In what should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the 2014-15 NBA season, Andrew Wiggins will become the first Timberwolves player to be named the league’s Rookie of the Year, according to a league source.
The official announcement will be made Thursday.
It was, as many of Wiggins’ points came during the season, a slam dunk.
Wiggins led all rookies per game in points, minutes, field goals and free throws while becoming the only Wolves player to appear in all 82 games. Wiggins, the former first overall pick by Cleveland who was acquired in the Kevin Love trade in August, won the first four Western Conference rookie of the month awards of the season, scored in double figures in 69 of 82 games, had 20 or more points 31 times and scored at least 30 four times.
At one point during the season, when asked about the rookie of the year discussion, Wolves president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders said, flatly, “There’s no discussion.”
He was right. Especially after Milwaukee rookie Jabari Parker was lost for the season to a left knee injury Dec. 15.
As Saunders said at his season-ending meeting with the media, Wiggins is the cornerstone for where he hopes the franchise is heading.
“If you look at the teams that are successful right now … they all have a player who can create, who can create plays out of nothing,” Saunders said. “They get to the free-throw line. For the first time, pretty much in this organization, we have a player who can do that.”
Wiggins, 20, led all rookies in free-throw attempts (5.7 per game) and free throws made (4.3). Over the final 15 games of the season, which Wiggins ended with a flourish — scoring 20 or more points in 11 of those games — those averages were 15 free-throw attempts per game and 12.1 made.
“To be point-blank, he can make something happen out of nothing,” Saunders continued. “He got to the free-throw line, in the last two months, second [in the league] to [Houston guard James] Harden. He scored at a high level. He attacked the basket.”
This despite playing big minutes on a team dealing with injuries from start to finish, despite nearly always having to guard the other team’s best perimeter player. And despite, on many nights, being the opposition’s top defensive priority.
“Offensively, defensively, just being the person that I am off the court, I learned a lot,” Wiggins said before the Wolves’ final game. “I’ve grown a lot since [training camp].”
Wiggins came to the Wolves as a quiet 19-year-old who had played one season at Kansas. He had a reputation of being too deferential on the court. Over the course of the season, Wiggins came out of his shell, both on the field and off.
Saunders, talking about Wiggins’ growing in all areas over the course of the season, joked that you can tell how much he’s grown because now, instead of giving the media one-word answers, he gives three-word answers.
In a more serious vein, Saunders said: “Overall, [it’s] how he carries himself, how he communicates, everything. Just how he has been much more comfortable in everything he does with everybody — with me, the coaching staff, with all the players, training staff, with everybody. He has grown more than you thought he was capable of.”
And that has been noticed.
“I watched him in college,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “I don’t know if it was the system or if he was a bit more reserved in college. But watching him now, I’m like, ‘He’s going to be a superstar.’ ”
Portland coach Terry Stotts isn’t quite ready to use the word superstar yet. “I’m reluctant to put too much on a young player as far as expectations,” he said.
“I think he’s a fantastic young player and he has an incredible future in front of him,” Stotts said. “But it’s in front of him. He’s not there yet.”
The good thing is Wiggins appears to grasp that. When he was asked what was the most memorable thing about his rookie season, here’s what he said: “Just all the losses. [I will] think about that during the offseason, really fuel me to get ready for next season.”
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this story.