Thibodeau Player Development: Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins’ career arc is interesting. He came into the league with lofty expectations of being the next Lebron James/Kobe Bryant but did not have the career many analysts projected him to have.
After being traded to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love, Wiggins was the face of the Minnesota franchise, and he won the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds on 43.7% shooting from the field.
In his sophomore season, Wiggins pushed his scoring to 20.7 points per game and looked like a rising star. The Wolves had two young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, prompting Tom Thibodeau to accept the Timberwolves job and turn the moribund franchise around.
In Thibodeau’s first season as head coach, Andrew Wiggins had the best year of his career statistically. He averaged a career-high 23.6 points and began to shoot more three-pointers at 3.5 attempts per game. He had a respectable clip from three at 35.6%, the best of his career thus far, and had one of his better shooting seasons at 45.2%. However, like Towns, those stats could be considered “empty calories” as the Wolves won 31 games despite the career years from Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach Lavine.
When the Wolves acquired Jimmy Butler in the summer of 2017, it put Andrew Wiggins in an uncomfortable spot. The face of the franchise became the third option in just three years, but why?
Maybe Thibodeau realized that Andrew Wiggins’ volume shooting is inefficient and was a liability to the team on most nights.
With Jimmy Butler in tow, the Wolves put together a 47-35 team, but like Towns, Andrew Wiggins’ stats and usage percentage went down dramatically. Wiggins averaged 17.7 points on 43.8% from the field and 33.1% from three. Wiggins was demoted to more of a catch and shoot role. He took a career-high 4.1 three-pointers a night, but his percentage took a dip.
Wiggins’ shooting efficiency was even worse the next season without Jimmy Butler, where Thibodeau coached the first 40 games. He shot 41.2% from the field and 33.9% from three. He went back to being the second option, but his usage percentage barely went up, showing that Thibodeau and Ryan Saunders both tried to force the ball out of Wiggins’ hands.
The narrative around the league was that Wiggins did not like playing for Thibodeau and that Thibodeau had serious problems coaching Wiggins, leading to his dismissal from the Wolves. Those rumors got debunked, and the finger was pointed at Karl-Anthony Towns for Thibodeau’s firing. However, Wiggins and Thibodeau’s relationship was not great, and Wiggins took shots at his former head coach upon his firing.
"“I feel like I was on the rise my first three years and then some changes were made.”"
Wiggins would go on to say that “yelling and screaming isn’t necessarily coaching.”
The Golden State Warriors recently traded for Andrew Wiggins, and head coach Steve Kerr denied that there were any problems between Thibs and Wiggins and that Thibs has helped Wiggins’ transition to the Warriors, per the New York Post:
"“What is apparent is he and Andrew had a great relationship and Andrew said that as well. I know Andrew told me he really enjoyed playing for him and appreciated his commitment. When a coach knows his stuff and gets along with his players, he’s got a great chance to succeed. I think Tom’s got a great shot.”"
Wiggins and Thibodeau may try to downplay their situation in Minnesota, but there was a disconnect between the two, stemming from basketball and off-court issues. Thibodeau’s inability to relate to Wiggins is yet another cause for concern regarding his ability to connect to the younger generation of NBA players. However, Wiggins is far from a perfect player, and the knock-on him is that he lacks a work ethic and is selfish.