By: Nathan Washington, SFU Student
If I had to use one word to describe the career of Andrew Wiggins so far, it would be enigmatic. Wiggin’s NBA tenure has brought him extraordinary success, tempered by constant, sometimes illegitimate, criticism. The 25-year-old Vaughan, Ontario native was the most highly touted Canadian basketball prospect ever. Because of the high expectations set for him at such an early age, his play in the NBA, while impressive, has not satisfied the contingent of fans that believe he is a bust. I think this is unfair criticism to heap onto a player that is only 25 and is just starting to come into his own with the Golden State Warriors.
Wiggins has been an elite player for his entire career. Coming out of high school, he was the first Canadian ever to be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year in the United States. This accolade brought him to one of college basketball’s most storied programs — the University of Kansas — where, in his one season, he achieved All-Big 12 First Team and Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors. This made Wiggins one of the top prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft. Wiggins became the second Canadian in NBA history to be chosen first overall in the draft when he was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite being drafted by Cleveland, Wiggins’ career really started in Minnesota when he was sent to the Timberwolves as a part of a trade package for Kevin Love. His tenure with the Timberwolves began with great success, as he averaged 16.9 points, 2.1 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game in his first season to become the only Canadian to win NBA Rookie of the Year. It was this unbelievable performance early in his career that contributed to the unreasonable expectations that many fans had for him.
From there, things got more difficult for Wiggins. The following season, the Timberwolves had their own first overall pick that they used to select elite big man Karl-Anthony Towns. This led the Timberwolves to centre their offensive system around Towns, which forced Wiggins to create offense more independently in the face of elite perimeter defenders — a difficult task for any young player. For most young players, there is a developmental expectation for their first few seasons before they are expected to come into full form as a player. However, because of Wiggins’ early success and his rare combination of length, athleticism, and pure scoring ability, many critics did not give him this benefit. Though Wiggins had a career average of 19.7 points per game in his five-and-a-half seasons with the Timberwolves, he sometimes struggled to find consistency with his shot, which led many critics to label him as under-fulfilled. However, when a trade on February 6, 2020 sent Wiggins to the Golden State Warriors, he began to show that a change of scenery may have been all he needed to silence those doubters.
Despite a non-linear trajectory in the early years of his career, Andrew Wiggins is an elite NBA player and deserves to be viewed as such. Critics that deride such a young player for not meeting unreasonably high expectations need to remember that he is still just 25 years old. Even though the early years of his career have not been perfect, I’m willing to bet that Wiggins eventually blossoms into the superstar that people thought he would be in his first year in the league.