As the Timberwolves lurch toward the start of the regular season Wednesday after a disruptive and drama-filled preseason, one fundamental question about their future remains unchanged.

Can Andrew Wiggins, whose five-year, $148 million extension kicks in this season, ever make good on the potential advertised by his athleticism, or is he — after four years — already a lost cause beyond being a decent scoring wing?

First take: Michael Rand

As someone never on the Wiggins bandwagon — even before his particularly disappointing fourth season — I’m in the lost cause camp.

At media day two weeks ago, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau gushed about Jimmy Butler and referenced that Karl-Anthony Towns was a “very special player.” The nicest thing he could say about Wiggins was that he’s scored 6,000 points in the NBA.

Wiggins increased his scoring each of his first three seasons, but that was largely because his usage rate and shot attempts kept going up. His efficiency leveled off, his assist rate and rebound rate never really improved and his defense was subpar.

Everything got worse when Jimmy Butler arrived. But even without Butler (eventually), I don’t think Wiggins can be magically fixed.

Columnist Chip Scoggins: I tend to fall into the lost cause camp, too, if we’re talking about him ever reaching the level that many of us expected when he came into the league. Yes, he can score, but he has averaged 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for his career.

With Butler last season, Wiggins stopped attacking the basket and settled for long jumpers. His scoring production and role should increase without Butler, but a person can’t change his temperament and I just don’t see Wiggins ever showing that competitive fire that will make him an elite NBA player.

Rand: He made minor defensive strides last year and worked to take more three-pointers (26 percent of all shot attempts, more than 10 points higher than his career mark going into last year) while reducing his long twos.

But he doesn’t make enough threes (just 33.1 percent last year) to be efficient, and he compounded the problem last season by attacking the basket at a career-low rate (just 22.9 percent of his field goal attempts were at the rim, compared to more than 30 percent his first three years combined).

You can say he’s being misused by Thibodeau or suffered playing alongside Butler, but even if both have elements of truth they don’t add up to justifiable faith — just far-fetched hope that he’ll improve.

Scoggins: The other thing is, being young and inexperienced can’t be used as an excuse anymore. This is his fifth NBA season. The league is not new to him. And improvement is not as simple as flipping a switch and becoming drastically better in different areas.

Not saying he can’t improve, but he has a long way to go before anyone would describe him as a complete player and bona fide star.

Rand: Butler is right about one thing: Wiggins is the most athletically gifted player on the team. He’s still just 23, but you’re right. He’s entering Byron Buxton territory: too old to be a prospect anymore.

Final word: Scoggins

And starting this season, he’s being paid like a max player, so the Wolves have to hope that he starts playing like one. Maybe we’ll see a different Wiggins if/when Butler is traded, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

 

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