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Canada set an NBA record for most non-American players on opening-day rosters this season. There were 16 in all, as well as four more on two-way contracts, meaning they could split time between the NBA and its development league, the G League. Two more Canadians got called up during the year. In the coming weeks we’ll continue to take a look at how the brightest lights of this golden generation of Canuck hoopers fared in 2019-20.
Next up, new Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, of Vaughan, ON.
RECAPPING THE SEASON
Season 6 was definitely the oddest one for the former NBA rookie of the year and No. 1 overall draft choice. Yes, even stranger than being drafted and playing summer league ball for Cleveland, who didn’t have LeBron James, then being moved shortly after James decided to return home.
Andrew Wiggins got off to a fantastic start for the Minnesota Timberwolves, looking like a potential all-star in November, when he averaged 27.1 points, 4.1 assists and 1.4 blocks per game in 11 appearances on 48% shooting, including 39.5% work from three-point distance. The most scrutinized Canadian prospect ever had gone through ups and downs for years, but finally appeared to have broken through. But his production slipped from there, the Timberwolves again were one of the league’s worst teams (an injury to star big man Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t help) and, under new management, the Wolves decided to make a big move. D’Angelo Russell, a close friend of Towns, was brought in from Golden State, with Wiggins and some draft considerations going the other way.
All of a sudden, all of the pressure and expectations Wiggins had dealt with for his entire career evaporated. As head coach Steve Kerr has said, Wiggins was looked at as a saviour in Minnesota after being the key return for Kevin Love and then being given a massive contract. Now, he just needed to fit in and play his role.
Yes, the formerly great Warriors were a mess, with the NBA’s worst record, but they are a great organization with a culture of winning and will be in the mix next year when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are back to 100%. Wiggins only ended up getting one game in alongside Curry (a loss to Toronto), but told us during that visit that he was loving life in the Bay Area and with the Warriors. It showed on the court, where Wiggins started to score a bit less (19.4 points per game in 12 appearances), but expanded his overall game, doing a little bit of everything. Like early in the season in Minnesota, Wiggins defended (1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals), rebounded (4.6 per game) and moved the ball well (3.6 assists, though his turnovers were a bit high). He got to the free throw line more often than ever before and his advanced metrics were nearly uniformly career highs.
He looked happy and he looked comfortable.
Wiggins has teased before. He is more athletic than nearly any other NBA player and can score in bunches, but has always fallen back to earth and been inconsistent. This year was the most encouraging of his career on those fronts and something he can build on moving forward.
Speaking of which, life should be pretty great for Wiggins whenever 2020-21 kicks off. He’ll average about $31.5 million U.S. on the final three years of his contract, but, besides that, he’ll be playing with two of the five best shooters in the history of the NBA, along with Draymond Green and potentially the first pick of the 2020 draft. The game should be easy for him and he’ll get to show off his new-found and still improving play-making skills. “When we’re whole, we’re going to have a lot of shooting out there, we’re going to have the floor spaced and he’s going to be tough to handle,” Kerr said when the Raptors were in town. “It bodes well for next year when he’s playing with two of the best shooters on earth,” Kerr said on The Full 48 podcast recently.
A Wiggins has only made the playoffs once, but the Warriors should be a shoo-in, if healthy for a long time to come. And Kerr’s particularly enthused about what Wiggins can do on defence. He believes Wiggins, 6-foot-7, with long arms and that renowned athleticism, can at least slow down superstars like Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James better than most other players if they meet in the playoffs.
The Warriors have a huge fanbase, so Wiggins will become more of a household name in more than just Canada. Will he play for the national team again sometime? Head coach Nick Nurse thinks so and so does Canada Basketball’s braintrust. Time will tell on that front.
THE BEST OF WIGGINS
The top outings of Andrew Wiggins’s 2019-20 season:
Date Opponent Summary
1/27 Sacramento 36 pts, 9 reb, 8 assists in fourth-last game with Wolves.
11/8 Golden State 40 pts, 5 reb, 7 assists against future teammates.
02/12 Phoenix 27 pts, 5 assists, 4 blks in impressive early Warriors game.
11/11 Detroit 33 pts, 6 reb, 5 assists on 60% shooting.
11/13 San Antonio 30 pts, 8 reb, 7 assists, 4 three-pointers.
12/13 L.A. Clippers 34 pts on 60% shooting against Kawhi Leonard’s team.
01/18 Toronto 18 pts, 11 assists, 10 reb for first career triple-double.
03/05 Toronto 21 pts, 10 2 blocks in lone game with Stephen Curry.
03/03 Denver 22 pts, 5 reb, 10 assists in a win over an elite team.
02/08 L.A. Lakers 24 pts, 5 stl, 3 three-pointers.
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