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Andrew Wiggins has played hero for the Timberwolves twice already, but habits are hard to break

Andrew Wiggins caught fire against the Miami Heat on Sunday. When the Minnesota Timberwolves went on a 14-2 run in crunch time, he was responsible for 13 of those points. All of them came in a span of less than three minutes, and he got buckets on four consecutive possessions to put the game away. Three of them were 3-pointers. Look at all this:

And look at these quotes from Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, via Jace Frederick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

“The one thing I know about Andrew, it don’t matter how the game goes, he’s a star player and he knows when he has to kick it up, and for some reason, he always hits those shots at the end when we need him the most,” Towns said. “Today was another example of Andrew doing what he does best.”

“I just try to make plays,” Wiggins said. “I feel like my teammates expect me to make plays down the stretch also. So that’s what I do.”

Thanks to Wiggins going “absolute beast mode,” as Towns put it, the Wolves became the first team in the league to earn a 3-0 record, having won an overtime nail-biter in Brooklyn to open the season and followed that up with a blowout victory in Charlotte. Without his late-game exploits, they might be 1-2 — down the stretch against the Nets, Minnesota ran a series of Wiggins-Towns pick-and-rolls, and he made some clutch finishes in traffic:

It is fair, however, to ask if it is Wiggins’ fault that they needed his heroics in the first place. In Brooklyn, Wiggins shot 10 for 27 and was minus-26. In Miami, he was benched in the first half due to poor decision-making, and he didn’t make his first 3-pointer of the season until halfway through the fourth quarter. Through three games, he is 4 for 17 from deep and has two total assists. And after a training camp in which coach Ryan Saunders installed a new offense and emphasized eliminating long 2s, Wiggins did this in Charlotte:

If you are generally skeptical of Wiggins — and since you are reading about basketball on the internet, you probably are — then you’re probably thinking that this is all pretty obvious. For years, what he can do has been tantalizing, but what he does do has been frustrating. The Wolves literally have shot values on their practice court to drive home the message that contested midrange jumpers are a last resort, and yet there are more examples of tough 2s, including several late-game possessions against the Nets: 

After the victory in Brooklyn, though, Saunders praised him for his drives to the rim. Wiggins has taken a couple of floaters, but mostly he is trying to get all the way to the paint, create contact and finish. He has not been discouraged when fouls have gone uncalled. 

In the new system, with a stretch 4 on the court at all times, Wiggins should be a more dangerous driver. It also helps that Towns has been empowered to do more point-center stuff — there are more opportunities for Wiggins to cut and get easy points:

Habits are hard to break, but at least Wiggins has shown some encouraging signs. Sunday was only the second time in his career that he attempted as many as 10 3-pointers, and he has said all the right things about trusting the system and turning long 2s into 3s. In the long run, he needs to more consistently make those shots — the barrage against the Heat was an outlier; he is a career 33.1 percent 3-point shooter — and see the floor better when he runs pick-and-rolls, but hey, progress is progress. In his sixth year, playing for his fourth coach, Wiggins is at least trying to adapt to a system that goes against almost everything he’s used to. The efficiency still isn’t there, but maybe it’s coming.