Written by: Jas Grewal
There’s no qualm in the belief that the Minnesota Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins has separated himself from the rest of the league’s first year players, and it seems as though the award, which will be announced after the season’s conclusion, is his to lose – a great feat considering he would be the first Canadian born player to nab the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
The “Rock Chalk” Jayhawk slowly adapted to the NBA’s brute physicality and sonic-esque speed after having a rough month or so to begin his rookie campaign. Through 82 regular season games, Wiggins averaged 16.9 ppg, 4.6 reb on close to 44% shooting from the floor in 36 minutes of action – all despite being labeled ‘raw’ and ‘unrefined’ by experts and scouts. His tremendous upside alone is reason to believe that those numbers will only improve as his career unfolds.
It’s not so much his numbers as of now that draws attention, but rather his steady, consistent improvement – especially through months of December and January- that gives him the advantage over a more offensively polished Nikola Mirotic (Chicago Bulls) or a defensive anchoring machine in Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers) – two players who have at least been around professional basketball prior to their rookie campaigns (Noel suffered a devastating season ending injury early last year, hence why he’s a rookie this year).
It also helps that the Vaughan, On, native had won four straight ‘Rookie of the Month’ awards throughout the regular season, tying Damian Lillard for most consecutive awards ever. (Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson captured the March award).
Wiggins was fortunate enough to play a good deal of minutes, giving him the virtue of feeling out the game more effectively and playing through mistakes without much consequence.
The 6’8” forward began the NBA campaign averaging 12.3 ppg on 38% from the floor in 13 contests, which is comprehensible for a rookie, especially one who was highly touted coming out of college and carries an inordinate amount of pressure on his shoulders.
But his numbers from December on were more than impressive. His minutes per game increased, which can be attributed to the T’ Wolves injury woes; he upped his points per game; his free throw attempts, field goal percentage, rebound and assist rate all improved dramatically, as well. The only category where Wiggins saw a drop in figures, more or less, was his three point attempts and percentage – much of that can be credited to his propensity to attack the hoop more as the season progressed, as opposed to settling for three pointers which he did earlier on in the campaign, and also because Coach Flip Saunders didn’t want the rookie taking a whole lot of them – which is perhaps the biggest reason for his decline in letting it go from behind the arc.
He has the tools to become a superstar in the league, and even more impressive, a dominant two-way player with unparalleled athleticism, but it’s up to him whether or not he meets or even exceeds those expectations.
“He’s the number one pick and not only did he come into the league and live up to all expectations, but in some ways I think he even exceeded them because there were so many question marks around him and he just did a great job responding to that”, said Leo Rautins, former Head Coach of the Canadian Senior Men’s National basketball team and current TV analyst for the Toronto Raptors.
Amidst all the hoopla surrounding Wiggins in his first year in the league, perhaps the biggest upshot that may well come from him winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award is the impact that it can have on Canadian youth and Canada basketball as a whole.
Steve Nash had already set a precedent for Canadians when he won back-to-back MVP awards with the Phoenix Suns, so in a sense the bar has already been set for aspiring basketball players in Canada.
Wiggins, who is much younger and can, therefore, have a more desired effect on the younger generation, carries a similar aura. If the former Huntington Prep star does win the award, which seems like the likely scenario, then it’s possible that more and more Canadian players will entertain the idea of playing the game competitively and perhaps carry a yearning to play in the NBA.
In a sense, both players provide Canadian basketball players with a glimmer of hope and optimism. The fact that Nash was able to make it to the league and dominate as a point guard, all despite not having elite athleticism or lightening quick speed, is reason enough to believe that you can make it.
“Steve gives you that idea that if you work hard enough then anything can happen and to become a two time MVP in the NBA is incredible – especially when you do it in your 30s. So every kid can look at him and say ‘wow, if he can do it then why can’t I?’”, said Rautins.
“[Steve], in my opinion, is the everyday guy. I always tell people if you didn’t know who Steve Nash was and you walked in the gym, you wouldn’t notice him. If Andrew Wiggins walked in you’d notice him off size alone,” added Rautins.
Wiggins epitomizes highlight reel basketball and will soon become the face of the NBA. That alone should be more than enough to leave an impression on the younger generation and encourage them to try and become the next Andrew Wiggins.
It’s only a matter of time before Wiggins replaces Kevin Durant and LeBron James as every kid’s favourite player.
We saw how Canada revered and appreciated Nash after his 17 year career ended about a month or so ago, one can only imagine how Wiggins will be coddled by Canadians nation wide once he nears the culmination of his career—which one can hope will be an illustrious one. .
One thing we do know, however, is that Canadians will have Wiggins’ back throughout his long and exciting journey, just like they had Kid Canada’s back when he was dominating the Association from the point guard spot.
Written by Jas Grewal
Photo Courtesy ESPN Api
Edited by Drew Ebanks