in a preseason game rather than taking a long two, and he brought it up again on Sunday.
14. “It’s tough. It is,” Saunders said of the type of play they want Wiggins to adapt to. “Because it is a complete change in system and philosophy from what he maybe has been used to. Not to say that he was ever wrong by any means, but it’s just how we’re going to do things moving forward. So, with that, we’re going to have some situations where he has to break habits, I guess. Everybody knows how hard it is to break a habit, so he has to break a habit. That’s why I do preach patience. But we do also need accountability with things, too, and I didn’t like a few of his shots early and some of those things, but I think he was able to kind of regather himself, and moving forward I will plan on continuing to see growth in that area for him.”
15. This franchise is going to stick with Wiggins – at least for the time being – partly because of nights like this one. There’s hope that he’s going to turn a corner this year. The Wolves are expecting him to have a big year, and so is Wiggins himself.
16. “I’m very proud of Wigg. I know everybody knows how I feel about Wigg,” Saunders said. “He’s going to have a very good year. And it’s going to take time for all of it to come together with our emphasis and changing of systems, but he is going to have a good year. I’m in his corner, and I want to make sure he knows that.”
17. This is a team that is exceeding early outside expectations. Picking them to start off on a hot streak wasn’t the most common choice, but they’ve played well enough to win in all three games thus far. The team continues to point to the fact that they have a real bond and unity in a way that they didn’t before.
18. They keep reinforcing the fact that the summer trip to the Bahamas meant something, that they’re better off right now because they arrived for training camp early, and that they’re better off because they genuinely care about each other.
19. “We were together a lot in the summer,” Jeff Teague said. “Guys were jelling. We went to the Bahamas, we came back early. I think guys just enjoy playing with one another.”
20. There are a couple schools of thinking here. There’s the crowd that thinks no matter how much players like or dislike each other, talent is going to decide how good a specific team is. That’s true to an extent, but doesn’t tell the whole story. The Wolves may be playing near their peak performance more often than not because of all the extra steps they’ve taken to try and reshape their culture.
21. Look no further than Sunday’s opponent. The Miami Heat are thought of as having one of the best cultures in the NBA. It’s a franchise that survived LeBron James’ departure and found a way into the playoffs just a season later. While it isn’t quite San Antonio, it’s a goal for other franchises. That’s a place the Wolves are trying to get to, and Sunday night was a step in the right direction.
22. The Wolves are back in action on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.