The Wiggins Files: Andrew’s Game

When the Twolves received Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young in the Kevin Love trade, they got quite the deal. While Young is now in Brooklyn, and Bennett may be on his way out of town as well, Wiggins was the real catch there.  Now after his rookie season, he only appears more ready to prove that conclusion valid. He projects to be a player every bit the caliber of K-Love, with a skill set balanced on both sides of the court. As a fan, it feels completely reasonable to expect Andrew Wiggins to be the chosen one, to lead the Timberwolves in battle against the Buggers of the NBA Western Conference. And while I’m not the first person to suggest this comparison, I’m going to go with it anyway…

Ender

Shown above is Andrew Wiggin: Prodigy among child soldiers, who was groomed in isolation to become the master commander of forces sent to defend human kind in intergalactic war against the invading alien race of Buggers. As a young child, he was dubbed “Ender” by his psychotic older brother Peter, and he lived up to the nickname with his competitive nature and relentlessness in dominating opponents at the Battle School. In Orson Scott Card’s series of novels including “Ender’s Game”, smiles are few and far between.

Now, shown below is Andrew Wiggins: Prodigy among young hoopers from greater Toronto, he has been labeled the greatest prospect since LeBron James. As a gifted player with remarkable skill and athleticism, he is known to have dubbed himself “Mr. Fantastic” and has been referred to as “Maple Jordan”, due to his great potential to become a Canadian basketball legend. In the life of Andrew Wiggins, smiles appear to be quite frequent.

HappyWiggins

The difference between Ender’s Game and Andrew’s game are quite stark. Ender lived with the intentional orchestration of  violence, coercion, cheating and isolation, in effort to develop his skill set into a ruthless commander in battle. Andrew Wiggins received all kinds of support and praise while developing into a All-World basketball phenom. This explains the disparity between the amount of smiles the two Andrews have smiled.

Now I will set “Ender’s Game” aside  for a bit, and focus on Andrew’s game, starting first with one of its biggest and most important features:

Defense

While other parts of his game are quite impressive the most promising aspects of his game are found on defense. Wiggins is a freak of nature. This was researched and reported  in depth by Sport Science last year pre-draft.

https://youtu.be/fJJQNaKczLY

To think a guy who projects to play on the wing for his entire career could have the physical defensive presence greater than that of your typical NBA Center is absolutely baffling. Not only does he have that vertically, but his feet are so quick that with continued growth and discipline, he should be able to stay in front of smaller players. Even when he can’t, his length and instincts will allow him to close the gap. Of course the quickest and the strongest players in the league will give him some trouble but those guys give everybody trouble.

It’s encouraging that over the course of his rookie season, Wiggins did not shy away from anybody. Nightly, he took responsibility of defending the best guard or wing the opposition put on the court. While there were moments when he struggled, a good example would be when Jimmy Butler got him off his feet in the final seconds of a close game, he also had moments where he really showed his skills. The perfect example of this of course is the way he stuck with James Harden, blocking layups and altering jump shots. Example:

The sky’s the limit when it comes to Wiggins on the defensive end of the floor. His length and athleticism is at such a level that he could project to be a four position defender in certain circumstances.  Which is actually a pretty good transition into part to of the Wiggins Files.

Strength

This may come as a surprise that I list this here, but I think that is specifically why it’s worth noting. When I saw Wiggins playing for Kansas it seems like he would come into the NBA and get pushed around. Especially when trying to defend NBA Small Forwards or when attacking the basket.

Wiggins proved me wrong. This guy is tough as nails. That can be seen in the James Harden video above. While that may show off more mental fortitude than pure physical strength, it’s still remarkable. He brought it every night. There was no rookie wall for Andrew Wiggins.

I’d argue that Wiggins  showed quite a bit of physical strength as well. He didn’t let bigger players push him under the basket and he fought to draw fouls and get shots off in traffic. A lot of this has to do with great technique which allows him to maximize the strength that he has to create space. This was also evident in the way in attacked the basket around the end of the year. By that time he no longer feared the strength of the opponent. Now this off-season, we got a glimpse of how hard he’s working to get stronger, and this can only increase his productivity on the court. Imagine all of that great technique with a little extra oomph, potentially even allowing him to play the small ball PF position in certain circumstances. I mean, anyway to get him on the court, right?

