Hero Baller: Andrew Wiggins

It’s always competitive playing them. I feel like it brings out the best in everybody.”—Andrew Wiggins

Nobody in their right mind would say Cleveland was wrong to trade Andrew Wiggins  for Kevin Love three summers ago, especially when returning Cavalier LeBron James practically said his conditional return was dependent on the team fielding a veteran roster so he could win a championship ASAP.

Cavs management practically had to trade their 19-year-old draft prospect for the proven All-Star if they wanted to lure LeBron, and all Cavalier parties involved in that deal—from ownership to management to the players—had to be happy with the results after the Cavs reached the 2015 Finals and later won the 2016 NBA championship.

On the flip side—even though trade acquisitions Thaddeus Young and Anthony Bennett are no longer in Minnesota—the T-Wolves are probably pleased with their end of the deal, seeing that Wiggins also has developed at expected rate, even if the small forward has the usual inconsistencies college-aged players have; nonetheless, Wiggins is showing he is a good 21-year-old prospect capable of delivering big-game performances from time to time.

Tuesday, on Valentines Day, on the day Love was supposed to come to town, was one of those days, with Wiggins delivering the biggest gift box score of any NBA Valentino, posting 41 points in 41 minutes, making 5 of his 6 free throws, 12 of his 21 two-point attempts and 4 of his 8 three-point attempts for a .648 true shooting percentage.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

“We’ll get ’em eventually.”—Wiggins

It was Wiggins’ third 40-plus point game of the 2016-17 season—47 was his high, scored against the Lakers in November—and eighth 30-plus point game.

Granted, Wiggins’ 41 Tuesday came in a losing cause, with Cleveland winning, 116-108, but you didn’t need someone proficient in hieroglyphs to read between the lines of the subtext Wiggins was delivering in this latest Wolves-Cavs matchup.

On the day the Cavs announced Love would be lost for six weeks to left knee surgery, Wiggins had a message to deliver to his could-have-been Cavalier teammates.

And LeBron came out extra strong—with push-the-pace Cleveland taking a 69-61 halftime lead—assuring all his squad would not use the Love injury as excuse to slack off.

Especially against a 21-35 T-Wolves team that has not beaten these 38-16 Cavs since the trade was made in Summer 2014 (streak at six wins now).

But Minnesota, who lost their shooting guard Zach LaVine for the season with a torn left ACL a week-and-a-half ago, played as if they had something to prove as well, with Wiggins scoring 20 third-quarter points–including a three-pointer with 12 seconds left along with a buzzer-beating 22-foot two-pointer–to tie the game at 93 after three quarters.

Down the stretch, however, it was just too much LeBron (25 points, 8 rebounds and 14 assists), too much Cavs (Kyrie Irving, 25 points and 7 assists; Channing Frye, 21 points and 10 rebounds) for the young Wolves to keep up, ultimately losing the quarter, 23-15, and the game.

Nonetheless, message sent on the Wiggins front.

Though he has work to do when it comes to efficiency, team game and defense (16.34 Player Efficiency Rating and -1.61 Real Plus-Minus), there are not too many 21 year olds who can average 23 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists at such a young age.

The Cavaliers surely do not regret the move, but Wiggins definitely made them take note.

Player MIN +/- PTS (TSP) 2FG 3FG FT REB AST/TO STL & BLK
Andrew Wiggins 41 -9 41 (.648) 12-21 4-8 5-6 3 2/0 1 & 0

 

Key: MIN minutes; +/- plus-minus; PTS points; TSP true shooting percentage; 2FG 2-point field goals and attempts; 3FG 3-point field goals and attempts; FT free throws and attempts; REB rebounds; AST/TO assists/turnovers; STL & BLK steals and blocks.