Biggest Challenges for Andrew Wiggins as Face of Minnesota Timberwolves

D.J. FosterContributor IAugust 19, 2014

Feb 15, 2014; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) moves the ball against the TCU Horned Frogs in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas won the game 95-65. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

When Andrew Wiggins is officially traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love, he'll essentially be handed the keys to the franchise. 

Yes, Ricky Rubio will still be the biggest name, and Flip Saunders will still exercise most of the power as coach and team president, but it will be Wiggins under the microscope.

With that level of responsibility will come certain challenges. When you're traded for an established star and transcendent talent like Love, expectations are obviously going to be heaped on you to be not just great, but to be better.

That's nothing new for Wiggins. He's been on the NBA radar for years now as the undisputed top player in his high school class, and his status as the first pick in the draft would have brought plenty of attention no matter where he ended up.

Instead of being able to coast from the backseat alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Wiggins will be needed as a top scorer and elite two-way presence from day one for Minnesota to have any chance of being competitive. 

Here's what Wiggins' college coach Bill Self told Dave Skretta of The Associated Press:

When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, 'I hope I get traded.'

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.'

If that's what Wiggins truly wants, that's what he'll get in Minnesota. He'll be expected to turn into a star, and nothing less will suffice. His value is now linked to that of Love's, unfair as it may be.

It doesn't help that Minnesota is desperate for a contender. The Wolves are stuck in a lengthy playoff drought, as it's been over 10 years since the team last made the playoffs in the 2003-04 season. This isn't a fanbase or franchise that is ready to burn another four years waiting for Wiggins to come around, particularly given Saunders' position as coach and GM. Wiggins will be thrown to the fire right away.

The fate of the future of the franchise is largely on Wiggins' shoulders, as Jim Cavan of Bleacher Report explains:

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.

In addition to some of the current challenges, like being in the Western Conference and being asked to carry so much of the scoring load right away, Wiggins might be expected to become the Minnesota star who actually stayed long term

The Timberwolves have been through a lot losing two greats in Kevin Garnett and Love, and so in a way it's up to Wiggins to prove that Minnesota can succeed and keep a great talent for the length of their career.

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 3: Andrew Wiggins #21 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 3, 2014 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackno
David Dow/Getty Images

Even though on the surface Minnesota appears to be a relatively pressure-free landing spot for Wiggins to slowly mature and find himself in the NBA, Minnesota's franchise structure and past doesn't really provide that. There are big shoes to fill, and Wiggins will be looked at to do it. The Timberwolves can lose some games early on, but they can't lose the war by losing the Love trade.

It's not simple with Wiggins. Not only does he have to prove he's skilled enough to become an elite player, but he'll also be challenged to show he's an elite athlete.

Here's Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

According to Kansas coach Bill Self, Wiggins is the best natural athlete who has ever played for him.

'Ben McLemore was a freak,' Self said. 'Brandon Rush was unbelievable. But when Andrew is turned up? He can do things athletically nobody else can do.'

While that's all believable, it will be on Wiggins to properly exercise that athleticism and let it overwhelm his opponents. He let up off the gas too often at Kansas, letting defenders stay with him when he was less than assertive.

It's often difficult for a rookie to come in and take charge right off the bat, but the Wolves will struggle to survive with anything less.

Living up to expectations and the hype is one thing, but Wiggins will be asked to move an entire franchise forward from a decade of ineptitude. The future is firmly in his hands.