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Andrew Wiggins Extinguishing Lingering Doubts About His Game

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2015

Mar 30, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) celebrates his dunk in the second quarter against the Utah Jazz at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves wing Andrew Wiggins has been up to a few things this summer.

Way up.

Soaring as a member of Team Canada, he threw down a vicious dunk on Argentina's Andres Nocioni in the FIBA Americas tournament on Sept. 1—a notable play for a number of reasons.

Wiggins hung on the rim, mouth agape in a defiant scream as he swung purposefully back toward Nocioni...as if to remind him of the emasculation that had taken place nanoseconds before. It was a crass challenge bordering on bullying.

And it was against Nocioni, which can't be overlooked.

This is a guy who, in his history against NBA and international competition, has cultivated a dangerous reputation.

And Wiggins not only attacked Nocioni; he hung around afterward to rub it in.

The Timberwolves must be loving this, partly because Wiggins' nastiness continued a trend he established last season. Remember, the reigning Rookie of the Year earned his award partly because he spent the second half generating high-profile highlights.

Rudy Gobert may have been his most prominent victim:

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But Wiggins also relished the chance to get mean against smaller (but perhaps even more dangerous) competition—like James Harden:

So lest anyone criticize Wiggins for breaking out the disrespect for softer international targets (like Uruguay), keep in mind that he went after a couple of superpowers last season.

Zach Harper @talkhoops

That look from Wiggins... http://t.co/Xely9JXPfk

Such sustained edge is all the more impressive because many doubted it would ever show up in the first place. Leading up to the 2014 draft, Wiggins' scouting reports were littered with questions, and most of them pertained to his killer instinct.

Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress wrote:

To reach his full potential, NBA teams will want to see Wiggins become more aggressive with the way he approaches the game. He has somewhat of a laid-back demeanor on the floor, which can be seen in the way he finishes around the basket at times, his tendency for shying away from contact, and his propensity for settling for long jumpers. He looks reluctant at times to just explode down the lane and dunk on people, which his physical tools suggest he should be able to much more frequently than he does.

ESPN.com's Chad Ford noted Wiggins could be "passive at times."

His profile on NBADraft.net included the terms "complacent" and "inconsistent motor" while questioning whether he'd ever have the "mental makeup to maximize his immense physical gifts."

Wiggins' mental approach wasn't something a few pundits isolated as a concern. It was an across-the-board worry. A little over a year later, very little about Wiggins' exploits last season and this summer looks complacent or lacking in aggression.

It's easy to envision a scenario in which those problems could have persisted, in which they could have prevented Wiggins from hopping on the superstar track. His athleticism does lend itself to effortless play. Things routinely look easy for him, so coasting could have become an issue—especially on a Minnesota team bad enough to secure the No. 1 overall pick during his rookie year.

For the Timberwolves, thankfully, things didn't go that way. Elements of both nature and nurture help explain why.

For starters, Wiggins' intensity must have been inside him all along. It's a cliche that killer instinct is inherent, that it can't be taught. But when you consider the NBA's most celebrated assassins, you realize they all shot to kill from the get-go.

Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Chris Paul—just to name a few—all flashed a fiery (often maniacal) competitiveness as young players, and if anything, it only burned hotter as their careers continued.

Credit Minnesota for seeing that spirit in Wiggins and trying to coax it out.

"You saw with this kid, sometimes something has to trigger in him for him to come back at you," a Timberwolves source told NBA.com's David Aldridge during training camp last year. "What we've been trying to get him to do is be that way from the beginning."

Aldridge offered an example of the ploy's early effectiveness:

In one of the Wolves' first scrimmages, one of the wings was being physical with Wiggins as he guarded him, to see what Wiggins would do. It happened once. A second time. The third time, Wiggins started to hold his ground, showing the lockdown ability on defense that Minnesota hopes will become a regular part of his NBA game when he gets stronger.

The results spoke for themselves last season, as Wiggins not only showed more fight as the year progressed, but also simply got better.

Specifically, his attacks on the rim trended upward.

Perhaps even more encouragingly, as opponents began to expect him to drive the lane, Wiggins steadily improved in his ability to draw contact. His free-throw-per-minute rate also headed north as the 2014-15 season progressed.

Because Wiggins' promise as a franchise cornerstone is so great, and because the Timberwolves saw the immediate payoff of an angrier, more focused Wiggins, they doubled down on the "Keep Andrew Angry" program.

Kevin Garnett came aboard last year, and his influence made an impact.

"His presence was just felt on and off the court, even the games where he wasn't playing and he was on the bench," Wiggins told reporters in May. "You still felt his presence on the court. His intensity just rubs off on you."

KG will also have veterans Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller to help with Wiggins' ongoing tutorial—though every trend and recent indication suggests Wiggins is getting more aggressive on his own.

The Timberwolves have a historically respected bully, a guy sharp enough to be known as the Professor and one of the last decade's top wing defenders in place to mentor a young talent already showing the physical and mental markers of greatness.

The summertime indicators of Wiggins' development come at a pivotal time for a Timberwolves team that must show some growth this season. Nobody's clamoring for a playoff berth, and few expect a .500 record. But with so much youth on the roster (including top pick Karl-Anthony Towns), Minnesota has to show signs of hope.

And if that takes the form of Wiggins' destroying the hopes of others, all the better.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

H/t Adam Fromal for infographic assistance.

Follow Grant Hughes on Twitter @gt_hughes.

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