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Andrew Wiggins’ improvement hasn’t kept up with Wolves’

February 19, 2018

The Timberwolves defeated the Lakers 119-111 on Thursday, giving them a 36-25 record at the All-Star break.

Jimmy Butler filled up the stat sheet, finishing with 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots in 41 minutes. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 19 rebounds to go with 10 points, four assists and two blocks.

Taj Gibson (28 points), Jeff Teague (20 points) and Jamal Crawford (15 points), all new additions this season along with Butler, were all fantastic. Tyus Jones and Gorgui Dieng were productive off the bench.

And perhaps the most talented player on the whole roster played 32 minutes — though none of them in the final 10:35 of the game — and finished with eight points, four rebounds, no assists and no steals.

This is the mystery of Andrew Wiggins, made more glaring by the fact that the Wolves are often winning — as they did Thursday — despite him instead of because of him. While Butler and Towns spent Sunday in Los Angeles as All Stars — rewards for their strong play and the Wolves’ resurgence this season — Wiggins did not.

Wiggins has been lauded by coach Tom Thibodeau for strides he’s made this season, but the inconsistencies in his game seem to outstrip everything else. It leaves the praise from the coach — also the personnel boss who factored into the decision to give Wiggins a five-year extension at close to $150 million that kicks in next season — feeling either hollow or intentional, a motivational ploy more than a sincere expression.

Wiggins has been prodded by Butler, who calls his teammate “the most talented by far” on the Wolves. But at least statistically, Wiggins has not meaningfully improved in any area this season. His rebounding is flat, his assists are down a little, his shooting is flat and he’s getting to the line less (and making free throws at a much poorer rate) compared to last year. His defensive rating of 113 — worst among the five starters, per Basketball-Reference.com, — is right in line with his career mark of 114.

It is fair to point out that Wiggins is still young. He’ll turn 23, in fact, on the day of the Wolves’ first game back from the break Friday at Houston. But the NBA is an increasingly young league, and this is Wiggins’ fourth season. At the very least, one would hope and reasonably expect to see a rate of improvement at this point.

The Wolves are on pace for 48 wins, and they’re basically tied for the No. 3 seed in the West at the break. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 95 percent chance of reaching the postseason (though it should be noted there is a whole cluster of teams in the 3-10 spots in the West separated by just four games in the loss column).

Butler has been even better than most of us imagined. Towns is a gifted offensive player who has made defensive strides and remains a double-double machine. Gibson has been a revelation. Teague and Jones have been a solid point guard duo. Crawford has boosted the bench.

Wiggins has been durable, and he’s had his moments, but he remains a mystery. Solving that mystery was the question in October, and it still is in February.