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Andrew Wiggins Is Holding Timberwolves Back, Not the Other Way Around

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 15, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 08: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves drives to the basket against Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics during the game on March 8, 2018 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ideally, this Andrew Wiggins situation would sort itself out.

If the Minnesota Timberwolves wing is unhappy occupying a spot behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler in the team's pecking order, as Darren Wolfson of KSTP reported (via 1500 ESPN Twin Cities' Derek James), he'd just take a proactive approach and start playing better than either of those guys, at which point he'd move ahead of them on merit.

That doesn't feel like a big ask for a former top overall pick with unlimited skill and a max extension kicking in next season, does it?

OK, Wiggins, show us why you have a right to be upset.

The tough part, and the reason this situation is miles from ideal, is this: In light of how he's performed, Wiggins' position feels unglued from reality and, worse, entitled.

              

Opportunity Blown

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 11: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks to pass the ball during the game against the Golden State Warriors on March 11, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
David Sherman/Getty Images

With several quality summertime additions in Minnesota (Butler being the most notable), it stood to reason that Wiggins' fourth season would be cake. He'd get better shots, operate with less defensive attention and leverage his many athletic gifts to mop up easy buckets at an efficient clip.

If all he did was substitute clean catch-and-shoot threes for contested long twos off the dribble, bang! Efficiency central!

And if he didn't have to shoulder such an offensive burden, surely he'd defend with focus and energy more often.

Instead, he's posting the worst player efficiency rating, true-shooting percentage and free-throw rate of his career. His rebound and assist rates are both lower than they were in his rookie season, which means Wiggins isn't compensating for diminished scoring responsibilities by expending more energy in other areas.

Defensively, Wiggins remains a notorious coaster. Unengaged and loath to make a second effort (and sometimes a first), his contributions on that end don't square with his length, bounce and quickness. A player's deficiencies stem from either inability or unwillingness, with the latter being far more damning. Wiggins is firmly in the second category.

And now he's asking for more responsibility?

If there were some kind of arbitration hearing in which the 'Wolves and Wiggins made cases for where he ought to be in the organizational hierarchy, the only evidence in Wiggins' favor would be his draft pedigree and max extension.

Not exactly compelling. That Wiggins has been given so much already without delivering cuts even deeper against the position that he deserves more.

            

The Obvious Hierarchy

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 11: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrates during the game against the Golden State Warriors on March 11, 2018 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

It's important to note that we're not dealing in abstract terms here.

Wiggins plays on a team with Butler (who's currently injured) and Karl-Anthony Towns. Those are the guys he believes he shouldn't be trailing in touches, shine, importance...whatever.

Butler transformed this year's 'Wolves with two-way play. He defended the opponent's best wing, ran the offense down the stretch and is the player most responsible for ending (fingers crossed) Minnesota's 13-year playoff drought. He is a better scorer, passer, rebounder, defender and leader than Wiggins, and the numbers aren't particularly close in any major statistical category.

Towns is the most gifted offensive big man to hit the league in years. A three-level scorer, he's a few missed free throws away from posting a 50/40/90 season, which points to another key distinction that separates him from Wiggins: All that talent is manifesting itself in actual production.

Towns trails only Stephen Curry in true-shooting percentage among the 66 players who've attempted 700 shots. (Wiggins ranks 63rd.) And while Wiggins has been fine since Butler went down, according to William Bohl of A Wolf Among Wolves:

William Bohl @BreakTheHuddle

Wiggins, since Butler injury: 7 games 36.7 MPG 46.3% FGs 37.5% 3Pt (4.6 att/gm) 70.4% FTs (3.9 att/gm) 20.7 PPG 3.4 RPG 2.3 APG Team is plus-43 when he plays, minus-21 when he sits. https://t.co/LC0LMTnemZ

Towns has been transcendent:

William Bohl @BreakTheHuddle

Towns, since Butler injury: 7 games 36.4 MPG 59.3% FGs 41.2% 3Pt (2.4 att/gm) 84.3% FTs (7.3 att/gm) 25.4 PPG 12.6 RPG 2.3 APG 1.3 BPG

What's more, Towns, unlike Wiggins, has demonstrated the ability to make others better with Butler out of action. According to film study from Britt Robson of The Athletic, Towns directly created all 13 of Nemanja Bjelica's fourth-quarter points in Tuesday's 116-111 road win over the Washington Wizards.

Two nights earlier, KAT ate reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green's lunch, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter of a win over the champion Golden State Warriors.

"I told him to get down on that block. He got down on that block, and he made plays," Jeff Teague told reporters afterward. "He's a talented basketball player, one of the most talented players I've ever seen."

Towns is carrying Minnesota, just like Butler did earlier this year. Wiggins, meanwhile, doesn't have a leg to stand on.

           

Andrew's Advocate

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 11: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves jocks for a position during the game against the Golden State Warriors on March 11, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
David Sherman/Getty Images

None of this is the same as saying Wiggins is an objectively bad player.

His on-off numbers feature some noise, as do all such stats, but it remains true that the Wolves' net rating is 4.3 points per 100 possessions better when Wiggins plays. Butler and Towns smoke him in that category, but plus-4.3 is fine.

Wiggins can create his own (usually low-efficiency) shots. He can dominate smaller foes in the post. He's shown the ability to hit shots when his feet are set, hitting 40.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last season. He's down to 33.2 percent this year, but like so many of the skills Wiggins sporadically displays between periods of dormancy, it's in there.

A charitable scan of Wiggins' career requires acknowledging that until this year, he'd increased his usage and scoring efficiency for three straight seasons. Perhaps Butler's presence, while obviously positive for the Wolves, knocked Wiggins' development off course.

He shows flashes defensively:

Born Salty @cjzero

This defensive sequence from Andrew Wiggins was great, what Jimmy's been pushing him to do every possession https://t.co/FtEGtGOgp8

If you weren't convinced of his outsized confidence by these recent rumors of unhappiness, you should have known it from watching him attack rim protectors:

Or drilling clutch game-winners:

It's infuriating to catch those glimpses and then have to wonder where they've gone for quarters, games or weeks at a time. Relatedly, if Wiggins had never tantalized Minnesota with those blips of stardom, it probably wouldn't have lavished the contract on him that is perhaps fueling his current feelings.

It's also true that Wiggins' first few seasons were chaotic. He was drafted, deposited into limbo by the Cleveland Cavaliers and then dealt. He developed in a losing atmosphere under poor coaching and then endured the shock of Tom Thibodeau's demanding style. Less than a month removed from his 23rd birthday, Wiggins has been through quite a bit.

Most importantly, he's young enough to get better.

      

Fallout Unknown

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 11: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves makes his entrance before the game against the Golden State Warriors on March 11, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

It's dangerous to get too far down the road with unsourced rumors like this, but we don't necessarily have to frame the Wiggins-Minnesota issue within reports of his unhappiness.

The real problem is simpler: Wiggins' production isn't commensurate with his notoriety or salary (starting next year anyway), and it'll take a massive leap for him to change that. Whatever discontent he might be feeling only exacerbates an already existing problem.

It was going to be hard enough for the 'Wolves to reach the next level in their climb out of NBA obscurity with Wiggins sucking up a star's cap space while performing like a mere rotation player. Now, in addition to coming up short in the productivity department, Wiggins is also making waves.

Of course, if we take Wiggins' self-assuredness as proof that it's possible to believe in his stardom with no supporting evidence, maybe that means another team will see him that way and take him off Minnesota's hands.

There's always hope.

      

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, Cleaning the Glass or NBA.com unless otherwise specified. Accurate through games played Wednesday, March 14.

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