Andrew Wiggins knew it was time to take a big step, and it started with a big decision.
Thursday night Wiggins, having just scored 35 points in the Wolves’ one-sided victory over Philadelphia, was sitting in his locker talking about how he spent his summer vacation. By not really taking one.
Wiggins had improved upon his Rookie of the Year season, averaging better than 20 points a game in a season that started with him being 20 years old. But it was time for more. And so he decided not to play for the Canadian team in an Olympic qualifier, opting instead to spend the summer in the gym working on his shot and his ballhandling.
“I felt like this third year really had to be the year for me to establish myself,’’ he said. “I sacrificed, and it’s paying off.’’
Wiggins is off to one of the best starts in team history.
His 301 points are the most in team history for the first 11 games. He has scored 30 or more three times, over 40 once. He is shooting 49.3 percent overall, 52.3 percent on three-pointers, averaging 27.4 points per game.
He has found that zone where hard work and confidence meet. On Thursday, Wiggins made 14 of 20 shots; it got to the point where he was convinced everything he put up was going to go in.
“Even when it wasn’t feeling good,’’ he said. “Like one of my threes felt horrible. It went in and I laughed.’’
But this is serious business. Wiggins has shown he can hit the three-pointer. Put that together with his ability to handle the ball and his growing ability to read defenses and the result is that the pick-and-roll with center Karl-Anthony Towns is proving lethal at times. It’s no coincidence that his assists are up, too.
“When you get Karl and Wigg in a pick-and-roll, you’re going to get something good,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It puts enormous pressure on a defense. Then, if we have good movement on the weak side, that opens up a lot of other things on that side as well.’’
As good as Wiggins’ numbers are through 11 games, it’s over the past six that he has taken off, averaging 33 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in that time.
It’s his best stretch in a Wolves uniform.
“I told him that on the bench,” Towns said after Thursday’s game. “He’s playing at an absolute high level.’’
Play under the pick and he’ll hit a three-pointer. Pay too much attention to Towns and Wiggins will drive and score. Double on Wiggins, and Towns — who scored 25 points on 12-for-18 shooting Thursday — will make a team pay.
“His strength is the versatility,’’ Thibodeau said. “You can post him up. You can put him in pick-and-roll. He can be the screener or the ballhandler. He can run, catch and shoot. He moves well without the ball. He knows how to draw fouls. And when you have the ability to get to the line the way he does, that’s a huge plus.’’
For Wiggins, the best thing is seeing the work he put in through the summer on his own and in the fall with the team paying off.
“It makes me want to work even more,’’ he said. “I’m going to work even harder next offseason. Because I’m seeing the results this season.’’
Thibodeau knows teams will adjust. “They’re going to see different defenses now,” he said. “They’re going to be trapped more. And now you have the responsibility to hit the open man. If we’re doing the right things, that’s easy offense.”