As far as Andrew Wiggins is concerned, the goal is clear and defined.
From his perch, the Minnesota Timberwolves forward doesn’t see any reason why a Canadian can’t become the face of the National Basketball Association. He’s ready to become a household name like LeBron is and Michael was.
“I want to be the best I can be,” the Toronto-born Wiggins told The Shadow League. “I want to be the best player in basketball.”
Don’t mistake his quiet demeanor as a form of timidness. Opponents who believe the 21-year-old can be rattled by a few hard picks in the lane or rough words out of earshot of officials often find out the hard way that his response is usually met with an impressive first step that leads to a crowd-pleasing dunk.
Many times, he’ll launch a sweet fall-away jumper from the right side that hits nothing but net. The melodious, hypnotic sound of leather hitting twine gives the 6-8, 199-pound Wiggins incentive to do it again. And again. And again.
“This is going to sound crazy,” said Timberwolves assistant coach Ed Pinckney. “There are things that he does that remind me of Julius Erving. His attacks to the rim, the way he finishes, he’s got those big hands. He reminds me of him. Can he become the face of the league? I don’t see why not. He certainly has the talent.”
Wiggins’ pedigree and lineage certainly can’t be ignored.
His father, Mitchell, starred at Florida State University and played in the NBA. He was banned from the NBA for two and a half seasons for substance abuse but returned to the league. He would later enjoy a stable and profitable career playing overseas.
His mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a track and field standout at FSU. A native of Barbados, she competed for Canada in the 1984 Summer Olympics, winning two silver medals.
An older brother, Nick, played college basketball at Wichita State University. His oldest brother, Mitchell Jr., also played collegiately with stops at Hillsborough Community College and Southeastern University.
Had he stayed at the University of Kansas, this would’ve been Wiggins’ senior season. He was a one-and-done player who, after two years at Huntington Prep School in Huntington, W.Va., was considered good enough to play professionally. He doesn’t regret coming out early.
“[Playing in the NBA has been] everything and more,” said Wiggins, who was the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Dealt to the Timberwolves in a blockbuster deal that included the Philadelphia 76ers, Wiggins would go on to win the NBA’s Rookie of Year award.
“You get to play against the best competition in the world,” he said. “You’re paid well. You travel. I enjoy it.”
Since entering the league, Wiggins has proven to be both durable and consistent. He’s only missed one game during his career in the NBA. His statistics have gone up every season. He’s currently the Timberwolves’ leading scorer, averaging 22.3 points per game.
“When you look at what he has accomplished in the league already in terms of scoring, you see how talented he is,” said Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau. “You have to be careful to judge people. Sometimes the perception of someone being quiet is that he’s not intense. I think that when you look at [Wiggins you will see that] he never misses a game. He never misses practice. He scores at a very high level and he’s done it at a very young age, I think he’ll continue to grow.
“I know how competitive he is, Thibodeau continued. You see that in the drills we do at practice. You see it when people try to come after him, how he responds. You never really know a person until you’re around them every day. I see the type of person that he is, his attitude, the way he approaches things. I think he’ll get better and better.”
With his offensive skill set, Wiggins creates problems.
“He can play,” said 76ers forward Robert Covington. “You know when he’s on the court. He can do so many things. He is capable of getting hot and scoring a lot of points.”
Growing up in Canada, Wiggins was able to see Vince Carter play regularly for the Toronto Raptors. As a youngster, he was caught up in the “Vinsanity” of watching Carter, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, become an All-NBA player and an international star.
“Vince Carter was very important,” said Wiggins. “[We] looked up to him. He was a star with the Toronto Raptors. I wanted to be like him.”
Now its Wiggins who is on the cusp of becoming arguably the NBA’s best talent.
“He doesn’t realize what he’s doing,” said Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns. “He’s just out there playing at such a level. He seems so calm and relaxed, he barely knows what he’s doing. What makes him so special is that his talent is off the charts. His physical attributes are off the charts. He’s one of those few people who have ever played this game to have all that going for him and understand how to use it.
“He has the talent, Towns continued. He has the ability. He has the mindset. The sky is the limit for him. I’m just so honored and blessed to be able to call him my teammate. Not many people will get the chance to say they’ve played with Andrew Wiggins in their lifetime.”