Offense

Coming into this season, I expected Andrew Wiggins to prove he was NBA ready with his defensive abilities and his athleticism. What stood out to me, along with his physicality. was the improvement and development of his offensive game. Wiggins showed impressive efficiency from behind the arch. No, he was no Steph Curry or Klay Thompson, but he hit the outside shot at what I thought was a significantly higher than expected clip, especially early in the season. Pre-draft scouts worried that Wiggins may struggle with his jumper because he showed a tendency to elevate too high.  This past year, Wiggins proved that jump shooting will not hold him back.

Wiggins also showed abilities to score in other ways. First, he shows that he had the ability to run the floor and attack a close out. From day one of his NBA career his lane running and slashing abilities were great. Wiggins also showed great footwork for a young player, utilizing spin moves and step backs and the excellent body control that was noted in the sports science video above.

Another way the Twolves used Andrew Wiggins on offense was in the high post where Wiggins used his great size, skill and determination to beat wing defenders. The Wolves used this to their advantage. One of the most effective plays by the Wolves offense last year was to feed it to Wiggins in the post and let him go to work. This frequently drew double teams and Wiggins continued to improve in his decision making, whether to keep attacking the basket or make the pass to an open teammate. As the season went on he became simultaneously more aggressive with his attacking of the basket and more crisp in his decision making. This is a combination of skills that do not tend to develop all at once.

Additionally on offense, Wiggins has been working very hard on his ball handling this off-season to try and expand his game as a guard. It’s also apparent that he’s working hard to improve with  his outside shot, and from recent international play he looks to be  gaining confidence in the spot up catch and shoot game. This confidence boost will allow the raw talent to flow through. The thing that seems to hold Wiggins back is consistency, which I believe can have a lot to do with this next category.

Coaching, Coach-ability & Mentality

Wiggins has developed his skills over the years with the help of tons of support of trainers and coaches. Now, as he enters his second year as a pro, this is a critical year for his development.

For better or worse, Andrew Wiggins’ development will be linked to Flip Saunders.

For better, Flip Saunders is great at instilling confidence in young players. He helps them succeed putting them in places on the court where they can be effective. This is evident by how he put Wiggins in the high post. He did much the same with a young PF by the name of Kevin Garnett. He encouraged both of them to focus on defense, and put them in places were they could be immediately contribute on offense, without loading them up with too many responsibilities all at once.

For worse,  this very same tendency in Flip may actually  limit a young player, by boxing them into skills with which they are already comfortable. We saw at the end of the season, while Wiggins was being fed the ball in the high post, his perimeter production greatly decreased. I’ll bring up KG again here.

I find it hard to think of highly skilled player other than KG, that Flip had a major long term role in developing? This is the “for worse” part of the equation.

There truly are very few total package young basketball talent that Flip has had the opportunity to work with. A look back through history shows, KG and Marbury, but after that, the only highly touted young talent that I’m able to recognize on one of Flip’s rosters was John Wall. One layer below Wall, would be guys like Wally Szczerbiak, Rodney Stucky, and Aaron Afflalo. I feel like there must be some player that I’m missing from the Pistons, but I recall that being mostly a veteran team. Feel free to comment with any young players Flip worked with that I neglected to mention. Even with these players, they either are not as balanced of NBA prospects as the likes of Wiggins and Garnett, or Flip simply didn’t have that many months to work with them (like Marbury and Wall). This pretty much leaves just Garnett.

This “for worse” assessment of Flip Saunders shows that he hasn’t had all that much experience developing highly skilled young players in the NBA. He has, however, had success getting players in the right position to thrive. He made quality role players out of players who didn’t have quite as much success on other teams.

In that way, Wiggins will benefit from being coached by Flip Saunders. He has reacted to coaching in a very favorable way. He is not an Allen Iverson. He is a student of the game, the definition of what it a coach-able player and he will do what he’s suggested. In a previous article “Is Andrew Wiggings hungry like a wolf?“,  I reviewed an article from the star tribune, which featured Bill Self, Wiggins’ coach back at Kansas, sharing his thoughts on Wiggins as a player. In brief synopsis, Bill Self said that Wiggins had to find the “dog” in him. I suggested that he should really find the “wolf” within, because wolves are hunters and dogs are more likely to be fed. What I see in Wiggins isn’t a guy who lacks desire, but a guy who needs to look to attack more often. You can see that every time he dunks on people, he loves it. But another thing that Bill Self mentions is humility. Wiggins has confidence but never runs the line of being overly cocky.

Now I really hate to suggest that Wiggins should be cockier, but in someways, I think it holds a guy like him back. With his level of skill and athleticism and deceptive strength, it seems like he could mamba it up right with the black mamba.

