Frederick: Andrew Wiggins’ success shows how much situation matters
Wiggins never proved to be the transcendent superstar Minnesota needed him to be to lift the franchise out of the mud
Andrew Wiggins was never a bust. He has always been too productive of an NBA player to carry that harsh designation. Still, it was fair to consider his time in Minnesota with the Timberwolves to be a disappointment.
The were some highs, but also a fair number of lows. The former No. 1 overall draft pick was consistent in that he was almost always available, but the effort with which he played certainly fluctuated.
The Timberwolves reached the playoffs just once in Wiggins’ five-plus seasons in Minnesota — and that postseason appearance had far more to do with Jimmy Butler than anyone else.
Wiggins never proved to be the transcendent superstar Minnesota needed him to be to lift the franchise out of the mud. In that way, he came up short. But his current success in San Francisco — where the Golden State Warriors will play Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday against Boston — displays ways in which the Timberwolves also didn’t deliver on their end of the bargain.
Wiggins has proved in these playoffs that he is indeed capable of contributing at a high level for a championship-tier team. He’s averaging 16 points and seven rebounds a game in this postseason run, including four double-doubles over Golden State’s past nine game. All while often guarding the other team’s top player.
This after the 27-year-old was named to his first all-star team during the regular season.
Detractors will attribute much of Wiggins’ success to the organization and talent around him. In their eyes, it’s all a product of the likes of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Steve Kerr. Who can’t flourish when surrounded by that kind of cast?
But the opposite was so often true in Minnesota. Players like Wiggins were asked to elevate a downtrodden franchise without the proper support — from coaching to teammates to general organizational structure — to do so. Who could flourish when surrounded by that kind of cast?
From purely a roster perspective, it makes total sense that Wiggins would shine in a lineup flush with shooters, which allows him space to attack gaps and use his athleticism to crash the offensive glass.
Yet in his time in Minnesota, the Timberwolves used first-round draft picks on the likes of Kris Dunn, Justin Patton, Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver. Not surprisingly, the lane was permanently clogged.
Players succeed when surrounded with legitimate talent. That’s been evident in the play of Karl-Anthony Towns, whose two best seasons to date have come when he’s been surrounded by his two best rosters. It’s held true for Wiggins, as well.
Sure, Wiggins didn’t always play with full force and effort — and that’s a legitimate gripe. But the reality is it’s a knock of many NBA players over the course of an 82-game season. Ideally, a team is good enough that it can overcome that. The Timberwolves were never that.
What matters more to competent franchises is can you bring it when needed most? Wiggins is answering that question with a resounding “Yes.” That’s why the Warriors are so happy with him at the moment, why they’re competing for a title and why they’ll be more than happy to pay the wing the $33.6 million he’s owed next season.
Because, as good organizations do, Golden State has taken a clearly talented, productive player, asked him only to play to his strengths and watched him flourish. That’s the formula for success not just for players, but franchises as a whole.
The stark contrast between who Wiggins was in Minnesota versus who he is in Golden State is a reminder of something to consider moving forward — players, and their performances, are often a product of their environment.
Is it Andrew Wiggins’ fault he didn’t deliver on his promise in Minnesota? Absolutely.
But the Timberwolves deserve their fair share of blame, too.
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