Written By Zachary Bennett (ColdOmaha.com)
Andrew Wiggins stole the spotlight in a nationally televised matchup that featured two of the NBA’s most watchable big men, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid, as the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night, 110-86.
As some basketball heads throughout the twitterverse did prior to the opening tip, it is fun to debate which of these young, talented bigs has a higher upside. As it stands, based on overall body of work as well as what we saw go down yesterday, Towns clearly represents the more polished of the two.
Wiggins, meanwhile, posted 35 points on 14-of-20 shooting (3-of-6 3PM-A) to go with 10 rebounds and four assists. Over the previous six games, Wiggins, who ranks 8th in the league in scoring, amassed per game averages of 33 points, five rebounds and four assists while shooting 51 percent from the field and 53 (!!) percent from 3-point range. “He’s playing very well,” president-coach Tom Thibodeau said during his postgame presser.
“He’s playing an all-around game. His defense is terrific – he got ten rebounds tonight. He is letting the game come to him. He is shooting it when he should shoot, passing when he should pass. He made several good plays to Karl [Anthony-Towns]. That’s big for us. That pick-and-roll with those two is very difficult to guard.”
Part of what allowed him to have such an efficient and productive performance was Philly’s lack of depth at the wing possessions. Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson and Nik Stauskas were simply overmatched as Wiggins showcased his ability to score both in the post and beyond the arc.
Thibodeau further exploited Philly’s perimeter players by deploying Nemanja Bjelica at the 3 (aka the small forward) spot. When he is not being guarded by 4’s and 5’s, Bjelica should be able to see the floor much, much better, as was the case on Thursday. He can let his shot fly without worrying about it being blocked, and see and pass over the outstretched arms of undersized defenders.
I'm loving Thibs' lineup combinations tonight. Playing Wiggins & Towns with Belly, Dunn & Cole makes those 3 stronger.
— Jim Petersen (@JimPeteHoops) November 18, 2016
Wolves "big" lineup (Dunn/Wiggins/Bjelly/KAT/Aldrich) has outscored PHI 14-2 over the 3:38 they've been in.
MIN 35-18 w/ 10:39 left 2Q.
— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) November 18, 2016
Interesting stat: Wolves lineup with Wigg at 2, Bjelica at 3 and Aldrich at 5: 14-2 in 3:38 tonight. 60-30 in 20 mins this season
— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) November 18, 2016
On the other side of the coin, although this wasn’t the case last night, said smaller defenders should have an easier time blowing by Bjelica off-the-dribble — this is why I believe the whole, Bjelica at the 3, thing will continue to happen on a case-to-case basis. Perhaps it will totally fade into oblivion once Brandon Rush and Shabazz Muhammad are healthy enough to play. It’s all about matchups, really.
Gorgui Dieng made the media collective laugh after the game, as he is one to do, saying that Thursday’s contest marked the first time he’s seen Andrew Wiggins awake on the basketball court.
Shortly thereafter, Karl-Anthony Towns complemented Wiggins on his shooting ability, and overall game.
“He’s playing at an absolutely high level,” Towns said.
“It helps us tremendously when he’s shooting like that.”