Prior to Sunday night, the list of players who scored 47 or more points at the age of 21 or younger included 12 names, according to Basketball Reference archives that date back to the 1963-64 season.
Minnesota Timberwolves wing Andrew Wiggins made it a baker’s dozen with 47 in a 125-99 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, joining a quartet of Hall of Famers (Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Rick Barry), a couple surefire future Hall of Famers (LeBron James, Kevin Durant), a couple maybe someday Hall of Famers (Tracy McGrady, Blake Griffin), two former All-Stars (Antoine Walker, Jamal Mashburn) and a pair of hey-how’d-they-get-there guys (Charlie Villanueva, Brandon Jennings).
Anybody should be proud to call himself a member of that list, but Wiggins wasn’t satisfied.
When asked afterwards about how badly the crowd wanted to see his failed final 3-point attempt fall through to make it an even 50 with 1:17 remaining, Wiggins told reporters: “Not as bad as me.” (The 50-point club is even more exclusive among 21-year-olds, including only Iverson, Mashubrn, Jennings, James and Barry, but Wiggins doesn’t turn 22 until Feb. 23, so he’s got 48 more games to join them.)
The young Wolf was so scorching from the field he was given the tiniest of Gatorade baths to cool off, courtesy of fellow 21-year-old Zach LaVine, who missed Sunday’s game with a sore right knee.
Meanwhile, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t satiated, either, with what he dubbed “a great performance,” if only because he knows there’s still untapped potential in the 2014 No. 1 overall pick.
“I think he’s smart, he’s driven,” Thibodeau said. “I think sometimes, mistakenly, people take it that he’s laid back. He’s competitive. And I think he’s just scratching the surface. I think he can do a lot more.”
How much more?
“I don’t want to put a lid on it,” Thibodeau said. “It’s what he wants it to be. And if he continues to work the way he’s working and preparing and studying and practicing the way he’s practicing, he’ll continue to improve.”
Wiggins’ 47-point night came just three games after his previous career high of 36 points, two games after Lavine topped him with 37 and one game after Thibodeau pushed him to be better following Saturday’s lackluster 8-for-24 shooting effort in a double-digit loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I shot 24 times yesterday and Coach Thibs told me to be more aggressive,” Wiggins said via the Star Tribune. “So I said, ‘All right,’ and I just went for it.”
Went for it, he did.
Wiggins was a more efficient 14-for-21 from the field against the Lakers, shooting 3-of-6 from mid-range and 2-of-5 from 3, but it was that aggressiveness that made him most dangerous. He finished 9-of-10 in the paint, including 8-of-9 inside of 5 feet, and earned 12 of his 22 free throws on an additional six forays into the restricted area. The scary part is that sort of performance can be reproduced by a player so skilled at getting to the rim. This wasn’t just some kid getting hot from the outside (like Jennings, who was 7-for-8 from 3 in his 50-point game). Even scarier, from Wiggins:
“I’m finding myself. I’m finding things I’m good at, finding things I have to work on. The game has kind of slowed down for me. I’m able to read a lot of different defenses and how they’re playing me.”
The list of players 21 or younger who scored 47 points with two or fewer 3-pointers is a much tidier group of perennial All-Stars: Jordan, LeBron, Shaq, Barry, McGrady, Griffin and, now, Wiggins.
Among wings, only Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, who went No. 2 overall in that 2014 NBA Draft, is attempting more shots inside of 5 feet (7.9 per game) than Wiggins (7.2). Equally as impressive, Wiggins is shooting 54.8 percent from 3-point range — better than anybody who attempts at least 2.5 per game, including two-time returning MVP Stephen Curry (47..5 percent). In other words, Wiggins currently ranks among the NBA’s elite at both getting to the rim and shooting from long distance.
Whether that trend continues remains to be seen, but his breakout performance could not have come at a better time for the Wolves, who had lost six of eight to start a season in which many pundits picked them to be a playoff surprise. With Wiggins and 2015-16 Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns now averaging a combined 48.4 points, Minnesota may produce a pair of All-Stars for the first time since Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell led the Timberwolves to the 2004 Western Conference finals.
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Minnesota’s bottom-10 defense remains a concern, but now that we know neither Thibodeau nor Wiggins are completely satisfied with even an historic performance, it does seem like we shouldn’t yet put a lid on anything these Wolves are capable of accomplishing in the present, much less the future.
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