It may have taken him a little longer than some expected, but Andrew Wiggins has separated himself from the rest of the 2014 class as the front-runner for NBA Rookie of the Year.
Following a career-high 31 points in a 113-105 win for the Minnesota Timberwolves over the Denver Nuggets Saturday, Wiggins is up to a class-leading average of 15.2 points.
Jabari Parker, who's out for the season with a torn ACL, is the only other rookie in double figures.
|Rookie Scoring Leaderboard|
Wiggins has been the leading scorer among rookies for the majority of the season, but the gap has been increasing over the last few weeks as he is getting comfortable at this level.
The splits are clear evidence that he's finding his NBA legs. Each month starting in November, his averages for points, rebounds and assists have gone up, as has his field-goal percentage.
|Wiggins' Monthly Splits|
Wiggins is adjusting to the size and speed of the game and realizing he has the athletic edge in just about every matchup.
That was a big part of why he went No. 1 overall in the draft. Before that big day, DraftExpress' Mike Schmitz wrote:
Wiggins has everything you could hope for in a wing prospect physically, as he sports excellent size (6'8" in shoes) and length (7'0" wingspan) and is an elite athlete. His frame is on the narrow side but will undoubtedly fill out as he matures.
He's incredibly quick and explosive off his feet and covers a huge amount of ground with his ridiculously long strides, which allow him to get from the three-point line to the rim with just one dribble and makes him a lethal threat in transition (1.3 PPP, fourth best among DX Top-100 Prospects).
His body control is excellent, and he has a devastating second jump, which gives him excellent potential as an offensive rebounder as well.
What was supposed to take a while was the refinement of Wiggins' game. He was going to miss a ton of jump shots and commit a bunch of turnovers.
Neither of those things is really happening. In fact, his three-point and turnover percentages are both better than the league averages.
|Wiggins vs. the NBA|
He looks like much less of a long-term project than some teams, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, anticipated. What the Cavs may regret most about trading Wiggins is the fact they're missing out on his defense.
Cleveland has the 27th-rated defense in the NBA, giving up 106.7 points per 100 possessions. Wiggins, meanwhile, is giving opposing wings all they can handle.
Timberwolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell told The Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk, "The top guys, when they play him, they test him. And what they find out is that: one, he’s not going anywhere; two, he brings it right back to ’em; and three, he has a lot of talent."
Wiggins isn't on the same level as those top guys yet, but he's at least competitive, something that sets him apart from the rest of what has been a largely underwhelming rookie class.
He's so far ahead of his peers that it's not even about beating them for the award anymore. Barring a meteoric rise from a competitor or an epic collapse from Wiggins, he has Rookie of the Year locked up.
What it's about for Wiggins now is competing with that top tier. He's already with them in terms of speed, quickness and explosiveness; now he just needs to add strength.
After that, it's just little things—picking up a feel for the game and being able to get himself easy looks when he's off the ball, as he did here:
Or identifying a potential mismatch and attacking it. He did that perfectly on a possession against Arron Afflalo, who tried to bully him with a little physical defense. Wiggins responded by smartly sealing off Afflalo in the lane and getting an and-1 in the process:
As he gets stronger, he'll be able to do that against bigger, stronger wings like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. That may be a year or two down the road, or it could be right around the corner. After all, he's proved to be ahead of schedule as a rookie.
If he stays on the trajectory we've seen the last couple of weeks, the 2015 Rookie of the Year could be threatening the ranks of the elite by year two or three.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.