Wolves’ Wiggins returns to form, goes off vs. Hornets

The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t exactly Timberpups anymore. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are well into their NBA careers at this point, while the Wolves’ lineup features seven players with 5-plus years of experience.

Welcome to the 2018-19 edition of the Young Wolves Tracker, formerly the Timberpups Tracker.

Each Thursday we’ll either track the progress of the Iowa Wolves players who might be of help to the Timberwolves in the future, or a current member of Minnesota’s roster. We’ll also give updates on the other young players from the previous week.

This is the 5th edition of the 2018-19 Young Wolves Tracker.

SPOTLIGHT ON …

Forward Andrew Wiggins

Still just 23, Wiggins has been a fixture in basketball circles for 6-7 years now, dating back to his run as the one of the country’s preeminent prep players in the early 2010s.

But when the conversation turned, well, it turned hard.

Wiggins, now in his fifth season, is often painted as something of a lost cause, a supreme athlete and max player whose demeanor both on and off the court can suggest a lack of competitive fire.

Contrasted against the hyper-focused Jimmy Butler, brought on last summer to show the Wolves’ young core the way, the difference was stark.

Butler’s departure furthered the narrative, and Wiggins’ statistical decline in the early goings of this season seemed to crystalize it.

Last month it all culminated in one of the single worst games of his career, a comfortable win over the hapless Chicago Bulls in which Wiggins shot 0-for-12 from the field.

Wiggins, we were led to believe, was washed.

Not so fast.

Wiggins went off in the Wolves’ comeback win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, helping to fuel a 19-point comeback with a season-high 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting, six rebounds and five assists on.

He scored seven straight points at one point, powering a 22-7 run for the Wolves.

The most notable moment of the second quarter: This monster putback.

A fun tidbit courtesy of Wolves digital content manager Kyle Ratke: Down 64-62 at the half, Minnesota outscored Charlotte 76-47 after that dunk, ultimately coasting to a 121-104 win.

That performance certainly didn’t come out of nowhere.

Wiggins looked sharp in the Wolves’ comeback win over the Houston Rockets on Monday, shooting over 50 percent from the field (6-of-11) for the first time since early November and finishing with 16 points.

For his part, Wiggins asserts that he is, indeed, back.

“It feels good to be back,” Wiggins told reporters after the Charlotte game. “I had a little stretch where I wasn’t playing too well, but it happens. I just got back in the gym and I got back to myself.”

It sure looks like he is.

WOLF TRACKS

— We harp on this a lot, but again, the Wolves are second in the NBA in defensive efficiency since the Butler trade at 101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions, behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder.

— They’re also now 9-3 in 12 games since the trade.

Josh Okogie, a rookie who has quickly emerged as a fan favorite, hasn’t played much over the last couple weeks. He’s gotten meaningful minutes just once in the Wolves’ last 10 games.

— Wiggins was good against Charlotte, but Karl-Anthony Towns was transcendent. Towns scored 35 points on 13-of-20 shooting with 12 rebounds, six blocks, three assists and two steals, and hit four 3-pointers.

— Rookie Keita Bates-Diop has been among the Iowa Wolves’ best players so far. The former second-round pick is averaging 20.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game through six tilts in the G League.