Wiggins becomes ‘Maple Jordan’ again in Saunders’ debut

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 10th edition of the 2018-19 Young Wolves Tracker.

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SPOTLIGHT ON …

Forward Andrew Wiggins

If Ryan Saunders can call forth “Maple Jordan” on a regular basis, maybe the Wolves should ditch that interim tag sooner rather than later.

The Saunders era began Tuesday with an impressive road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, a locker-room dousing, plenty of smiles and a spectacular effort from Wiggins, who produced the first 40-10 game of his five-year career.

His outburst came at a particularly important moment for the Wolves.

Saunders, of course, was running the show for the first time, while Robert Covington and Derrick Rose remained out, Karl-Anthony Towns got into foul trouble early and Jeff Teague was ejected late in the third quarter.

Wiggins responded, not with apathy, but with season highs: 40 points, 10 rebounds and 16 free throws (on 18 attempts).

And with the game on the line, he delivered.

The Wolves’ bench built a seven-point lead after Wiggins left the game with 1:57 to play in the third quarter, returning with 7:06 to play in the fourth.

Oklahoma City took the lead, 111-110, a few minutes later, but Wiggins answered, connecting on four free throws and a long two before flipping the ball out to Josh Okogie for the rookie’s first 3 of the night to make it 119-115 Wolves with 27 seconds to play.

It was Wiggins’ first 40-point night in almost a year, and the latest in a string of impressive outings for the 23-year-old, who has 31, 16, 28 and 40 points in his last four games.

And while they haven’t all been particularly efficient performances — those 28 points came on just 9-of-23 shooting in a win over the shorthanded Lakers — there’s been more than enough good to outweigh the iffy.

He went 11-for-24 from the field against the Thunder, sinking two of his four 3s and banishing any concerns about his effectiveness from the foul line.

WOLF TRACKS

Tyus Jones looked perfectly at home following Teague’s ejection, playing 23:48 off the bench. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting, but had four assists and a plus-13 rating.

— Okogie struggled from the field, and particularly from the perimeter, but came through in the clutch. His only made 3 was the Wolves’ final bucket of the game.

— Tuesday’s game was the first time Towns has fallen short of a double-double since before Christmas. He’s been on a tear in recent weeks, and is now averaging 28.3 points, 15.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.9 blocks and 1.0 steals over his past seven games.