On the one hand, recent remarks by Kansas head coach Bill Self suggesting that Andrew Wiggins would relish the challenge of becoming the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves speak to a drive and maturity uncommon for a 19-year-old rookie.
On the other hand, be careful what you wish for.
Wiggins might think his youth and inexperience will warrant him a few years of leeway, but for a fanbase as starved for relevance as this one, the microscope is sure to be subatomic from the start—if not in the way one might think.
Worn as their patience has been, T-Wolves fans will expect this star to burn brighter and faster than the two that came before.
Not that this is anything new for Wiggins, of course. When you’re the top-ranked high school player in your class, scrutiny comes with the territory.
Couple that with being drafted by a team whose last No. 1 overall pick—Anthony Bennett—put up one of the most disappointing rookie seasons in history, and you have yourself the makings for an all-out pressure cooker.
To his credit, Wiggins openly acknowledged as much in remarks made to his former coach early on in the Cleveland-Minnesota negotiations.
"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.'"
Forced to be something good. In an age when ripping on millennial entitlement has become its own cottage industry, such self-awareness is refreshing indeed.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s not as if Wiggins will be joining a basketball wasteland in Minnesota. In Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, the T-Wolves boast a veteran trio more than capable of softening Wiggins’ NBA landing.
And perish the thought of the lanky swingman emerging immediately as an offensive weapon. His skills, while drool-inducing, are still years from full-fledged effectiveness.
Still, for a team that couldn’t even crash the Western Conference playoffs with a top-tier talent in its midst, Minnesota’s near-future prospects will inevitably be pinned to two things: Wiggins, and whatever lottery largesse the team rakes in.
From a purely rotational perspective, Wiggins as Minnesota’s starting small forward on opening night is by no means a given.
Between Corey Brewer and backup Chase Budinger, the T-Wolves boast two serviceable—if far from spectacular—options at the 3.
Sooner or later, though, the arena-seated judges will demand their trial by fire.
Landing as he has on the heels of Bennett’s historically atrocious rookie season, Wiggins certainly can’t afford a complete crash and burn. But unlike last year’s top draft prize, Wiggins arrived NBA-side steeped in near-unprecedented hype.
Scrutiny isn’t something Wiggins somehow has to prepare for. He’s lived it in a million lenses already.
Striking a somewhat optimistic tone, Bleacher Report Lead NBA Writer Jonathan Wasserman posited the forthcoming trade could be a blessing, and not a curse, for Wiggins’ development:
The Timberwolves give Wiggins the chance to plow through the trial-and-error process early, with plenty of touches now expected to come his way. It means extra experience in isolation, more step-back jumpers and additional playmaking opportunities against set defenses.
And though there's bound to be plenty of errors with all the experimenting, Wiggins has absolutely zero pressure to produce. He's playing with house money in Minnesota. The Timberwolves should be expected to compete for lottery position—not playoff position. That should give him some breathing room and a little less to think about.
That might be true for the first year. But with so many recent one-and-done talents having made immediate impacts for their comparably moribund teams—Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis come immediately to mind—calls for a bona fide breakout won’t be far down the pike.
The worry for Minnesota’s faithful isn’t solely over whether Wiggins can reach his ultimate potential. If anything, past experience has taught fans that reaching it will only hasten their star’s departure.
Call it the T-Wolves Fan Paradox: You desperately want your homegrown talent to succeed—in part because Minnesota has never been a top-notch free-agent destination—while dreading their wings spreading far enough to fly away forever.
Maybe Wiggins will be different. Maybe there’s more to glean from his self-challenging remarks than meets the eye. Maybe he’ll set a generational trend in realizing that global marketing means you don’t need to be in New York or L.A. to make a splash or become a star.
Then again, for a fanbase already fooled twice by supposed cornerstones, preventing a third burn means assuming the athlete’s calculus—cruel as it can often be—remains grounded in the same principles of exposure and championships.
Wiggins will most certainly find himself immediately under the exacting eyes of T-Wolves fans everywhere.
The mistake the rest of us will make is believing such worry is about being the best right away, when it’s really about the fear of another superstar being too good to stay true.