Andrew Wiggins is not better than Kevin Love.
The 2014 No. 1 overall pick is a lot of things—athletic, explosive, progressively confident, a perfect fit for the Minnesota Timberwolves—but he, of absolutely no real NBA experience, is not better than Kevin Love.
For the Timberwolves' purposes, though, he is the better building block.
It sounds crazy to entertain. Love is a six-year veteran and top-10 superstar fresh off becoming the first player in league history to average at least 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while draining one three-pointer per game. He ranked third in win shares (14.3) behind only LeBron James (15.9) and Kevin Durant (19.2). He's a realistic MVP candidate and surefire All-Star.
What does Wiggins provide that he doesn't?
This is a new era the Timberwolves are embarking on, one that, despite Love's all-world talents, they needed to begin. The previous Love-focused rebuild wasn't working. It was, by and large, a disaster.
Love's Timberwolves didn't make the playoffs. No matter how well he played, no matter how talented his supporting cast was, the status quo was never enough.
Last season was supposed to be the year. President and general manager—and now head coach—Flip Saunders gave Love more than anyone else had ever given him over the last half-decade. It was once again not enough.
Minnesota won 40 games—its highest total since 2005—and missed the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season. Little aside from the Love trade itself—which became official on Aug. 23—has been done to tweak the roster since then. Neither Zach LaVine nor Glenn Robinson III will make the Timberwolves that much better.
Would they make the playoffs relying on the same cast from last season? In the still-loaded Western Conference, it's beyond unlikely.
None of which is Love's fault. Though often misidentified as an overrated numbers-seeker, A Wolf Among Wolves' Tim Faklis accurately argues the exact opposite:
Still, he wasn’t stat-stuffing. To put the supporting cast (and Love’s impact) in perspective, when Love was on the floor during the year, the Wolves were +356. When he was on the bench, they were -137. In other words, the Wolves were usually beating the other team when Love was in, and usually losing to the other team when he was out.
Even in a world where, despite all this, Love was still to blame for the Wolves missing the playoffs, should it even matter? If Kevin Love was (hypothetically) traded to the Hawks, for example, and went to the playoffs as their team’s best player, would this still be a discussion? The “if the Wolves were in the East” talk has been beaten into the ground, but it needs to be brought up if Love’s lack of a playoff presence is going to be part of the discussion.
Circumstances beyond Love's control pinned him to the Timberwolves' cyclic losing. He is the victim in this story—duped and bamboozled by ill-fated draft-day decisions and a previous regime (David Kahn) that unwisely devalued his importance.
Tales of martyrdom won't play with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have bilked Love of all excuses. But his fruitless excellence was enough to buy him a one-way ticket out of Minnesota without facing the same backlash Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and, to a lesser extent, Chris Paul did when they plotted escapes of their own.
More importantly, his futile transcendence—especially last season—proved what many already suspected: Love had carried these Timberwolves as far as he could.
Drastic change was improbable, if not impossible. With Nikola Pekovic locked up for the next four years and Ricky Rubio approaching extension territory, the Timberwolves were committed to their core. And that core, including Love, wasn't enough.
Wiggins might be.
Although he's far from perfect and extremely raw, the Timberwolves landed someone whose basement is situated higher than most prospects' ceilings.
"Andrew Wiggins changes everything," SB Nation's Paul Flannery writes. "One of the best athletes in the draft, he has the potential to become a dynamic two-way player. Given his age (19) and contract status (rookie), he's exactly the kind of young talent a team losing a star player should focus their rebuilding effort around."
Rookies like Wiggins cannot leave the way Love can. Most believe he'll re-sign with the Cavaliers—Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports paints it as a certainty—but he has the power to leave. Given the frequency with which players coming off rookie deals stay on incumbent teams, the Timberwolves are looking at a guaranteed six-plus years of stability.
What they—or any other team, for that matter—are getting in someone like Wiggins is more time. They can experiment, take chances and start from scratch without worrying about him becoming an imminent flight risk.
No such security was found in Love. Not even close.
And let us not overlook one unassailable fact, either: Love is done being a building block. He wants to win. He wouldn't be in Cleveland preparing to play third fiddle alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving if he wasn't. He wouldn't have deviated from his initial list of preferred destinations—which included only big markets—if he wasn't.
In Wiggins, you have someone completely different, someone who apparently embraces the rebuilding concept.
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.'
This from a kid who, at the time, called the best player in the world his teammate. Who was stationed on a team ready to contend for a championship. Who was part of something bigger and better than what's going on in Minnesota.
Here he (apparently) was, hoping for a trade before it even happened, touting a blank slate while staring at a full one. That he's willing to serve as the building block for a startup makes him the better choice than someone, like Love, who isn't.
Does that mean Wiggins will wind up being a better player than Love, scoring more points, securing more wins, breaking more records, clinching more playoff berths?
Well, that's the other thing: We, like the Timberwolves, don't know.
Potential is squirmy in that regard. It's easy to look at Love, all he can do and then reject this very notion. But it's not smart.
Wiggins was the No. 1 overall pick in the deepest draft class since 2003. Top selections since then include James, Irving, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. Wiggins is now part of that club. And given that seven of the last 11 No. 1 picks—possibly eight if Anthony Bennett gets his act together—can be considered massive hits, it seems Wiggins is more likely to reach superstardom, to reach Love status, than he is to crash and burn.
Rebuilding teams are better off taking that chance. The Timberwolves needed Wiggins more than Love at this point.
After the trade was made official, Saunders gushed about how Wiggins gave the team an "identity," per CBS Sports' James Herbert. He wasn't wrong. Wiggins is their direction, he is their identity. Right now, neither Saunders nor anyone else knows what that quite means or where exactly the Timberwolves are headed.
That there's a possibility the unexplored (Wiggins) trumps the well-known (Love) is enough. Better, even.
Mystery—like that of Wiggins' ceiling—makes sense when what's familiar does not.
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