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Wolves 110, 76ers 86: The Rise of Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins is breaking out in his third season.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — In his third NBA season, Andrew Wiggins is blossoming in front of our eyes.

On Thursday night, the nation got a taste for themselves as the Wolves’ third-year wing diced up the 76ers on TNT to the tune of 35 points, 10 rebounds (tying his career high) and four assists.

“I worked my butt off this offseason,” Wiggins said after the game. He also said that seeing the hard work he put in this past summer to take his game to the next level has only made him hungrier to work more and go even harder next offseason.

It was Wiggins’ first double-double of the season and third 30+ point game in the Wolves’ blowout 110-86 win. He delivered the complete, efficient performance his critics have been calling for (14-20 from the floor and 4-4 from the line) and continued his rampage from deep, flashing that smooth new jumper on his way to 3-6 from three-point land.

Wiggins is now averaging 33.0 points and 5.3 rebounds over his last six contests, and tonight was his second career 30 point, 10 rebound performance. He’s already one of the premier scorers in the league at age 21 and now the rest of his game is catching up in a hurry under Tom Thibodeau’s obsessive supervision.

“He’s playing very well,” Thibodeau said after the game. “He’s playing an all-around game. His defense is terrific. He got ten rebounds tonight. He is letting the game come to him. He is shooting it when he should shoot, passing when he should pass. He made several good plays to Karl. That’s big for us. That pick-and-roll with those two is very difficult to guard.”

This is the Wiggins fans dreamed of when Flip Saunders struck a deal with Cleveland during the Summer of Love. He has taken his game to a completely different level, and tonight was further evidence that his intense workout regimen this offseason is paying off.

Karl-Anthony Towns recorded his fourth 20/10 in his last five games, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Tonight was Towns’ sixth double-double of the season, and although he didn’t shoot a free throw—a criticism of Thibodeau’s during the postgame press conference—his shot selection and defensive showing were extremely promising after early-season troubles in both areas, mostly because he has been trying to do too much.

Towns’ play this year reminds me of that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Chuck/Kunu (Paul Rudd) is giving Peter (Jason Segel) surfing lessons. The advice he’s giving might sound terrible in most cases but sometimes the less you do, the more you do.

Towns tried to do less tonight, and he ended up doing more.

“I think we characterized this game as a point in the road that we have to look back and we have to understand and grow from this,” Towns said.

“We held them to, I think, 33 points in the first half. That’s very good for us to do. We’ve got to do a better job from here on out, especially in the third quarter. Instead of losing by one point, we need to win by more than just one or two. We need to make sure we come out of halftime with the same intensity, energy and focus that we had in the first half.”

Joel Embiid finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds to secure his second straight double-double, and third of his long-awaited rookie season, in his first visit to Target Center. Jahlil Okafor was basically a non-factor in his 22 minutes off the bench, finishing with seven points and two rebounds. The days of Okafor vs. Towns debates look so foolish now—not that I was ever convinced Okafor was the better prospect.

Both of Philadelphia’s centers have been on minutes restrictions as the Sixers have the long-game in mind, as per the usual #process. But in this case, it’s hard to see how anyone could criticize them taking things slow with their two prized, and extremely talented bigs (who have have gone through injuries).

The Sixers other highly intriguing rookie, Dario Saric, scored 16 points on 6-11 shooting off the bench. But 11 of those points came in the fourth quarter when the game had already been decided.

For some odd reason, Brett Brown was having Saric guard Towns in the post at times. KAT abused the prized rookie when he got him isolated, which was not surprising given the physical differences. It was weird to see the Sixers not even bring the double team on Towns in these situations. Some might say this was a bold strategy. Almost as bold as expecting Gerald Henderson to stop Large Karl when he catches it on the elbow:

The Sixers appear closer to brighter days with their cast of young talent. Watching Embiid during shootaround was a treat in itself—his size, mobility, and shooting touch is completely mind boggling up close. But Philadelphia is still years behind the Wolves. Brett Brown said as much, and he strikes most people as one of the league’s bright young coaches.

“When you sit there and watch Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins and they’re older and they’ve played with each other ... you’re projecting out with [Joel] and seeing where he is going to be and just guessing where he is going to be. Joel is going to be just fine ... I just see those guys as further along. In fact, several years further. 2-3 years further along and good for them. They have a great foundation. The city of Minneapolis should be thrilled to have what they have. We haven’t talked about Zach. You know, that’s how I judge a night like that.”

You hear that, Minneapolis? Wiggins is breaking out and Brett Brown says the city should be thrilled. That should be enough to forget about the third quarter struggles for a moment. The Wolves took care of business tonight as the cornerstones shined under the bright national lights.