The Minnesota Timberwolves were sputtering. Heading into their Thanksgiving week matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, and after a surprisingly strong start to the season, they had lost two in a row and four of their last five, dropping their record to 8-8. Head coach Ryan Saunders felt a change was needed.
In the days leading up to the game, Jeff Teague, the Timberwolves' veteran starting point guard, shared a thought with his coach: He'd be OK coming off the bench if the team thought it could help. Saunders and the rest of the Timberwolves' brain trust believed it might, that their second unit, which had grown static, could use a conductor. The question was whether the starting lineup could withstand the removal of its point guard. The Timberwolves believed it could, and they believed it could because of Andrew Wiggins.
That a player who coming into the season was widely viewed as both ineffective and inefficient, labels not often assigned to No. 1 picks and Rookie of the Year winners, is now someone whose presence reassures his coaches might be the most surprising development of the 2019-20 season.
As recently as this summer, you didn't have to do much digging to find dirt on Wiggins. There was the time a renowned skills trainer flew into Minnesota to work with Wiggins, only for Wiggins to blow him off. There were stories about how Wiggins did not heed advice from his coaches. And perhaps most damning, there was a belief around the league—and among some previous Timberwolves coaches, front-office people and, reportedly, Jimmy Butler during his time in Minnesota—that Wiggins didn't love basketball, that he didn't work hard, that he was in this solely for the money. And that money was already on its way, thanks to the five-year, nearly $150 million extension he signed in October 2017. Wiggins responded to the contract the two worst seasons of his career.
The narrative has been different this season. Like basic box-score stats? Wiggins is averaging career highs in scoring (24.8 points per game), field-goal percentage (46.2) rebounding (5.4), assists (3.5) and blocks (1.2). Advanced metrics more your thing? Last year, Wiggins' player efficiency rating (12.42) ranked 217th in the league, right behind noted stalwarts like David Nwaba and Yogi Ferrell.
This year, that number (20.12) has vaulted him into the league's top 50. Wiggins' true shooting percentage—a metric that takes into account three-pointers and free throws—has skyrocketed from 49.3 to 54.5 percent, also a career high. His usage rate—the frequency of possessions that finish with the ball in a player's hands when he's on the floor—of 28.2 percent is another career best, ranking 29th in the NBA through Sunday).