Sleepy or cool? Apathetic or poised? A developing young talent or a blight on the franchise that made him rich?
Sunday night, in the Timberwolves’ home opener, Andrew Wiggins proved that the most appropriate unifying theory regarding his career is that he is an amenable enigma.
After three quarters in which he looked sluggish and lost, Wiggins won a game from the three-point line and got mobbed on the bench by an undefeated team in front of a suddenly rowdy crowd. Sources say he even smiled.
Wiggins had shot poorly in the first two games, although his ability to drive to the basket had helped deliver a victory in Brooklyn.
At one point early in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Wiggins was 0-for-13 from the three-point line. The Wolves had blown a large early lead and were facing an ugly, error-filled loss, and Wiggins was in line for a share of the blame.
The Heat led 99-96 with about five minutes remaining. Wiggins drew a foul and made both free throws. After Karl-Anthony Towns made a free throw, Wiggins converted an offensive rebound, then made his first three-pointer of the season, giving the Wolves a 104-101 lead.
Then Wiggins hit another three. And another. And the man who couldn’t shoot straight had become the closer in a 116-109 victory that kept the dream of an undefeated season (or at least October) alive.
When Gersson Rosas became the Wolves’ basketball boss, there was a loud cry from Wolves fans to ditch Wiggins regardless of the return. But there was no market for Wiggins. The wise move, even if the organization didn’t believe in Wiggins, was to improve him, whether for the purpose for trading or keeping him.
Three games into the season, Wiggins often has looked like the same player who maddens fans. He also has been instrumental in two victories.
“I’m very proud of Wig,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “Everybody knows how I feel about Wig. He’s going to have a very good year. It’s going to take time for all of it to come together with our emphasis and changing of systems, but he is going to have a good year.
“I’m in his corner. I want to make sure he knows that, but we’re also going to do things the right way. We have a plethora of wings on this team that we can go to, as well, and these guys know that.”
When Wiggins took a couple of unwise shots in the first half, Saunders briefly benched him. “I did it on the court,” Saunders said. “A lot can be made of relationships, and I know a lot of people might roll their eyes at the relationship aspect of coaching and things with players, but that goes both ways.
“Taking Andrew out and him being able to refocus with things, he didn’t hang his head by any means, we got him back in there pretty quick and he ended up putting together a nice stat line and playing 36 minutes. That’s something I credit him for, a lot.’’
Wiggins made nine of 18 shots to finish with a team-high 25 points, with six rebounds and no assists. In the fourth quarter he was 5-for-7 from the field, 4-for-5 from three and a plus-14.
If Wiggins has an advantage over Type A personalities, it may be that he is the rare maximum-contract player who is not offended by hard coaching.
“I made a lot of dumb decisions, and I told him to keep me accountable,” Wiggins said of Saunders. “If I do something wrong, make me pay for it. He did that. I feel like that woke me up, too. I’ve got to be better.”
Saunders tempers his coaching with predictions. “Every day, he’s telling me I’m going to have a good year, just trust him and trust in the system,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins spoke in the same, quiet, voice he uses when he gets booed. He’s not going to change as a person.
Can he change as a player?
Seems to be worth a try.