Andrew Wiggins is about to reach another NBA scoring milestone. But, to Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, his improvement can be seen in just about every other part of his game.
Still only 22 years old, Wiggins scored 15 points in the Wolves’ 118-107 victory over New Orleans on Saturday night, giving him 5,996 for his career. Wednesday at Cleveland, he presumably will be the sixth-youngest player in league history to reach 6,000 points.
“I think everyone understands what a gifted scorer he is,” Thibodeau said. “He can score the ball a lot of different ways. But what’s happening now, he’s developing a lot of areas in his game as well. Particularly his defense. He’s reading plays, making plays. That’s made him a more complete player, and it’s having a great impact on winning for us.”
Wiggins gave credit for that to the team. “We are more in sync defensively than we were before,” he said. “We’re in the right positions, right spots. I think it’s a team effort.”
As for the scoring? Wiggins said he doesn’t pay much attention to scoring milestones. “But it’s a good thing to hear,” he said. “Keeps the motivation going.”
Part of reaching 6,000 points has to do with Wiggins’ durability. In his fourth season, Wiggins has played in all but one game in his career. Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins have the two longest active iron man streaks in the league. Towns played in his 220th consecutive game, Wiggins his 212th.
Finally, a break
Saturday’s game ended a streak in which the Wolves played 20 games in 35 days. The team has had one practice since Jan. 13, and no NBA team played more games in January than the Wolves (17).
“You know what’s crazy is when you see people who aren’t playing, but traveling with the team, and they’re tired,” Jamal Crawford said.
During that stretch the Wolves have had to improvise, working on things during morning shootarounds and even doing walkthroughs on ballroom floors in hotels that have had the outline of a court taped on the floor.
But a break is coming. The Wolves are off until they play in Cleveland on Wednesday, and the All-Star break is coming soon. They don’t play another back-to-back until late this month. And that’s a good thing, because January was a grind.
“Especially the last two road games against Atlanta and Toronto [both losses],” Taj Gibson said. “We were on a roller coaster mentally. It was tough. No practices, games coming left and right, not enough rest.”
According to an ESPN report, Wolves forward Shabazz Muhammad has asked the team to either trade or release him by Thursday’s deadline. Muhammad, originally drafted with the 14th overall pick in the 2013 draft, has seen his playing time decline this season.
Thibodeau did not comment, saying he had not seen the report. Muhammad declined to comment pregame.
Shortly before training camp, Muhammad, a free agent, signed to return to the Wolves for a fifth season. After a strong preseason, he averaged 16.7 minutes in October. But that quickly dropped off.
He has not played in 24 of the past 33 games, including Saturday’s. For the season he has averaged 9.6 minutes and 3.7 points per game.
Forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired by New Orleans from Chicago in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles’ tear, made his Pelicans debut Saturday, recording 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
Thibodeau was Mirotic’s coach in Chicago as a rookie, and both Jimmy Butler and Gibson were his teammates there. Gibson said Mirotic’s ability to stretch the floor with his shooting will help.
Gibson also lauded the move, saying, “To lose such a talented player like [Cousins], but then to pick up a player like Mirotic, that sends a strong message they’re trying to compete for a playoff spot.”