With Butler out, Wiggins steps up big for Timberwolves

Welcome to the 2017-18 edition of the Timberpups Tracker. This year, we’re taking a different tact. With Minnesota having taken over a G League franchise in Iowa, and renaming it the Wolves, each Thursday we’ll either track the progress of the players who might be of help to the Timberwolves in the future or a current member of the Minnesota roster. We’ll also give updates on the other young players from the previous week.

This is the 9th edition of the 2017-18 Timberpups Tracker.

SPOTLIGHT ON …

Forward Andrew Wiggins

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Now this is the Wiggins the Timberwolves envisioned when they signed him to a five-year, $148 million deal in October.

With All-Star Jimmy Butler sidelined the last three games with a sore right knee, the Timberwolves have turned to Wiggins to spark the team.

He’s done that — and more.

Wiggins led the Timberwolves in scoring in all three games, and the 22-year-old notched his first 40-point game of the season (and sixth of his career) in Minnesota’s 115-109 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, one of two wins during Butler’s three-game absence.

Wiggins, who turns 23 in February, is starting to excel in his new role. With Butler in town, the Timberwolves don’t necessarily need Wiggins to score 40 points per night. But it’s the other parts of his game that make all the difference.

Wiggins tallied six rebounds against the Clippers on Monday. Funny enough, the Timberwolves are 11-2 when Wiggins grabs 6+ boards.

Minnesota is also 6-2 when Wiggins racks up 4+ assists.

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If Butler is the engine of this team that makes it run, Karl-Anthony Towns is the frame that holds it all together. But it’s Wiggins who’s the gear that can power the Timberwolves to new heights when he’s on his game.

And he certainly has been of late.

TRACKING TIMBERPUPS

— Not that he’s much of a Timberpup anymore at age 25, but Shabazz Muhammad has played in three straight games, tallying a combined 18 points against the Raptors, Clippers and Trail Blazers. To put this in perspective, he hasn’t seen playing time in three straight contests since late November. In fact, Muhammad hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer since Nov. 24 — that’s 62 days! He, like Wiggins, has been a beneficiary of Butler’s absence in terms of minutes, so don’t expect this trend to continue much further.

— Marcus Georges-Hunt has been on the floor for over 19 minutes the past three games, including a career-high 29:21 of playing time in Saturday’s win over Toronto. The 23-year-old also set career highs in points (12), field-goal attempts (10) and free-throw makes (5) in that contest.

— Michael Bryson, who was traded to Iowa from the Northern Arizona Suns in October, knocked down 8 of 14 (57.1 percent) attempts from downtown in the G League Wolves’ three games last week.

— Timberwolves first-round pick Justin Patton has sunk over 50 percent of his shots from the field in five straight games with Iowa. His six-game streak of recording at least one block, however, was halted in Wednesday’s 124-114 loss to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.