Andrew Wiggins was nicknamed Maple Jordan, in the hopes that he would become a Canadian version of an American great.
At the end of his fourth season, coming off a performance neither country would want to claim, Wiggins has earned a new alias:
Wednesday night, the Timberwolves will play their biggest game in 14 years. All that is at stake is a playoff berth, validation of their hurry-up-and-win plan and the fading reputation of their maximum-contract project.
If the Wolves win, they will reach 47 victories for the sixth time in franchise history and earn the dubious-if-possibly-valuable experience of getting blown out of a first-round playoff series. If they lose, they will have improved by 15 games in one season and still failed.
Along with the usual scouting reports, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau should issue a personal challenge this morning to Wiggins, who is paid like a superstar and performs with all the reliability of airplane Wi-Fi.
In his last nine games, Wiggins has scored 20 points once and shot 50 percent or better from the field once. During that stretch, he’s averaging 14.4 points on 36.7 percent shooting, although his rebounding and steals numbers (6.4 and 1.7) were better than his season averages.
On Monday, in a win-or-be-laughed-out-of-the-state game, Wiggins made three of his 12 shots and scored seven points in 36 minutes. In a key loss to Denver last week, he got beat to a key rebound late in the game, then defended himself by saying, “I jumped.”
Tuesday, after practice, Wiggins was asked a slew of questions about the biggest game of his NBA career, and he paused before most of his answers, as if he hadn’t given them any prior thought.
His first answer was his best: “This is the biggest game of my basketball career, in general. Not only NBA, but college, on any level, this is the biggest game.”
Let’s see if he plays like he believes that.
In general, Wiggins has slightly improved his floor game of late, but No. 1 picks and maximum contract players are expected to dominate, not meander. Wiggins meanders like a St. Paul side street, playing hard enough in bursts to make us all realize what we’re missing the rest of the time.
Wiggins is one of Thibodeau’s stress points. Signing Wiggins, trading Ricky Rubio, bringing in Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and trading Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for Jimmy Butler — these were the moves of a basketball boss who expected to win immediately. To sell out for the present and miss the playoffs would be the latest disaster for a franchise that could adopt the theme to “Titanic” as its pregame music.
There is nothing wrong with this group winning 46 games. What will nag all spring and summer, should they ever arrive, would be the way a pretty-good Wolves team failed to defend, often failed to make a full effort, and blew winnable games.
Wiggins is at the heart of their failings. He isn’t always engaged on defense — or on offense when he doesn’t have the ball.
The Wolves roster is stocked with effort players. When Wiggins floats, he stands out.
Don’t think the organization doesn’t notice. Butler’s recent comments about effort are directed at Wiggins, whether Butler will ever admit that publicly or not.
Intentionally or passively, Wiggins is positioning himself to be traded. There is a chance that Wednesday will be Wiggins’ last home game at Target Center. If traded, he would leave the franchise that was so thrilled to acquire him without playing in a single playoff game.
Like most talented athletes, Wiggins can write and rewrite his own story at any juncture of his career. Should he excel Wednesday and in the playoffs, he might be able to resurrect his stock. The Wolves are invested in wanting him to succeed.
But the fans who booed the Wolves on Monday night know that Wiggins has damaged his team’s playoff chances as well as his own reputation this season. Now is past time for Meh Jordan to play like he cares.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib.