Forgive Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns if he sounds like he has seen it all at the tender age of 20. Until Monday, he said he had never seen someone do what teammate Andrew Wiggins did that night.
“You know what?” he asked. “I’ve never in my time seen 21 free throws in a game for a person.”
He wasn’t there when Dwight Howard set an NBA record by shooting 39 free throws during a 2012 game, then did it again a season later. He wasn’t there when Kevin Love set the Wolves’ record by attempting 24 free throws in December 2011.
But Towns was there for the Wolves’ 121-116 home victory over Phoenix on Monday, when Wiggins set career highs by shooting 21 free throws and making 17 of them on his way to a 32-point game. That’s Wiggins’ eighth 30-point game this season and the 12th of his short career.
“You look up there and you say, ‘How did he have 32 points, he only took 13 shots?’ ” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “That’s how he efficient he can be at times.”
Wiggins did so Monday by making his first three three-point shot attempts through the third quarter’s opening seconds. Stretch the defense out to the three-point line and space to the basket opens for Wiggins and his teammates as well.
Wiggins was asked after Monday’s game if there’s a correlation between his 3-for-5 shooting from three-point range Monday night and his 21 free throws shot.
“Definitely,” he said. “You know, when I’m hitting shots, the defenders are on their feet. Now I can go either way: Right, left, I can pass it. When I hit shots early, it opens things up for everybody on the floor.”
Since February 1, Wiggins has made 22 of 54 three-point attempts. That’s 40.7 percent. For the entire season, he’s shooting 29 percent.
“I’ve just been shooting without thinking,” he said, explaining his improvement the last two months, “and I’ve been making ’em.”
Wiggins has increased his scoring average by nearly four points this season, from 16.9 a game last season to 20.7 points this season. He ranks 20th in the league in scoring and is ninth in free throw attempts at 7.2 a game.
He has become more efficient as the threat of his three-point shot has improved.
“That helps him a lot, gets his confidence rolling,” Towns said. “It allows him to expand his game even more than it already is. He does a great job getting to the basket, attacking and pressuring the defense. It opens up his game for the rest of the game. … He attacks the basket so well. That’s just a testament to how great a slasher he is.”
Mitchell calls Wiggins’ improved three-point shooting a matter of hard work, and perhaps simply maturation and time’s passing.
Mitchell was asked how opposing defenses will be affected as Wiggins’ shooting gets even better still.
“You need me to tell you that?” Mitchell asked. “The fact that he can dribble the ball and put the ball on the floor, any time you have a guy who can do the things going to the basket Andrew can do. If he starts making the three at a 35-, 36-percent clip, what do you give him?
“He finds seams to attack the basket and then he’s always making the right pass at the right time or the right play. Somebody asked me how difficult he is to guard when he makes threes. Well, you saw it. When you’re running at him and he’s so quick getting to the basket and all he needs is a seam to get there, he forces you to foul him.”
As Wiggins’ confidence grows, so does his willingness to attempt threes.
“I look to shoot ’em in games,” Wiggins said. “I’ll take it if it’s there. If it’s not there and I feel good about it, I’ll still take it.”
Staff writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this report.