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Sunday Funday: The Wiggins Max was the Right Call

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Why the Wolves made the right decision to give Andrew Wiggins a maximum contract

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves-Media Day Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Wiggins is either going to be a star, a good player who provides an immense scoring boost to a team, or a scorer that does not necessarily contribute to a team’s success.

Most advanced statistics point to the latter, and depressing, option as the one that currently describes Wiggins. Wiggins, by almost any metric, does not contribute to winning basketball. He has also been on teams that were not built to win.

The statistics also point out that there have been very few other players in NBA history who have had to do what Wiggins has done this early in his career and only a select few have been able to carry a similar offensive burden.

The argument for Wiggins becoming a star is theoretically easy to make. If Wiggins is able to focus on rounding out his game with a better team, he will immediately become a positive contributor. LeBron James he is not, but he might be able to be a Klay Thompson.

But that does not matter in the minds of folks who believe that the Wolves have vastly overpaid for Wiggins with his new contract. The other solutions were readily on the table, as the team could have let Wiggins go to restricted free agency, although that would have added the risk of a poison pill contract, traded the young star for a more “sure thing” like Kyrie Irving, or taking on a bit of a reset by trading him for other young players like Aaron Gordon and draft picks.

The risk, seemingly, was too much.

However, this is exactly the type of risk that teams in the NBA must take. Players like Andrew Wiggins simply get paid lots of money. This is because the player archetype that Wiggins is, a do-everything Wing, is the most useful and important type of player in the NBA. These players have constantly been the best players on teams that go far into, and win, the playoffs. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant are arguably the most important players in the NBA.

Now, of course, point guards also reign supreme alongside the rangy wings. But teams are cognizant that the Wings who can handle heavy offense-creation loads, shoot threes, and switch on everything on defense are the most important parts of a team’s success.

Wiggins may never get to the likes of LeBron and company, but the tier just below that of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Paul George may eventually be within reach.

Below that tier, amidst other players who project to be All-Stars or are rising young players, are what we would likely consider Wiggins current and eventual contemporaries on Wings.

  • DeMar DeRozan
  • Otto Porter
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Harrison Barnes
  • Danillo Gallinari
  • Chandler Parsons
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Nicolas Batum
  • Bradley Beal
  • Gary Harris

Every single one of these players are being paid similarly to Andrew Wiggins. Of Wings who have recently received rookie extensions at max or near max levels, there are absolutely delineated tiers along the ability to become “stars.”

From 2012-2014 the “stars” were Beal, Harrison Barnes, Otto Porter, C.J. McCollum, Victor Oladipo, Giannis, Harris, and Wiggins. Wiggins may be the highest paid, but that is simply due to the rising cap. The percentages of the cap are roughly similar.

Below that group is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dion Waiters, Austin Rivers, Mo Harkless, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Terrence Ross, all of whom received between 10-18 million per year. It’s hard to say that Wiggins belongs in that group in terms of his potential. MKG and KCP might be the two closest, but they have real limitations on offense in the same way that Wiggins might have limitations on defense.

In the upcoming years, it is hard to find a player who we would confidently say is going to be better than Wiggins, among other Wings, that is more “worth” this maximum contract. Yet, many of them will be paid similarly to Wiggins or in excess of 20 million dollars a year.

How truly confident is anyone in the highest drafted Wings from 2014-2017 of:

  • 2014 - Jabari Parker, Nik Stauskas, Doug McDermott, Dario Saric, Zach LaVine, James Young, and T.J. Warren
  • 2015 - Mario Hezonja, Stanley Johnson, Justice Winslow, Devin Booker, and Kelly Oubre Jr.
  • 2016 - Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, Denzel Valentine
  • 2017 - Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, Jonathon Isaac, Malik Monk, Luke Kennard, Donovon Mitchell, and Justin Jackson

I would understand someone claiming they would trade Wiggins immediately for Ben Simmons and maybe being interested in Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum, but those are players who we have not seen play a minute in the NBA. The immediate year after Wiggins’ draft produced a bunch of Wings who cannot seem to put it all together in Hezonja, Johnson, and Winslow. Booker will certainly face the same questions as Wiggins in regards to his ability to be anything other than a scorer and Oubre seems like a role player, not a Star.

Of course, the easy answer is to pit Wiggins against the field. It’s easy to say that it is likely that there are players that will emerge from this group that will be more valuable than Wiggins. Several of them could certainly become stars and eclipse Wiggins, making this deal look foolish in comparison. But the Wolves do not have the field at their disposal. They just have Wiggins.

Competing for a title in the NBA inherently takes risk. In the age of championships or tanking, making that change to competing necessitates placing bets on your players.

Wiggins is certainly not a sure thing, but there is just so little certainty in the NBA. Teams that are built to last can fall apart in a span of a few years. There are only a handful of players in the NBA who we can feel truly confident that they will play up to a maximum contract.

Wolves fans, myself included, might be tentative about Wiggins reaching his full potential, but this is a risk the team has to take.