On March 27th, the Minnesota Timberwolves were defeated by the Houston Rockets, 120-110. This was, yet another, difficult matchup to watch. There was really nothing the Wolves could do to stop James Harden, Jason Terry and Trevor Ariza. This trio connected on 15 three pointers as Houston knocked down 20-of-44 attempts from beyond the arc en route to an easy victory.
Andrew Wiggins was probably the only bright spot for Minnesota in the loss to Houston. Wiggins' 31 point performance is just another reason why many believe he's a lock to win Rookie of the Year.
While reviewing the contest I noticed Wiggins had his number called a number of times before halftime. When I say 'a number of times' I mean he was given the ball almost every single time down the floor. This shouldn't surprise anyone, though, as the Wolves have repeatedly demonstrated different sets designed to create scoring opportunities for Wiggins.
Let's have a look.
Example #1: 4:56 remaining
The Wolves clear out space to let Wiggins go to work on Ariza. He uses his strength to back down the defender; shimmies, elevates above the defense before connecting on a leaner shot from inside the painted area.
Example #2: 4:09 remaining
For the second consecutive possession the ball goes to Wiggins, who is positioned in the midrange area to the right of the basket. Here, he spins toward the baseline--away from the defense--and drives hard to the basket. Wiggins embraces contact, misses the layup but heads to the line for two free throws.
Wiggins would make one-of-two foul shots.
Example #3: 3:44 remaining
Here, Ariza tries to deny the entry pass by fronting Wiggins, only it doesn't work. Ariza attempts to square up and faceguard but falls over and thus leaves an open lane to the basket. Again, Wiggins goes up strong; embraces contact and draws the foul before heading to the charity stripe.
Here's another look.
Much like Example #2, Wiggins created what could have very easily been an And-1 opportunity. One can assume he'll begin finishing these type of plays with acrobatic layups or dunks as he grows older and stronger.
This time Wiggins makes both free throw attempts.
Example #4: 3:12 remaining
Here, you can see that Houston adjusted defensively on the fourth consecutive possession in which the Wolves went to Wiggins. Jason Terry rotates from the weakside onto Zach LaVine once Corey Brewer attempts to help Ariza. Now unguarded, Chase Budinger then alertly cuts to the basket.
Wiggins notices that he is doubled by Brewer and Ariza so he tries passing back to LaVine, but is fouled in the process.
The correct read on this play would have been to hit the cutting Budinger. What Wiggins did could have very easily resulted in a turnover. However, in this instance Brewer commits a foul and Wiggins, again, heads to the stripe for two free throws. He made both attempts.
Brewer was then replaced by Nick Johnson.
Example #5: 2:50 remaining
Houston didn't go away from the double-team. As you can see by the way Terry rotates to the top of the key from the weakside, Johnson (a rookie) is supposed to drop down to help Ariza, only he makes a mistake by not committing to the double-team. Subsequently, Wiggins is left with space to survey the floor--he then finds an open Budinger, who knocks down the three point shot.
Johnson's poor defensive execution was the difference between Examples #4 and #5. Still, the latter is an indication that Wiggins can do more than score when faced with post-up situations as he recognized the double-team and found an open teammate.
Example #6: 2:22 remaining
Wiggins--for the sixth consecutive time--receives the entry pass to the right of the basket. Again, much like Examples #4 and #5, he's met with a double-team. This time, though, Josh Smith leaves his man from under the basket to help Ariza.
Harden rotates, fronting Gorgui Dieng under the hoop while Terry is left simply trying to prevent a skip pass to either Budinger or Lorenzo Brown. Terry then leans away from Budinger when Brown lingers toward the top of the key. Wiggins finds Budinger; Budinger finds Brown; Brown finds LaVine; and Wiggins ends up with the ball and an open look at a corner three. He connects.
This is a prime example of Wiggins making the right read based on how the defense tried to stop him.
Example #7: 1:33 remaining
At this point the jig is up. Everyone in the gym knows the Wolves are going to Wiggins on this play--you can even hear Saunders yelling something like 'RUN IT AGAIN' on the broadcast. The defense is the same as it was in the previous example. Smith helps Ariza from under the basket; Wiggins attempts to dribble out of the double-team before trying another skip pass to the weakside.
This time, though, Harden is there to intercept the pass.
Example #8: 1:22 remaining
Following the turnover the Wolves go right back to Wiggins, only this time on the opposite side of the floor. Budinger sets a screen that allows Wiggins to enter the area to the left of the basket, where he receives the pass before immediately spinning baseline toward the basket. Wiggins attacks the rim and is fouled by Smith, sending him to the line for more free throws.
He went on to make one of the foul shots.
Wiggins was fed the ball on eight (!!!) consecutive possessions, during which he scored 9 of his 31 points--and tallied an assist--within a five minute period. This production is shown in the examples above. The Wolves trailed Houston by 13 points (51-38) prior to Example #1 and by halftime the deficit was cut to 10.
This short, but effective, stretch during the loss to Houston offered a small glimpse at what Saunders is asking Wiggins to do at the offensive end. The rookie could have very easily settled for midrange, pull up jumpers, but instead, he either aggressively attacked the basket or passed to an open teammate. Aside from the lone turnover Wiggins was extremely efficient.
Even though these are only a few examples of progress Wolves fans should be encouraged by the way Wiggins has performed at the offensive end this season.