Outwardly, not much has changed.
Andrew Wiggins’ body language has remained inscrutable, with fewer tells than a poker player, even as the Timberwolves moved from playoff contenders, to a playoff berth, and now three games into the team’s first-round playoff series with Houston.
But something has changed.
Without Jimmy Butler’s facial expressions, without Karl-Anthony Towns’ sometimes frenetic gestures, Wiggins is making his playoff mark. In Saturday night’s 121-105 victory at Target Center, Wiggins scored 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting and also had five rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block. At the start of the game, as the Wolves were trying to set a tone in their first home playoff game since 2004, Wiggins made both his three-point attempts, had three rebounds and two assists with 10 points in the first 12 minutes.
So often this season, to many fans, Wiggins stoicism played as indifference. Now, that same demeanor is starting to look like calm under pressure.
“You guys know Andrew,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after Sunday’s relatively short practice. “He burns inside. But he controls his emotions really well. He’s really played well down the stretch here for us.”
In three playoff games Wiggins is scoring 17.0 points, just a slight dip from his regular-season average of 17.7. But his shooting percentage is up, both overall and on three-pointers. He is grabbing two more rebounds per game and dishing out an extra assist. And his defense has improved. For a player in his first playoff series, Wiggins has been remarkably steady.
“Just trying to stay aggressive,” Wiggins said. “Anything to help the team win, really. And trying to get after it defensively. I like games like this. There’s a lot on the line. I feel I play good under pressure.”
Especially if it appears you’re not feeling that pressure.
But there is no question Wiggins has been more aggressive in this series, buying into the idea of drawing defenders then passing the ball. He was one of seven Wolves players with multiple assists Saturday. He has clearly been more active on defense. And his three-point shooting, something he did at a 33.1 percent clip during the regular season, us up to 41.6 percent in the playoffs.
Veteran forward Taj Gibson said he is seeing Wiggins slowly come out of his shell.
“I was happy I was able to get into this playoffs with him and go through the process with him,” Gibson said. “Because he’s a joy to watch and he’s growing and he’s just being more aggressive. He’s starting to really take the game to a new level, as far as taking his matchup serious. He’s starting to really dislike the guy in the other jersey. He’s really into the hunt of the game and I’m loving it.”
Given the importance of the game, and Wiggins’ efficiency, Saturday’s victory might have been one of his best games in a Wolves uniform. Perhaps he is in the process of going from impassive wallflower to quiet efficiency.
“He’s a ninja,” Towns said. “He’s very laid back. It seems like a lot of times he’s so silent, even when he plays, that you forget all the work he’s done.’’