August 11, 2022

Andre Wiggins

Andre Wiggins
Photo: Getty Images

Ever since the Minneapolis Lakers won half of the league’s first 10 NBA titles and then traveled to Los Angeles where they won 13 more, Minnesota has been an incubator for NBA championship parades — in many other cities. After the Lakers moved to Los Angeles, the NBA did not return to Minnesota until 1989. The Timberwolves established a new tradition as an exporter of champions. Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins all donned T-Wolves uniforms and then became predators atop Finals teams elsewhere. With one more win over Boston, Wiggins could be the last NBA champion forged over the Minnesota winters to become a cog in the championship chase of a more stable franchise.

Butler made up the blow that would have put Miami in his second final in three years, and was a buzzer-beater for Kawhi Leonard to potentially do the same in Philadelphia. Still, his glass ceiling in Minnesota was the first round.

Garnett immediately winning a title in Boston after dropping out just to fend for himself in the West should have been the canary in the coal mine. Joe McHale’s final outing to Danny Ainge resulted in the Celtics’ first title of the 21st century and the dawn of a new golden era. Minnesota failed to capitalize on its post-Garnett rebuilding phase, while Boston knocked Garnett into the assets that eventually formed their current core.

Love was an instant oatmeal All-Star, but Minnesota screwed the pooch by drafting the wrong point guard twice in the top seven picks of the 2009 NBA Draft, allowing Steph Curry to fall into the lap of Golden State.

In 2014, LeBron orchestrated a Cavs-Timberwolves trade for Love, but not before awkwardly signaling that Wiggins was down through his Sports Illustrated “Coming Home” ad. Lost in the middle of the tryout that inspired a million memes, Wiggins was kicked out of the teammates he was looking forward to playing with.

We’ll come back to Wiggins in a moment, though. At Minnesota, Love watched the playoffs from home every season. Love sacrificed his numbers to play the role of Chris Bosh. Until the Cavaliers pulled off the first 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals, Love’s acclimatization to Cleveland was difficult. Yet without his contributions, the Cavaliers’ organization’s first title wouldn’t have happened.

Andrew Wiggins’ brilliance from Minnesota is a testament to Golden State’s ecosystem and leadership, serving as the perfect Petri dish to grow from. When the Warriors acquired Wiggins two years ago, his contract was considered the worst in the NBA. The former No. 1 overall pick was such a disappointment that the T-Wolves gave up an additional first-round pick for D’Angelo Russell. Immediately after the trade, ESPN’s Paul Pierce and Brian Windhorst went over the two skills he would need to show Golden State: the ability to defend and spot the shot. In 2022, he drained nearly 40% of his attempts and earned one (only) All-Defensive team vote. The 2021 first-round pick associated with Wiggins will likely be an asset to future Warriors contenders once Jonathan Kumingas’ nascent basketball IQ catches up to his raw skills.

He’ll never become the facsimile T-Mac 2.0/Paul George that scouts imagined when he was drafted first overall in 2014. He’s far too stiff as a creator off the dribble to be a transcendent scorer. However, at Golden State, he found his niche in the hybrid role of Iggy-Barnes and reached his final form.

For most of his career, Wiggins acted like he was part of the witness protection program. He had the tools, but was wasted on a rudderless talent. The brighter the spotlights, the more he shrunk under the pressure. Wiggins had four points and four turnovers in his NCAA Tournament final.

In Game 5 against Boston, Wiggins broke the cycle that defined his career. Boston gave up drop coverage to neutralize Steph Curry 30 feet from the basket on a night when his 233-game streak with a 3-pointer made was snapped. Wiggins filled the scoring void, scoring a team-high 26 points and completing his metamorphosis into an indispensable talent. It’s a scenario that would have been seen as an outlandish development two years ago.

The Warriors coaching staff and egalitarian motion offense deserve some credit for Wiggins’ growth. Their attacking spacing allowed Wiggins to exploit the driving lanes and use his explosive finishing ability. Being relegated as a fourth option on the attacking side also allowed him to lock down on the defensive side. After surviving a dogfight with the stockier Luka Doncic, he’s back in the right weight class and giving adjustments to Jayson Tatum. Defensively, his athleticism and length caged Tatum in the fourth quarter. Wiggins made life miserable for Tatum throughout the regular season, so it’s no accident. In 42:18 of match time, Wiggins held Tatum to 37.5 percent shooting from the field, according to NBA.com.

The Timberwolves finally seem to be rounding the corner, but we’ve seen it happen before, right before they crash and burn. If things stall again, Karl Anthony-Towns may want to keep an eye on the release and see how his predecessors have thrived outside of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.