Andrew Wiggins is the NBA’s next big star and, based on his current trajectory, should be considered a shoe-in for the 2017 All-Star game.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were amidst a four-game Western Conference road trip and had lost five games in a row. The entire organization understands that it is in rebuilding mode, but a win here and there is always nice validation for the process as a whole. Desperate to lift the collective team spirit, the Timberwolves were preparing to face the Los Angeles Clippers one night after losing a disappointing, tight game to the terrible Los Angeles Lakers.
Against the Lakers, Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins played 41 total minutes and did everything he could to keep his team in the game, scoring 30 points on 65% shooting, hauling in four rebounds, and adding two blocks.
One of the biggest differences between great players and stars in the NBA is how they handle back-to-back games. Star players are expected to dominate night in and night out, whereas great players are not always saddled with those expectations. For someone desiring to take the next step, like Wiggins, these kinds of games serve as a great measuring stick to see how far along a player has progressed from “great” to “star.”
In the game against the Clippers the following night, Wiggins again gave his team a little bit of everything while playing 37 minutes. He shot 57% from the floor, scored 31 points, grabbed four rebounds, and picked up two blocks and lead his team to a 108-102 victory over the fourth-best team in the Western Conference.
The sophomore completed a variety of fade-away shots, pull up jumpers, powerful dunks, and a few three-pointers for good measure in a game that not only foreshadowed what Wiggins can do, but also showed what he is doing on a consistent basis. It showed that Wiggins is not only sliding into the role of a star, but he is already there. It showed that he is ahead of schedule and should undoubtedly be selected as one of the faces of the NBA’s future.
As a whole, Minnesota has been a great place for Wiggins to focus on his game and continue to improve, especially his shooting form, which has already progressed from last year despite his increase in shot total. However, the downside to the land of 10,000 lakes is the fact that publicity can sometimes become scarce, especially on a national level.
While major media outlets have been ogling over the Splash Brothers and the surprising emergence of Kristaps Porzingis in New York, and justifiably so on both account, little to nothing has been made of Wiggins and his 20.8 points per game, good for 16th in the NBA. Wiggins ranks ahead of notable All-Star selections like Draymond Green of the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard in this category. Points per game is not the only category in which Wiggins excels, though.
Due to his incredible athleticism and length, defense is also an area of strength for Wiggins, as he frequently takes on the opposing team’s toughest assignment, such as LeBron James or Leonard. In a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in the season, Wiggins held James to 5-12 shooting for only 13 points, well below his average of 25 per game, and in their rematch, he forced James into an uncharacteristically-high four turnovers. Wiggins outdueled Leonard when the Timberwolves played the San Antonio Spurs, as well, outscoring the opposing small forward 18 to 17.
When it came time to vote for this year’s All-Star game, Wiggins was a shoe-in for the Rising Stars game, in which first- and second-year players face off against each other. Even though he was statistically better than Kobe Bryant, it is hard to make a case for anyone reaching the All-Star game over Bryant. To be fair, having The Black Mamba starting was a great moment for everyone involved, as fans across the globe were able to see Bryant play in his last All-Star game; the league was able to celebrate one of their most popular spokesmen; and the players were able to wish farewell to a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The only loser in this situation was Wiggins, due to the fact that Bryant’s spot might have belonged to him instead.
However, Bryant will retire following the conclusion of the 2015-2016 season, and his spot will be open for the first time since 1998. Even though there are numerous qualified candidates for this spot, it should be a no-brainer to give this slot to Wiggins. With his qualifications and career trajectory, it is safe to say that this article can officially be considered as the first vote and endorsement for Wiggins as a 2017 All-Star.
To start, Wiggins’ offense alone makes him a worthy candidate. Cut out of the same cloth as players like Bryant, Leonard, and Pacers forward Paul George, the uber-athletic and ultra-durable Wiggins is already well ahead of the “schedule” that all three of these players followed.
In Bryant’s first year in the league, he played in 71 games and averaged 7.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. He followed this up in his sophomore year by improving to 15.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Even though he was voted to the All-Star game in his second season, it was not until his third and fourth years when Bryant averaged 19.9 and 22.5 points per game respectively that he was able to truly take over games and graduate from a great player to a star.
