DENVER – Young Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins invested a summer of sweat and study this past offseason into ball-handling and shooting drills, all in pursuit of becoming an NBA All-Star.
He is not headed to New Orleans for Sunday’s All-Star Game this time around, but it might be the last one without him — and teammate Karl-Anthony Towns as well — for some time at this current pace.
Wiggins worked endless hours with personal skills trainer Drew Hanlen last summer, the evidence of which is on a YouTube video in which Hanlen motivates him by repeating “All-Star, All-Star, All-Star” in his ear while also drawing five extra repetitions out of an exhausted pupil.
“All-Star, that’s when you’re considered one of the best in the NBA,” Wiggins said. “That’s always going to be a goal of mine.”
On Wednesday, Wiggins joined Kevin Love as the only players in franchise history who have scored 40 or more points in consecutive games when he followed Tuesday’s 41-point night against Cleveland with 40 points in a 112-99 victory at Denver.
Love scored 43 and 40 points on consecutive nights at Sacramento and Golden State near season’s end in April 2014.
“Good company,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins has scored at least 20 points in 15 consecutive games. Among Wolves, only Kevin Garnett has surpassed that, twice doing so in 16 consecutive games.
The last time Wiggins failed to score 20 points was Jan. 17, when he was held to 10 at San Antonio.
Wiggins headed into a nine-day All-Star break late Wednesday night while Towns flew Thursday morning to New Orleans to participate in Friday’s Rising Stars game.
Both will watch Sunday’s All-Star Game from afar — if they watch — knowing only one thing is probably keeping them from being there.
“You’ve got to win,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The individual stuff comes when your team does well. I’ve said that to both those guys. When our team wins consistently, everyone gets recognized. I think both those guys are All-Star-type players and you can throw Zach [LaVine] in there as well. But until we win, it’s not going to happen.”
After starting the season 11-26, the Wolves are 11-9 in their past 20 games. Despite such a lousy start, they are 13th in the Western Conference but still only 3½ games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.
To get into the playoffs and receive All-Star recognition someday, Wiggins and Towns must do more than score. They must do what they and their teammates did in Wednesday, when they held the Nuggets — missing five injured or ill players — to 39 second-half points and 32 percent second-half shooting.
Granted, the Nuggets played without Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Emmanuel Mudiay and Darrell Arthur, but the Nuggets also played without those five on Monday and obliterated mighty Golden State 132-110 by tying an NBA record by making 24 three-pointers.
“We have to win and the only way we’re going to win is to play both sides of the ball,” Thibodeau said. “All three of those guys have to grow defensively.”
While Thibodeau waits, Wiggins has elevated his offense to another place. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft became the fourth player under age 22 to reach 40 points in consecutive games.
The others: LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Allen Iverson.
Wiggins turns 22 on Thursday.
“I’m just playing my game,” he said. “I’m confident. My shots are falling. I feel like I’m in a good rhythm.”
Wiggins scored 19 points in the third quarter alone during a 116-108 home loss Tuesday to the Cavaliers, the team that drafted him in 2014 and traded him as part of a package for Love that summer before he ever played a regular-season game for Cleveland.
Wiggins scored 17 in the first quarter at Denver, while Towns contributed a 24-point, 19-rebound performance Wednesday. Wiggins scored his 40th and final point after he asked teammate Ricky Rubio if he could take a penalty free throw with 90 seconds left.
“Ricky was supposed to take it,” Wiggins said. “But he let me have it.”
Rubio customarily takes such shots, this one awarded after Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic was called for a dead-ball foul. But he deferred this time and Wiggins made the shot after missing two free throws earlier in the fourth quarter.
“Ricky, he’s a good vet,” Wiggins said, smiling.