Wiggins says he’s ready to be top option again with Butler out

MINNEAPOLIS — Andrew Wiggins knows his life changes when Jimmy Butler isn’t on the floor.

For one, it’s on the Timberwolves’ fourth-year forward to defend the other team’s best player. And then there’s the offensive side, where he’s now the team’s top perimeter weapon.

“Guys are looking for me to score and create for them, so that’s what I’m trying to do,” Wiggins said. “I see the ball a lot more, I’ve got to be more aggressive, make decisions. It’s kind of like my role last year a little bit.”

When Wiggins was option No. 1 offensively for the Wolves last season, he averaged 23.6 points on a team-high 19 shots a game. Wiggins needs to be that guy over the next few weeks, but better. The Wolves need a more efficient, more assertive and more clutch version of himself if they’re to keep the ship afloat without Butler, the Wolves’ all-star forward who is out indefinitely after injuring his right knee on Feb. 23.

Wiggins is capable of being that guy.

“Andrew is one hell of a talent,” Taj Gibson said. “Every day in practice he surprises me. I think the sky is the limit for him, really. But I think at times he just has to want to take over the game, because the more and more that we’re going deeper and the game is getting more and more crazier, teams are going to try to take him away, and we need him, (Karl-Anthony Towns), almost everybody to try to do their hardest, their best.”

Gibson said he saw Wiggins show that desire in Minnesota’s loss to Utah. Wiggins responded to Towns’ first-half ejection by scoring 23 points over the final 24 minutes.

Wiggins is the logical candidate to replace the bulk of Butler’s production given his position and skill set, but Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau says “it’s a good time to get more out of everybody.”

“That’s the way we have to approach it,” he said. “It’s not going to fall on one guy, it can’t. You can’t replace what Jimmy does, but as a team we can. Everyone’s capable of rebounding the ball, everyone is capable of defending, everyone is capable of sharing the ball.”

But there are certain situations where somebody has to be “the guy.” You need a go-to player in crunch time, or someone who can get a bucket to stop an opponent’s run. That’s one of the areas where Butler’s absence will hurt most. Minnesota seemed to severely miss its closer in its loss at Portland, when it was outscored 33-21 while shooting 36 percent from the field in the fourth quarter.

Wiggins went 2 for 6 in the fourth quarter that night but has responded well in similar situations this season. He’s shooting 46 percent in “clutch” time — when the game is within five points with five minutes or less to play. Jeff Teague, Butler and Towns are all shooting well below 40 percent in such situations.

While Wiggins’ game still features plenty of shortcomings, getting a bucket is rarely one of them.

“We can’t go through any short periods of time in the game when we don’t score, especially in the crunch time,” Wiggins said. “We’ve just got to keep scoring and getting stops, and a lot of times guys are looking at me to score.”

Jamal Crawford said he’d like to see Wiggins take over more, but he doesn’t want the young wing to feel pressured to do so. He doesn’t want Wiggins thinking that because Butler is out, he has to score 50 points every night.

“Even when guys have big games, within the game you do it as a team,” Crawford said. “He might have a game where he erupts for 40, but it’s still somebody setting the screens getting him open, him doing other things on the floor. So yeah, you want to see him take this by the horns so to speak and go with it, but it’s on all of us.”

Being more assertive on offense again will be a bit of a transition for Wiggins, who’s seen his shot count and scoring total dip after Minnesota acquired a bevy of offensive talent this offseason, but he said he felt good taking on that closer role last year and has no hesitancy taking it this month, either.

He seems to have the confidence of his teammates, too.

“I love playing with him,” Gibson said. “He’s one hell of a talent, he’s going to keep growing, and it’s such fun to play with him, because he’s so talented and the sky is the limit. He hasn’t even scratched the surface or anything off it yet. He still has so much more room to grow and it’s amazing.”

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