By Willy Phan
Andrew Wiggins collected the NBA rookie of the year award on Thursday after turning several heads across the league with his sensational play on the court.
More importantly, the 20-year-old swingman’s award indicates a rapid growth in Canadian basketball talent.
Wiggins is the first Canadian and first Minnesota Timberwolves’ player to receive the honour after averaging 16.9 points per game in 82 games to lead all rookies in scoring.
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) April 30, 2015
“It means a lot to me. I know it means a lot to the organization and there’s a whole lot of history,” said Wiggins in a press conference on Thursday.
Wiggins received 110 of of 130 first-place votes to finish with 604 points in voting for the top rookie honour. Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic finished a distant second-place with 14 first-place votes and 335 points.
“The fact that a Canadian has won the NBA rookie of the year is incredible for the sport of basketball in Canada, incredible for young kids coming up,” said Canadian basketball analyst Drew Ebanks.
The Canadian phenom was drafted first overall last summer by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who subsequently traded him to Minnesota in a blockbuster deal involving superstar big man Kevin Love.
Wiggins was a highly-touted prospect as a teenager in Toronto, Ont. and the expectations only increased in his lone college season with the Kansas Jayhawks in 2013-14.
Congrats to Andrew Wiggins, the first Canadian player to ever win NBA Rookie of the Year. Great things still to come for @22wiggins
— Stephen Harper (@pmharper) April 30, 2015
Despite the hype, he also had plenty of detractors who were uncertain about his physical strength, shooting skills, and mental focus.
The depth of the 2014 NBA draft class also meant there would be stiff competition for Wiggins heading into the start of the season.
“Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon… unfortunately, all three of those guys got injured, so (Wiggins) was able to withstand an early struggle,” said Ebanks.
Steven Loung, a basketball writer for Sportsnet.ca, said Wiggins’ rookie of the year award is a positive sign for Canada Basketball.
“It’s a big step for Canada Basketball,” said Loung. “Steve Nash himself tweeted how proud he was [of Wiggins].”
Damn proud of Andrew Wiggins for being the rookie of the year. Some great names on that list. Just the beginning for AW…
— Steve Nash (@SteveNash) May 1, 2015
Nash’s support for Wiggins is a ringing endorsement for the latter, who is expected to lead Team Canada in upcoming international events.
Ironically, Nash is the current General Manager for the Canadian senior national team and retired from the game of basketball back in March after an illustrious career in the NBA.
Wiggins told reporters on April 15 that he will play for Team Canada in the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament, which takes place from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 in Mexico.
The idea of Wiggins playing for the national team at the 2015 Pan Am Games is still up in the air. The Pan Am Games are set to take place in Toronto in July, but Wiggins has not announced if he will suit up for Canada in the event.
“I’m sure [Team Canada] coach [Jay] Triano will be talking to him a fair bit,” said James DePoe, team manager of Canada Basketball.
Although the idea of Wiggins playing for Team Canada in Toronto would create quite the homecoming, there is some concern about the wear-and-tear on the young player’s body.
“Wiggins played all 82 [NBA] games…his body is still growing,” said DePoe. “Everybody needs a physical and mental break.”
— Canada Basketball (@CanBball) April 30, 2015
A busy summer schedule with the national team at the Pan Am Games and Olympic qualifiers would virtually mean no rest for Wiggins, especially with NBA training camps taking place in the fall.
Even if Wiggins elects not to participate in the Pan Am games, fans can still see him don the Canadian jersey at the qualifiers in Mexico, where the stakes will be higher.
“With all due respect to the Pan Am games and the forming of the team… August, that’s go-time,” said DePoe. “FIBA Americas is no joke even though USA isn’t involved, having won the world championships. They get their automatic bid [to the Olympics], Brazil gets an automatic bid as the host.”
The top two teams at the qualifying tournament will earn spots at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.