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Andrew Wiggins Is the Russell Westbrook of Wings

Our daily celebration of the NBA’s best performances focuses on a career night from the Timberwolves’ star swingman

AP Images
AP Images

Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.

King of the Court: Andrew Wiggins

The more I watch Andrew Wiggins, the more I wonder if he’s, at least in some respects, developing into the Russell Westbrook of his position. If it appears that Wiggins’s or Westbrook’s manner of play is a bit crude, it’s largely a skewed perception: When a body can generate as much force as theirs can, things are bound to look a little different compared with the average player. Basketball is a game of skill and leverage, and I’ve always been fascinated by how world-class athletes specifically use their physical superiority to outclass their opposition — because in the NBA, it isn’t enough to simply possess that level of athleticism if you can’t influence movement on the court. Just as Westbrook’s explosiveness creates space that other point guards simply can’t replicate, Wiggins’s all-around athleticism creates openings that other shooting guards in his position wouldn’t be able to take advantage of.

Wiggins scored 47 points on Sunday night in a resounding 125–99 victory over the shockingly competent Lakers, and, more so than ever before, I was impressed not with Wiggins’s raw athleticism, but with the ways in which he seems in control of it.

Below is an example of what has become a classic Wiggins possession in the post, where he is among the NBA’s elite, regardless of position. With big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, and Nemanja Bjelica all capable of shooting from the perimeter, there is always a place for Wiggins down on either block to punish smaller, less-experienced post defenders. There just isn’t much Nick Young can do against a player as physically imposing, and as vertically explosive, even from a static position. Wiggins keeps the ball high, never letting it dip below his waist, and goes up fluidly with an extremely high release. Wiggins shot 11-for-16 (68.8 percent) on contested field goals; with so many advantages in the post, his success from down there comes as no surprise.

A play later, after the Wolves secure a deflection, Wiggins, away from the ball, runs nearly the length of the court at full speed. He accelerates so quickly that it takes Nick Young about a second to realize just how much effort he needs to put into keeping Wiggins in check. By the time Young maxes out on his sprint, Wiggins is already decelerating and moving toward the left corner. Wiggins is still such a threat that, even with Bjelica barrelling down the middle of the lane, Young turns his back completely on the play to keep his eyes on Wiggins (there was terrible communication all around on the play). The result is an easy coast-to-coast layup.

Wiggins is averaging 26.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field so far in the season, and he’s shooting nearly 55 percent from 3. Wiggins still has a ways to go as a playmaker for others, but he’s already become an unconventionally efficient scorer, in large part due to his uncontainable athleticism.

Runner-up: Russell Westbrook

Another gaudy triple-double (41–12–16) for the season; another frustrating game lost (119–117 to the Magic, led by a vengeful Serge Ibaka) late in the fourth quarter for the Thunder. Still, every dominant Russell Westbrook game is a new experience, and the angles that he was able to bend on his jump passes against Orlando on Sunday night defied logic. Win or lose, Westbrook delivers the goods, always.

Honorable Mention: This Entire Sequence of Events

The greatest gift we’ve been given early in this season is the Warriors’ air of fallibility. Watching the Warriors lose is nourishing to the soul; so is watching them flip the death switch against teams.