MINNEAPOLIS – Andrew Wiggins hasn’t lived up to his potential. He hasn’t been what many thought he would be. He hasn’t been anything close to what a No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft should be through the first five years of his career. None of this is controversial.
For Wiggins, it might be now or never.
That’s not to say Wiggins won’t continue to be around if he doesn’t perform this season. His contract clearly states otherwise. But if this isn’t the year where he starts to show improvement, when will that year be?
Things are different in Minnesota now. Gone are the days of Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler, here are the days of Ryan Saunders and Gersson Rosas. The totalitarian style of Thibodeau has been replaced with the team trying to build a culture that’s oriented around the organization being a family.
It’s clear that the last few years have been a disappointment for Wiggins and the Wolves. His play suffered and there wasn’t the genuine happiness that surrounds the team now with Saunders and Rosas leading the way.
“All that yelling and stuff isn’t going to change my mood, but when a coach comes at me and is being real, and tells me the real, I feel like I respect that a lot more than just yelling,” Wiggins told SKOR North. “I feel like anyone can yell. Anyone can raise their voice, but not a lot can be real.”
If there’s a coach that can get the most out of Wiggins, it very well could be Saunders. His style resonates exactly with that definition.
“He’s a player’s coach, for sure. Has a great energy about him,” Wiggins said. “I feel like a lot of guys can relate because he’s not too much older than us. I feel like he gets us, he understands us, he tries to put us in an environment that we’re most comfortable in.”
Wiggins hasn’t had a situation like this for most of his career. It certainly wasn’t like that when Thibodeau was hired, was pushed further in that direction during the Jimmy Butler saga, and then was too small of a sample size between Thibodeau’s firing and present day. This situation is much different for Wiggins in a way that should help him.
“Andrew’s commitment to the team and to the growth of the team this summer has been tremendous,” Saunders said. “He’s done that by coming into market more times in the summertime than he probably has as of late, and for that reason, we feel that we’ve been able to help educate him on using analytics and then using game film also on what we feel is going to help unlock him.”
Figuring out what an unlocked version of Wiggins is can be fascinating. Can he be the second-best player on a playoff team? Third-best? What do the Wolves eventually need him to be? All of these questions are relevant, and the answers determine just how good the Wolves can be in the immediate and near future.
“I’m coming in with not having a history with Andrew, so to be fair with him, I’m giving him a clean slate, but we’ve had some real heart-to-heart conversations and him along with 19 other guys on the team right now,” Rosas said at media day. “There’s a lot of young guys who need to take steps forward, but him specifically, there’s an incredibly talented player. He’s got great physical tools, and he’s a good guy. It’s a matter of putting him in a position to be successful, and I’m very confident in the relationship him and Coach have.”
The biggest reason for optimism with Wiggins – other than his natural ability – is his relationship with Saunders. If there’s someone that can get Wiggins to buy into a new-school approach on the court, he’s in place right now. Aside from that, optimism is brought on
The new style of offense should help to create a version of Wiggins that hasn’t been seen often enough. There have been flashes, of course, but no consistency to those outbursts. The Wolves are going to push their wings to cut to the basket often, shoot from deep at a much higher rate, and eliminate the head-scratching 21-foot pull up jumpers that Wiggins has frequented.
If Wiggins follows suit, he should be better on the court. He’s excellent at cutting to the rim, but doesn’t do it at a high enough rate. He shot 36.4% on catch-and-shoot threes last year, which is a solid mark that could improve with more opportunity this season.
“I’ve known him since he was I think 18 now, and I haven’t seen a lot of players that love this market like Andrew does, and he really does love being here in Minnesota,” Saunders said. “So, with that, with the passion, with his commitment, we feel he’s going to have a good season.”
This is the best situation that Wiggins has been given in his career. If it doesn’t work out this season in Minnesota, or at least begin to trend in that direction, the questions of whether or not it ever will work out will grow even louder.