Last year’s first-overall pick Andrew Wiggins played in Toronto for the first time as an NBA pro on Thursday, returning to his Canadian home in the middle of a Rookie of the Year-calibre season with Minnesota, after completing a collegiate career as perhaps the country’s most hyped phenom ever.
“I think he’s allowed these kids to dream and think about, ‘What if?'” said Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell, himself a former Raptors coach.
Wiggins is the poster kid for Canada’s next – maybe, completely new – wave of talent, and was the country’s second-straight first overall draft pick in 2014, after the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett in 2013.
Both players were traded to Minnesota from the Cavs last offseason. (Cleveland still has Tristan Thompson, a fourth overall pick from 2011.) Other high-profile Canadian picks recently include Kelly Olynyk (13th overall to Dallas, 2013) and Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis, both drafted in last year’s first round after Wiggins.
Essentially, the torch has been passed, previously held high by Victoria’s Steve Nash.
And the No. 1 pick has fulfilled his billing in his first year, perhaps doing enough through a near-complete freshman season to win the league’s top rookie award.
His Timberwolves have gone an awful 15-53 though, so as well as it’s gone individually for Wiggins, there’s that much more to be done in the chilly Twin Cities.
“When you’re thought of as the face of the franchise, that’s a huge responsibility,” said Mitchell. “It’s tough, especially when you’re 19. He goes at his pace, he doesn’t get too high, he doesn’t get too low, it’s amazing how he takes it. I can’t tell you how he feels inside, but from what I’ve seen and how he reacts and how he plays, it just doesn’t faze him… he understands all the hoopla, but he puts it in a box and sets it to the side at 7 o’clock, and he goes out and plays.”
The Timberwolves lost to Toronto, 105-100, and Wiggins had 15 points.
In 68 games this season, the Toronto native has averaged 4.4 rebounds and 15.8 points per game. He’s also received praise for his improved (or perhaps, never poor) jump shot and his playmaking ability, and is one of a few rooks in consideration for the league’s honour.
Video: The Canadian Press