Was Trade a Blessing in Disguise for Wiggins?
Having to deal with trade rumors and actually being dealt prior to playing his first NBA game had to be frustrating for Andrew Wiggins, but it may have been a blessing in disguise for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Rather than joining a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is in win-now mode and being forced to defer to superstars like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Wiggins will be the face of a young Minnesota Timberwolves franchise that will give him every opportunity to succeed and reach his full potential. He won’t just be a role player in Minnesota, he’ll be a focal point right away and, if all goes as planned, he’ll eventually be their star. Wiggins will get more touches and minutes in Minnesota, which will give him a chance to show what he can do at the NBA level and compete for the Rookie of the Year award. He’ll also have far less attention on him as he develops in Minnesota, versus playing for a Cavaliers team that will be under the microscope.
Wiggins, who has been working out with his new teammates at Minnesota’s practice facility, seems to realize that being traded to the Timberwolves could actually be better for him in the long run.
“I think it’s a great situation whenever I think about it,” Wiggins told reporters, according to KSTP. “It gives me more freedom. I’m surrounded by young guys that have the same intentions and determinations as me – to really win and get better every day.”
Privately, Wiggins has told people in his inner circle the same thing. In fact, Wiggins told his college head coach Bill Self that he was hoping for a trade to Minnesota when the rumors started surfacing.
“When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, ‘I hope I get traded,’ Self told The Associated Press last month. “And I’m like, ‘No you don’t.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I do. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.’”
Wiggins joins a promising young core that also includes Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Gorgui Dieng and Glenn Robinson III among others. However, the team also has veterans like Thaddeus Young, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Mo Williams, who can help the young players improve as well as keep the team competitive in the short-term.
Even though he’s surrounded by other young players with a lot of potential, there’s no question that Wiggins will face the highest expectations. The 19-year-old has been characterized as one of the best young players to enter the NBA in years – someone who is supposed to be poised for superstardom. That’s why the Timberwolves were willing to deal one of the best players in the league – Kevin Love – to acquire him, even though he hasn’t stepped foot on an NBA court yet.
While this pressure would faze some players, Wiggins has grown accustomed to it since he has been dealing with this kind of hype since he was a kid. As a 14-year-old, a mixtape of his highlight plays dubbed him one of the best young players in the nation and got millions of views. Then, he became the No. 1 ranked high school player, so all eyes were on him and he became a household name (just like LeBron James did in high school). At Kansas, he faced ridiculously high expectations as well. Wiggins knows that greatness is expected from him, and he’s used to it by now.
“I don’t really feel like it’s too much pressure right now,” Wiggins said. “I’ve been through being the number one player in high school and in college, all that stuff. So, pressure to me has really died down; I don’t feel it as much as I used to.”
While working out with his new teammates, Wiggins and his peers have been going over head coach Flip Saunders’ playbook and learning his system. Veterans like Martin and Brewer have also been working out and helping the young guys become familiar with the offense. Wiggins is excited to start the season, and he believes that he’ll be able to thrive in Saunders’ system.
“I’m liking it,” Wiggins said of Minnesota’s offense. “They kind of broke it down to me before. All the plays are really coming together. This is my first couple days learning the plays on-court, you know? It kind of fits my playing style. I’m just trying to learn it.”
LaVine, who was selected 12 picks after Wiggins by Minnesota, can’t wait to get on the court with his fellow lottery pick. Wiggins and LaVine trained together in California prior to the draft and got to know one another out there. Together, they form an incredibly athletic one-two punch for the Timberwolves, and they could be a great tandem down the road if they’re both able to reach their full potential.
“Me and Andrew have been close since the pre-draft [process],” LaVine said. “We did pre-draft [training] together in Santa Barbara so I’ve known Drew for awhile and it’s good to have him on the team.”
Wiggins had to experience the business side of the NBA earlier than most players and he learned firsthand that anyone can be dealt, but he shouldn’t have to worry about that happening again for quite some time. It’s hard to imagine the Wolves parting ways with Wiggins anytime soon, since they’re hoping he eventually replaces Love as their star player and face of the franchise.
NBA talent evaluators have been watching Wiggins for years and imagining what kind of player he’d be in the league. The Timberwolves can’t wait to find out, and they are ecstatic that he’ll be donning their jersey in his NBA debut. After some early drama, Wiggins seems to be thrilled with his situation as well.
Celtics’ Green Trying to Improve Consistency
Last season, there were times where Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green looked like a star player. For example, take his 39-point game against the New Orleans Pelicans on March 16, in which he was 12-of-23 from the field. However, there were also times where he completely disappeared. Case in point, his 5-point game the following night, March 17, against the Dallas Mavericks in which he was 2-of-12 from the field. This inconsistency from Green drove Celtics fans crazy.
Green followed up far too many impressive games with single-digit outings, which isn’t acceptable from a team’s focal point. The 28-year-old veterans knows this and he has spent this offseason trying to improve his all-around game and, most importantly, his consistency.
“I’ve been working on everything basically,” Green said, according to The Boston Globe. “There’s not one thing I didn’t work on. Just coming into camp in good shape, new focus, and a lot of people say it’s a different vibe they feel from me now and I just have to transfer it on the court, continue to get better as a player, and find a way to stay consistent. I think that’s been my biggest fall throughout my career, so I’ve just got to find a way to do that.”
Even though Green did have issues with consistency last season, he did post a career-high 16.9 points per game. He’s hoping to build on that success in the 2014-15 campaign, and he’s entering the season with confidence and a lot of optimism.
“I think it’s a new confidence that I have as far as my game and I think that just comes with a different approach,” Green said. “I’m very excited. We have a young team but I think we have a team that’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. A lot of people don’t have us in the playoffs but our goal is to get better each game and just try to improve to put ourselves in a great position to be in the playoffs.”
As one of the veterans on a young team, Green understands that he needs to step up and lead. He wants to be a stronger presence in the locker room this season.
“I am one of the leaders,” Green said. “I have to take that role. It’s not an individual thing to lead this team. We have Rajon [Rondo] and Gerald [Wallace]. We’ve just got to have each other’s back.”
Last season, Rondo played in just 30 games for the Celtics. Green believes that getting him back will really help the Celtics, since Rondo is one of the best point guards in the NBA when he’s healthy.
“It’s going to be big,” Green said of Rondo’s return, according to CSNNE. “He’s the guy that gets us into sets. He’s the guy as you see throughout his career, finds players and puts them in the best spot to succeed. With him being 100 percent healthy, it’ll make our team that much better.”
Last season, the Celtics won just 25 games. In addition to getting Rondo back at full strength, additions like Marcus Smart, James Young, Evan Turner and Tyler Zeller should help Boston improve. If Green can play at a high level every night, instead of just some nights, that will make the Celtics significantly better as well.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.