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Letting His Play Do The Talking

by Kyle Ratke
Web Editor
@Kyle_Ratke

He’s not the loudest guy in the room. He’s very modest. He doesn’t require the attention. Some people say he should be louder. He needs to take over in games, they say. Why does he defer to his teammates in late games?

This player we are talking about is Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins was the most highly-regarded player coming out high school since LeBron James. During his first and only season with the Kansas Jayhawks, he backed those reviews up, averaging 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He was a consensus All-America Second Team member.  He was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and named to the First Team All-Big 12 Team.

Still, though, coming into the draft, there were questions or not if Wiggins could be “the guy” on a team.

“Here's what you have to look at: (Kansas) had a good team and they had a lot of good players,” said Wolves President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Flip Saunders. “So I look at that more being not a negative but a positive and a player that is willing to play within a team concept and not just be a one-man show. So he showed his ability to play with other good players.”

Wiggins has said all along that playing on a team like Kansas had its ups and downs. Kansas coach Bill Self has never relied on one star on his team. We’ve seen players like Ben McLemore struggle with this in the past. This previous season, Wiggins had fellow lottery pick Joel Embiid in the post. For the good of the team, both players got touches, and rightfully so.

But then Embiid injured his back and didn’t play a single game after March 2. What did Wiggins do after that? Oh, he just averaged 20.8 points per game, including a 30 point explosion in the Big 12 Tournament against Oklahoma State to go along with eight rebounds and five steals.

The experience at Kansas ended with Wiggins being drafted No. 1 overall and prepared him for some of the media attention he’ll receive in the NBA.

“I think being ranked No. 1 out of high school really helped and then going to a school like Kansas, one of those schools where they treat basketball players like rock stars, has prepared me for the spot light,” the kid they call Maple Jordan said. “It's prepared me for stuff like this. It was a pretty easy transition.”

The reason the Kevin Love trade went down was because of Wiggins. Saunders told reporters that if it wasn’t for the Toronto native, Love likely wouldn’t be in Cleveland right now.

If there are questions whether or not Wiggins is a leader or not, we’ll find out shortly. Then again, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a 19-year-old. Most 19-year-olds just moved into their college apartment and have a case of Bud Light in their fridge.

This Minnesota team is one without a clear No.1 player. Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic are very nice pieces to the puzzle. Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger are veteran wing players. Thaddeus Young is a capable power forward who is coming off of his best season as a pro  - which might have a bit to do with Philadelphia’s total rebuild. Ricky Rubio is a nice player and is one of the best passers and defensive point guards in the game. His shooting, though, must improve for him to be considered a top-tier player.

The most logical choice to step up is Wiggins, but to his advantage, the pressure won’t be on him to.

“I have a philosophy, I've coached a lot of young players in the past, and I've always said I give players responsibility and as much responsibility as they can accept and continue to grow and improve then I give them more responsibility,” Saunders said. ‘If they can't accept that then they take a step back. I expect him to accept a lot of responsibility from the beginning and see where that goes.”

The talent of Wiggins is there, obviously. He was the No. 1 pick in a stacked draft. Experts like his shot and his explosion to the basket. But the thing that sets him apart is something that the Timberwolves dreadfully need – his defense.

It’s easy to scoff at the thought of defense. It’s dull. It doesn’t end up on the highlight film, at least not the ones fans are watching. When we think about the stars of the NBA, we think of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Sure, both can score, but both are also pretty darn good defenders.

It’s also unlikely the NBA’s champion will be poor on the defensive end. Since 2000, only one team finished outside of the top-half of points allowed per game. That was the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers, who allowed 97.2 points per game, ranking 23rd in the league.

That team had two players (we bet you’ll never guess…) who averaged more than 28 points per game. This is an outlier. Don’t kid yourself, defense still wins championships more times than not. Obviously offense is still important. The Chicago Bulls proved that last season. That’s why Flip Saunders is attempting to acquire as many two-way players as he can.

“He (Wiggins) was our No. 1 guy (on the draft board in 2014),” Saunders said. “Like everybody else, everybody had them (Wiggins, Parker) 1-2. It was a good draft but we felt just where it was, I say that my thing is two-way players, I felt he was the most ready-made two-way player in draft who had offensive skills but also had defensive ability.”

Timberwolves fans aren’t quite sure what to expect from Wiggins in his career. Heck, they aren’t even quite sure what to expect from him during his rookie season. Chances are he’ll be calm, cool and collected. He’ll have some dunks; he’ll make some impressive shots. He’ll impressive us with his athleticism and his ability to be a lockdown defender.

He’ll be asked to speak up, to be more vocal.

The answer will be on the court and Timberwolves fans hope that it will be plenty loud.