This was something I was curious to see this summer in Olympic Qualifying play with Canada. Would Wiggins step up and stand out? I feel like he is hands down the most gifted basketball player on any of the non-USA teams in the western hemisphere, so I was hoping to see him come out and dominate.

At first by glancing at box scores he appeared to be inconsistent. And catching parts of games he seemed to  explode with a stretch of solid play and effort, but he rarely keeps the peddle down on full throttle for very long. I even witnessed a lot of flat-footed defense.

While these are a few notable pieces of his recent exploits in Mexico City, Wiggins sprinkled in quite a few nice stretches of shot making, which made me just want to see more and more.

Then on of the commentators mentioned the biggest thing he’s noticed about Andrew Wiggins during the competition, is how reserved he is. They mentioned that he hadn’t forced anything all tournament.

Wiggins HAS shown a bit more fire, expressing himself when he drains a three, and putting a little mean mug on the Uruguayan he dunked all over. He’s created quite the load of highlights, showed his expanded offensive game with some solid ball-handling, a couple hand fulls of assists, and a lot of shot making skills, all while NOT putting the peddle to the medal. Is this a good thing? Does this reflect a lack of drive? Should a twenty year old kid be more pumped to play a big role for his country? or are we seeing a level of maturity that he’s willing to save some effort and energy for the NBA season? I think it could go either way.

Value Assesment

It’s almost feels funny to be assessing Andrew Wiggins’ value. It just seems so sky high with his potential, but I do think there are some ifs remaining in the equation.

Potential: A+/A

Wiggins truly has the potential to be one of the top wing players/forwards in the league in a few years. At 20 years old, this potential is just starting to bloom.

Wiggins is a beast, and should only grow into a greater beast. He’s a player who could become dominant for the next decade. I put an “A” without the plus in their for only one reason. Fire!

Does Wiggins have that mamba blood? Does he have that unconscious basketball assassin mode, or that “you can’t guard me” relentlessness? Or does he have that ability to silently beat you up on both sides of the court a la Tim Duncan? This is what would lift Wiggins to A+ level. I feel confident that he is going to be great. “A”s are great. But the difference here is if he can be a Michael Jordan, or a Scottie Pippen. Kobe said that he reminded him if himself as a young player. That brings up the question: will Wiggins put in that same absurd level of hard work, focus and dedication needed to become dominant. If Wiggins follows suit, the league better watch out.

Reality: A-

He was the rookie of the year for heaven’s sake, so what makes him an A-?

While he did have some very impressive moments, in order to reach a solid “A” or more he will have to have to become more effective in his role.  In all likelihood Wiggins should explode this next season like many great rookies have in their sophomore season. With added strength and further developed skills, a lot can be expected from Wiggins, but with all of the hype defensively, he needs to improve on his consistency. In that area of the game the Twolves are relying on him to be a leader. He will continue to take on the most dangerous wing player on the opposition and be given more and more responsibility on the offensive end.

This solidifies Wiggins value to the team as a high “A”. He is a focal piece of the teams future outlook.

To me, what it comes down to for Wiggins, is that he has to become an “Ender” on some level. He has to find that competitive edge where he moves to take advantage of the opponents slightest mistake. He has to dominate with his dominant skills, because with what he’s shown he can do, he should find a way to do those things more often. And while he doesn’t have to stop smiling, I would love to see him develop a little bit more of an edge. Like maybe just a few more mean mugs, like he aimed at the Uruguayan he put of a poster.

While these are just dunks (every body loves dunks though, right?), these should pump you up about last years R.O.Y coming back as Andrew Wiggins 2.0.

So that’s that. The Andrew “Ender” Wiggins files. Here’s to hoping that mamba blood is in his veins and that he can tap into that with consistency. If Maple Mamba can come out with consistency, we’re gonna have quite a good time at the Target Center this year.

About Michael C. Boosalis II

I'm a guy who loves Jesus, family, friends, encouraging Brothers & Sisters in Christ, prayer, worship, sports (Twolves, Twins, Vikings, Golf), poetry, piano, guitar & Opera. After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2012, I have been living in Minnepolis, exploring my interests in journalism, ministry, music performance, creative writing, teaching, and urban farming. Just about every day, I hope to spend some time into my two blogs,"tobeafruitfulbranch.blogspot.com," about life as a follower of Christ, and "A 612 Sports Persepctive," that compiles all my writing about sports (mostly Twolves, Vikings and Twins) as well as chip away on my plethora of ideas for short stories, and a novel I have been working on. I've been a Twolves fan ever since I can remember

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