Basketball fans, primarily in Canada and Minnesota, have been left scratching their collective heads over the past week. What has happened to Andrew Wiggins? Has the reigning Rookie Of The Year already hit his sophomore slump? Four games into the 2015-16 season and people are starting to put out a Missing Persons Report on him.
One might chalk it up to a busy end of summer when Wiggins found himself as one of the expected leaders of the Canadian National Team when their quest for an Olympic berth ultimately fell short. Another could relate it to the sad loss of former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders taking an emotional toll, not only on the young guard but the franchise in general. A third factor could be the addition of rookie big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who the Timberwolves are often looking to as a key source of their offensive attack and the improved play of a healthy Ricky Rubio—something that wasn’t an option in Minnesota last season.
Averaging nearly ten fewer minutes a game than he did last year, Wiggins’ stats have decreased across the board. Down too are his points (16.9 to 13.8), assists (2.1 to 1) and rebounds (4 to 3.8). While the chances are that each of these will return to last years numbers should his playing time increase, it is his percentages and demeanour that are a major concern. Currently sitting on 29% from the field and a depressing 11% from downtown, Wiggins may have problems hitting one of the 15,000 lakes in Minnesota if he were standing on the shoreline.
Opening night found the Timberwolves grabbing a solid road comeback victory over the LA Lakers. Alternating between guarding and being guarded by Kobe Bryant and Jordan Clarkson, Wiggins struggled to hit a basket going 2-10, finishing with 9 points. Bryant, never a shy one, dropped 24 points on 24 shots and Clarkson finished with 14 points, going 5-10. While Clarkson was more of a chore to guard in transition, Bryant hovered on the perimeter, for the most part, not the hardest of places to guard and considering Bryant is nearly twice Wiggins age, keeping up with the vet shouldn’t have been an issue.
Two nights later, Wiggins took on Gary Harris and the Denver Nuggets. His percentages were better, and he finished with 18 points and four boards. Wiggins’ energy seemed to be better and more alert, leading fans to believe that opening night was just a blip on the radar.
Unfortunately, such was not the story as that blip returned with a vengeance. Shooting 5-17, including 0-3 from deep, Wiggins posted a trough 16 points against the Blazers defense. Three nights later, an uninspired looking effort against the Miami Heat resulted in a 5-of-18, 12 point night against Dwyane Wade. Both nights ended with the ‘Wolves on the losing side of the scoreboard, but just as importantly, opposing game announcers acknowledged that Wiggins did not look like the same player as he was a year prior. It is one thing when opposing announcers notice your lack of enthusiasm and energy; it is another thing when your teammate (Rubio) points it out.
So what has Wiggins in a funk? Watching the twenty-year-old wunderkind getting beat by Bryant and Wade, two old dogs with rickety legs is tough to watch. While it could very well be one of the three previously mentioned factors, something that could impact even the strongest minded individual, or could it be the fact that the Wolves have moved the young pup from the small forward spot to the off guard, out of his comfort zone.
Yes, he is getting shots up, but whereas last year Wiggins was attacking off transition, this season he is settling for jumpers. One other note of relevance is the back spasms that Wiggins has been dealing with since the start of the season. Although he has been able to play in each of the four Timberwolves games, he hasn’t been 100% healthy. While it is admirable that he has tried to play through his health issues, are the Wolves coaches, trainers and management doing more harm than good in the long run?
Over the next three games, Wiggins could find himself matched up with Tony Snell/Jimmy Butler (Saturday at Chicago), Kent Bazemore (Monday at Atlanta) and Nic Batum (Tuesday vs. Charlotte), all three games featuring quality defenders and in Butler’s case an All-Star level offensive threat. While the T-Wolves could struggle to maintain their .500 record over the three-game stint, it is vital that Wiggins not continue to regress, but start to take the steps forward towards the level of play that he set last season and that fans around the league have come to expect.