The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t sneaking up on anyone this season. A popular League Pass team from a year ago, with reigning Rookie Of The Year Karl-Anthony Towns, back-to-back Dunk Contest winner Zach LaVine, lottery pick Kris Dunn, the always-entertaining Ricky Rubio, the veteran guidance of Kevin Garnett, and new coach Tom Thibodeau in toe, the Wolves are hoping to keep their youth movement alive while they continue to grow. A big part of that will be in the development of former first overall pick Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins, who was famously traded from Cleveland to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Love deal, is entering his third season after averaging 20.7 points per game a year ago. He’s shooting for that third year bump, while Minnesota shoots for the playoffs under the defensive-oriented Thibodeau.
The Canadian decided to skip his country’s Olympic Qualifier to focus more on his individual development, but he recently found some time to take on some non-pros in a game of HORSE as part of a promotion from Buffalo Wild Wings where all wings were half off on National Chicken Wing Day. The only catch – Wiggins had to play using only half his body.
DIME got a few minutes to talk with Wiggins about his summer, playing under Thibs, the increasingly-dangerous Timberwolves, the rise of Canadian basketball, and more.
DIME: You made the decision to skip Canada’s Olympic Qualifier this summer. Have you found that you’ve been more focused and dialed in because of that?
Andrew Wiggins: I definitely have. That was the main reason. I just wanted to focus myself and focus on getting better and preparing for next season. With a new coach and a lot of new people on the team, I wanted to make sure everything was perfect.
I’ve seen videos of you taking more fadeaways and jumpers for sure. Is that what you’re working on most?
I’ve been working hard trying to perfect everything. The main thing I’m working on more than others is getting better outside the three-point line. Also, ball handling and breaking my defender down, getting to the rim in different ways. But really, it’s three-point shooting. Staying balanced, and making sure my shot is consistent for this year.
It must have been difficult having to play with half your body the other day. I know it started as a bit of a gag, but is there any way that sort of training catches on and you focus in on your non-dominant half to get better?
Yeah, that’s the thing. I got a lot of jump shots up and work with my left hand that day. I had no choice but to only use that, and one foot. So if I can hit a one-foot, left-handed shot, I’ll be in good shape.
You can’t really turn that competitive switch off, but were you a little bit frustrated that you couldn’t get it going against those guys?
I want to win, even if it’s something for fun. I tried to win. But it was just so hard playing like that.
There’s this general sense – and I’ve seen you even phrase it this way – that this is the year you guys really are dangerous. Why do you feel that way?
We’ve done a lot of good things this year. And we beat a lot of good teams – we can beat any team out there on a given day. But we’re getting stronger. We’re getting older. We’re getting more experienced. And we’re building chemistry. We’re just getting better every game. We have a lot of things to accomplish this coming year. We’re all looking forward to it, and our expectations are getting higher. We want more. We’re young, and hungry, and we want to see the playoffs.
What do you think is going to be the biggest advantage to having Coach Thibs running the show?
He’s going to bring out the best in me. He’s a hard-nosed coach. He’s tough. And that’s what everybody on this team needs. We need our coach to take us out of our comfort zone.
We’ve seen this influx of Canada dominating a lot of the headlines, the AAU circuit, and really great players coming from there. Then Toronto gets the All-Star Game too. It has to feel good to not only see that, but to be a part of that, right?
It means a lot. Kids look up to me there. Everybody that’s in the NBA from Canada now, or that’s overseas, or playing D-I, we’re all opening doors for the younger generation. Obviously Steve Nash, he and Vince Carter did so much for me, making everyone in Canada love basketball. We all wanted to be like them. So it’s great to give back like those people before us. We’re just following and trying to help the process.
There’s this reputation you have of being such a soft-spoken guy off the court. Do you feel like there’s a a bit of an advantage there?
Yeah, I like that. People know as much about me as I like them to know.
Were you happy that the Cavs won the title?
I’m a fan of basketball, so at the end of the day I just wanted to see a good game. They both put up a great Finals, and honestly I didn’t care who won. But yeah, I’m happy for them. They drafted me, and I know there’s a lot of fans in Cleveland who supported me, and still do. We just want to get there now in Minnesota.
I know you’ll be paying attention to the Olympics. Who do you think is going to win the gold?
I want to see Spain get it just because I have a teammate on there. It’d be awesome to see Spain win it.
How do you manage the balance of making sure you get enough rest and keep your mind clear, but still keep yourself in the shape you want to be in to take that next step heading into the season?
You have to be focused. You have to have a plan, and a schedule. I have great people around me, who make sure I get the best out of every situation. I’m working, but I get rest when I have to. If I need to take a day off, I do. If I have a really good workout the next day, it’s okay.
Just how good can Karl-Anthony Towns be? It seems like that dude has limitless potential.
He definitely does. He’s a great player. And he makes everybody better just playing with him and around him. I’m so excited to see how good he can be and to see what he can do.
Seeing your teammate Zach LaVine win the Dunk Contest again, does it ever make you want to get out there too?
Nah. I’ll leave that to him.