There was music in the air at Timberwolves practice Thursday, and it had been a long time since Andrew Wiggins said he heard tunes in the background a practice.
“I don’t know. College?” he said.
With the installation of Ryan Saunders as interim coach for the fired Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves will have some additional accompaniment when they practice and Wiggins got to be in charge of the playlist at Thursday’s session.
“I told them to play all Drake,” Wiggins said, referencing the rapper/singer and fellow Canadian.
After Wiggins’ 40-point night in Saunders’ victorious debut Tuesday night at Oklahoma City, the Wolves would have lived with it if he wanted to play nothing but somebody singing the phone book.
In advance of his first home game as a head coach Friday against Dallas, Saunders stated what every Wolves fan has seen since Wiggins donned an NBA uniform for the first time:
“We always say an engaged Andrew Wiggins is a very good Andrew Wiggins. So the more we can keep him engaged, especially early in the game when he’s running with everything, the better.”
Saunders has said he is going to implement the changes he wants to make to the Wolves gradually, but one point of emphasis he displayed in Tuesday’s game was the need to get Wiggins involved early and often. Thibodeau would do that as well, often running sets for Wiggins early in games, but Saunders wanted the Wolves to get out in transition as much as possible — and have the 6-8 forward attack the rim when the Wolves are able to run.
“I feel like transition is easier [to attack],” Wiggins said. “Especially against a team like OKC, because their half-court defense is very good and transition is where I thrive. I feel like I’m good at finishing around the rim and my teammates were looking for me so I was just getting out and just running.”
Wiggins said he liked the fact that in transition he is often able to exploit mismatches, since the person who would normally guard him might be out of position.
Point guard Jeff Teague said he and Wiggins made it a point to run following opponents’ free throws and were able to execute that a few times against the Thunder.
“I got to get him some buckets — free throws or something — to get him going,” Teague said. “Everything starts going for him. He starts making his midrange shot and his three.”
Wiggins was able to hit a number of difficult shots on his way to those 40 points, shooting 11-for-24 from the floor, but perhaps the statistic most indicative of his engagement level was his 10 rebounds, which were four more than his previous season high. He also attempted 18 free throws, making 16 — both easily season-highs.
The question going forward is if this was a one-game aberration for Wiggins. Was it just a product of playing at Oklahoma City, a place where Wiggins seems to thrive? In the past few seasons, Wiggins hasn’t been able to play at that level on a consistent basis. There have been nights where Wiggins is engaged, and he uses his elite athleticism to get to the basket and become a nightmare for opponents.
But if Saunders and his close relationship with Wiggins — he said earlier this week he has “trust” in Saunders — can unlock the 23-year-old to play with that kind of effort and tenacity on a nightly basis, then Saunders’ time as coach will be a productive one for the Wolves, however long it lasts.
“I just felt like I was getting better,” Wiggins said. “I didn’t know I was going to have a game like that, but I felt like I was getting better, more comfortable on the floor. Back to how it was a couple years ago. Being aggressive, staying aggressive and asserting myself in different ways.”
Now, to keep it going.