Canadian Andrew Wiggins claims NBA's top rookie honour
Michael Shulman, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, April 30, 2015 3:39PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 30, 2015 7:22PM EDT
Andrew Wiggins has had a turbulent first season in the NBA, filled with ups and downs. But on Thursday, the rising star finished his year on a high note by capturing the NBA's Rookie of the Year award.
In doing so, the native of Vaughan, Ont. becomes the first Canadian to receive the honours.
Wiggins started all 82-regular season games for the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging 39 minutes per contest.
"It means a lot to me. I know it means a lot to the organization and there's a whole lot of history," Wiggins said at news conference on Thursday.
"It should bring a lot of hope for the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves. It should give people a different look at things … we've got a lot of young talent," he added.
After struggling to meet expectations during the first three months of the season, Wiggins was forced to shoulder the load as many of his teammates were sidelined by injuries.
And Wiggins rose to the occasion; he exploded in January and averaged 19.1 points per game for the rest of the season.
The 20-year-old small forward put up 16.9 points, 2.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds for his season average. He also shot 43 per cent from the field and 31 per cent from beyond the arc.
Wiggins beat out second place Nikola Mirotic of the Chicago Bulls in a landslide, capturing 110 of 130 first-place votes. He became the first Timberwolves player to win the award.
Philadelphia's Nerlens Noel finished third in the voting.
Wiggins was picked first-overall by Cleveland in last summer's NBA draft, before being acquired by the Timberwolves in a blockbuster deal that sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers.
Wiggins has been a heavily hyped prospect since his high school days on the Vaughan Voyageurs. In the face of lofty expectations, Wiggins has been up for the challenge and has become the focus of the Timberwolves' offence.
"For the first time pretty much in this organization we have a player who can do that in Wiggins," Timberwolves coach and team president Flip Saunders said at a news conference on Thursday.
"He can make something happen out of nothing. He got to the free throw line ... he scored at a high level, he attacked the basket … you have to have something to hold onto that," he added.
Wiggins' play this season also impressed recently retired Canadian basketball great Steve Nash.
"Andrew had remarkable rookie season in the NBA," Nash, the general manager of Canada's national team, said in a statement.
Vice-president of Canada Basketball Rowan Barrett told CTV News Channel that this is a "great day" for Wiggins and his family.
Barrett worked with Wiggins as a teen on the Canadian cadet team.
Following his lone season with the University of Kansas Jayhawks, and heading into the draft, the swingman faced questions surrounding his drive.
Barrett says that the young phenom has a quiet and reserved demeanor, but he says his strong play on the court this season has silenced critics.
"He's not beating his chest, he is not trying to draw attention to himself -- he is really Canadian in that way – but he's very, very competitive when he gets on the floor," Barrett said.
The highlight of Wiggin's season may have come against the Cavaliers in January, when the Canadian outdueled LeBron James and put up a career-high 33 points.
With Nash calling it a career in March, Wiggins is unequivocally next in line as the face of Canadian basketball. But unlike Nash, Wiggins is joined by an up-and-coming generation of Canadian basketball talent, which include NBA players such as Tristan Thompson, Tyler Ennis, Anthony Bennett, Kelly Olynyk, Nick Stauskas and Cory Joseph.
Barrett says Canadian interest in basketball skyrocketed in the 1990s, as Vancouver and Toronto established NBA clubs.
"This has not been something that happened overnight, while we have umpteen players drafted over the past several years here, you really have to think our game has been growing," Barrett said.
"Our national body has been very, very involved … to help develop players like Andrew and hopefully there will be more to come," he added.
Barrett is optimistic that Wiggins' win will continue to spur greater interest in basketball.
"Hopefully it will have a tremendous impact and continue growing our game," Barrett said.
With files from The Associated Press