The NBA career of Andrew Wiggins has been a whirlwind before it’s even started. Drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers to be their superstar wing of the future, his prospects with the Cavs were drastically altered two weeks later when LeBron James decided to return home. Wiggins went from surefire starter and major contributor to opportunistic understudy ready to learn from the game’s best player. But then the Kevin Love trade rumors swirled almost sooner than he could adjust to his new circumstances, calling their short- and long- term viability into question in the first place. Until finally, after weeks of rumors and reports refuted and substantiated, Wiggins was officially traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in late August.
Amazingly, the 19 year-old Canadian sensation remained consistently measured in the face of so much uncertainty. Never too high or too low, Wiggins accepted his reality before being dealt to Minnesota, reportedly telling college coach Bill Self that he was ready to become the face of the ‘Wolves.
Now getting settled in Minny with training camp fast approaching, Wiggins has had time to reflect on the tumultuous start to his career. And despite going from a championship contender to a likely lottery team, it’s clear that he’s happy to be in Minnesota.
Speaking to the media after a recent voluntary team workout, Wiggins touched on his fit within Flip Saunders’ offense, the disparate immediate trajectories of the Cavs and ‘Wolves, and whether or not he’s burdened by the weight of hope and expectation.
On the offense:
I’m liking it. They kind of broke it down to me before. All the plays are really coming together. This is my first couple days learning the plays on-court, you know? It kind of fits my playing style; I’m just trying to learn it.
On playing for the Timberwolves:
I think it’s a great situation whenever I think about it. It gives me more freedom. I’m sure surrounded by young guys that have the same intentions and determinations as me – to really win and get better every day.
On the pressure of being Minny’s franchise player:
I don’t really feel like it’s too much pressure right now. I’ve been through being the number one player in high school, in college, all that stuff. So, pressure to me has really died down; I don’t feel it as much as I used to.
We were originally dispirited by Wiggins’ being traded to the Timberwolves. As an analyst and fan, we want every player to reach their potential – especially those whose ceilings are the very highest. Wiggins is among that group, obviously, and under the expert tutelage of James we believed he had the best chance to become the superstar his natural talents suggest.
Now that the dust has settled, though, we see the potential benefits of Wiggins playing in Minnesota, too. Other than a lack of expert ballhandling comfort, there was just one legitimate criticism to be gleaned from his lone season at Kansas: Wiggins was at times too passive. That judgement was mostly overblown during the draft process given the considerable offensive strides he made as the college year wore on, but was still a real concern about a prospect of which there were few.
Playing with James and Kyrie Irving, Wiggins’ scoring burden would have been light. On the contrary, the ‘Wolves will make a concerted effort to get him involved and develop his raw but effective offensive game. While the freedom of which he speaks and a shining green light aren’t always the ideal means for young players to develop, Wiggins’ nature ensures he stands to profit from that autonomy more than most.
Self supported that notion in early August when the trade was clearly imminent:
“When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, ‘I hope I get traded,’ Self said. “And I’m like, ‘No you don’t.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I do. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.’
“Even though in a weird way everybody would love the opportunity to play with LeBron because you’re guaranteed winning,” Self said, “for the longevity of his career, he needs to develop that mindset to be the guy, for him to be great, and I think being [sic] Minnesota will help him do that.
For Wiggins to become great, his team needs to afford him the chance to do so. That won’t be an issue in Minnesota the way it would have in Cleveland, improved circumstances Wiggins clearly understands and lends credence to his stated contentment with the Timberwolves.
What do you think?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.