Butler injury puts Wolves’ Wiggins in spotlight
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 13th edition of the 2017-18 Timberpups Tracker.
SPOTLIGHT ON …
Forward Andrew Wiggins
Head coach Tom Thibodeau says replacing Jimmy Butler is going to be a team effort for the Wolves.
To be clear, Thibodeau isn't just rattling off coaching platitudes here: Butler is irreplaceable. His absence produces wild swings in the Wolves' offensive and defensive numbers, while his effect on budding stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins is nearly impossible to truly calculate.
Nemanja Bjelica has once again filled in for Butler in the starting lineup, registering 20 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists total in those two games while shooting 42.1 percent from the field.
Point guard Jeff Teague has chipped in offensively since the injury, posting back-to-back games of 20-plus points for just the second time this season.
But if there's one player whose play Butler's presence/absence has had the most pronounced effect on, it's Wiggins. The forward's numbers are down this season, from a career-high 23.6 points per game a year ago to 17.7 this year. His defensive numbers have remained largely unchanged.
And while the sample size is miniscule -- two full games since the injury, four games in January and two back in October -- Wiggins' numbers are certainly on the rise.
Wiggins averaged 25.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field during Butler's four-game absence in January.
He produced his best game of the season during that absence, dropping 40 points and going 16-for-28 form the field in an eight-point win over the pre-trade-deadline Los Angeles Clippers.
Wiggins has largely reproduced those averages in two games and change without Butler, shooting 50 percent from the field in a loss to the Houston Rockets, 55.6 percent in a win over the Chicago Bulls and 53.3 percent in a win over the Sacramento Kings.
Wiggins is averaging 22.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in those three games.
-- Big man Amile Jefferson has a double-double in three straight games for the Iowa Wolves. He's averaging 17.8 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
-- Towns had 26 points and 17 rebounds in the Wolves' win over Sacramento, while going 9-for-10 from the field. He's the second player in Wolves history to shoot 90 percent or better with at least 25 points and 15 rebounds.
-- Towns would have been a senior at Kentucky this year. He posted a photo with former teammates Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker on what would have been the group's senior night. All four are now in the NBA.