Andrew Wiggins will claim Rookie of the Year for all the right reasons

The NBA’s regular season stretches from late October to mid-April, feeling like something just short of an eternity even to die-hard fans. So it makes sense that many would get sick of hearing the same story lines for six months.

No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins took over the top of the Rookie of the Year Award race in December, when No. 2 pick Jabari Parker tore a knee ligament right as Wiggins was starting to dispell criticism, both fair and over-the-top. The result has been four months of preordained celebration, and with it comes inevitable counterarguments and contrarianism.

But Wiggins has since coming into his own in December. The passiveness displayed at times in his one season at Kansas has all but evaporated, replaced by a performance worthy of every single Western Conference rookie of the month honor this season and, ultimately, the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.

He’s leading all rookies in scoring by nearly six points a game and is fifth in field goal percentage,only counting rookies who have played at least 60 games. In a year plagued by Timberwolves injuries, Wiggins has been called upon to be the team’s sole bucket-getter for a good majority of the season, and his numbers have only improved as his responsibility has increased. He’s also the guy Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders uses to guard the other team’s best perimeter player.

More now than ever, Wiggins actively is running the floor and shows zero hesitation when he gets an opportunity. Since gaining his confidence, he has shown of an array of different ways to score the ball. He’s excellent from the post, is solid off the dribble, and already has one of the best spin moves in the NBA.

He’s been good-to-great most of the year and has looked progressively better as the year has gone on. It’s to the point where him not winning the Rookie of the Year Award would come as a big surprise, but there are several sharp NBA minds who recently have taken to suggesting that reality.

The two names that come up the most are Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel, both of whom have started to show true signs of superstar potential, especially since the end of February.

The forever-confident Mirotic averaged 20.8 points a game in March after not hitting a double-digit average in any of the previous months. While his 3-point percentage remains lower than Bulls nation would prefer, his shot volume is high, and he’s put the Bulls on his back on several occasions. Even before his numbers made a leap, he was one of the NBA’s best role players and bench sparkplugs. And while Noel’s scoring ability will likely never exceed 15 points per game in his career (he’s averaging 9.9 points per game this season, 13.3 since the All-Star break), he’s already showing flashes of becoming a true low post defensive anchor, an deceptive rarity in today’s league. With that, well-reasoned arguments have surfaced in favor of both Mirotic and Noel.

Keep this in mind: In almost every instance, these articles and arguments have just started to surface. Most of these have seen publishing in the last month, if that. From late November on, Wiggins has been the favorite for rookie of the year. And to be fair, most still think he is.

When most cases have been made for Mirotic and Noel, it has been made on the basis that their second halves have been so good and productive, that it should at least get the discussion going about a race for the award. But, when looking at the bare numbers for all three of them, it would be unfair to omit Wiggins’ improvement since the All Star break ended. (He even was the Rising Stars Challenge MVP during the break.) All three have improved dramatically.

Obviously, Wiggins has been leading all rookies in scoring all season, and his ridiculously high minutes his rookie year has a lot to do with that. What isn’t listed on here are the added responsibilities he has been forced to take on, as teammates in Minnesota have fallen to injury over the last few months. Despite this, his production and aggression keep improving. Especially at the rim, especially over the past couple weeks.

But Mirotic, whose scoring outburst is a big reason why he’s in these talks, has shot the lowest percentage of all three listed. And while his 29 percent shooting from deep could be noted as an advantage over Wiggins, it probably isn’t when he’s taking nearly six per game, shooting less than 30 percent on those shots and playing about 26 minutes per game. These bare-bones stats don’t do his at-times brilliant rookie season justice, but they do give a little insight on how good Wiggins has been for Minnesota this year.

It’s harder to quantify what Noel has done based on this stat sheet. He tops Wiggins and Mirotic in every advanced defensive category out there as well as field goal percentage. Still, when factoring in Wiggins’ offensive responsibilities with Minnesota, along with his duties of guarding the other team’s best perimeter player, all while playing that many minutes, it’s hard to veer your head any other direction.

One thing is clear: the race for rookie of the year is tighter now than it was in January. But even still, all things considered, the award should and likely will go to Wiggins. He hasn’t coasted a good start, nor has he turned it on after a slow one.

The best part about this competition is for the future of the NBA. While the hype and mention Noel and Mirotic have received for the award may have come as a surprise to some, it also came as a pleasure to others. More young, talented, rising stars in this year’s rookie class? Even in a long, drawn-out regular season, everyone should be on board for that.

Source: MSN Sports

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