Leonard was on a much slower path than Bryant and was not voted to his first All-Star until this season. During his first four seasons, Leonard only averaged 7.9, 11.9, 12.8, and 16.5 points per game respectively. Leonard has truly taken the leap to stardom this past year, as he is averaging 20.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. It is fair to mention, though, that currently Leonard is three spots below Wiggins in the points per game rankings for the 2015-2016 season, despite his unbelievable defensive prowess.
George, on the other hand, has experienced quick ascension to stardom. In his first three seasons, George averaged a respectable 7.8, 12.1, and 17.4 points per game and it was in his third season when George finally punched his own ticket to the All-Star game. Note, though, that he was unable to eclipse the 20 points per game mark until his fourth season.
In comparison to these three, Wiggins averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in his first season and has already improved to 20.8 points despite the dip in rebounds during his sophomore year. It took four or five years for each of the other three to reach the 20-point plateau. From purely a “points perspective,” Wiggins makes a strong case that he not only deserves to be in next year’s All-Star game, but that he could have been in this year’s game, as well.
However, as any good basketball fan knows, it is not all about the points.
The other three players gradually improved their rebounds and assists. Wiggins, however, has decreased his rebound and assist averages from his rookie year statistics. Plus, each of the other players also improved their blocks and steals by almost one apiece in their “jump year” from greatness to stardom, whereas Wiggins has made no improvements on the steals and blocks front, yet.
However, the fact that these are the largest complaints about Wiggins’ performance in only his second year in the league should strike fans more as impressive than frustrating. Often, it takes players three, four, or, in the case of Leonard, five years just to establish themselves as an offensive weapon. Wiggins has already accomplished this in his second season. Now, it is simply a matter of consistency and improvement. His offensive output needs to be consistent on a nightly basis—also known as “no more 2-11, five point performances.” Because his offense is already so accomplished, Wiggins should be able to work on improving the other parts of his game, like rebounding and passing, in order for him to obtain a more balanced and overall-dominant game.
One aspect that Wiggins has already improved is shooting percentage. In Bryant’s first two years, he shot 42% and 43% from the field. Wiggins, on the other hand, shot 44% in his rookie season and is currently shooting 45%. Even compared to a current bona-fide superstar like George (right), who just dropped 41 points in the All-Star game, Wiggins’ shooting statistics (left) are quite similar.
In the long run, the real question is who will challenge Wiggins for a spot on next year’s All-Star team. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are both extremely talented scoring guards for the Portland Trailblazers and are most likely the closest competitors for Wiggins. However, the biggest problem for these players is that combo-scoring guards such as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul are already All-Star game fixtures and will not be leaving the contest anytime soon.
Luckily for Wiggins, there are only two other “true” shooting guards in the Western Conference and, due to his versatility, he can play both the guard and forward position. Plus, unfortunately for the Trailblazers’ dynamic duo, they will most likely monopolize each other’s votes, as Portland fans will be split between the two guards.
This same theory applies for another impressive backcourt duo in Phoenix, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, both of whom may split Suns fans’ votes in future seasons. Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward is another player who has sights set on the All-Star game, yet unfortunately for him, after six years in the NBA, his ceiling is simply not as high nor as impressive as Wiggins’.
In the end, Wiggins is the perfect compliment for a Western Conference All-Star team that is losing Bryant. Undoubtedly, he has the tools and potential to take the next step. In fact, he is already in the process of blooming from simply a great first and second-year player to one of the league’s stars. With numerous highlight reel dunks already to his name, Wiggins is not only the next shooting guard that fans will want, but the next star they need.
Just as Bryant monopolized the shooting guard slot for the past 16 All-Star games, so too, will Wiggins beginning in 2017. The NBA needs a replacement for Bryant, and even though it will be near impossible for any player to do so, the league should look no further than Minnesota’s 20-year-old shooting guard. Without a doubt, the 2016 All-Star game should be the last without Wiggins’ monstrous dunks and incredible athleticism for quite some time.
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