It’s really no surprise that Team Canada plans to lean on 20-year-old phenom Andrew Wiggins at the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico during September. The NBA’s Rookie of the Year was a horse for the Minnesota Timberwolves during his first pro season, logging the second most minutes in the league at 2,969 while playing in all 82 games.
Wiggins learned fast in Minnesota. Averaging just 12.3 points and 1.0 assist in 29.9 minutes in November, he was tearing things up by April averaging 23.3 points and 4.0 assists in 41.2 minutes over the final month. The first overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft proved his superstar potential.
“I think that every level he has played at, teams have leaned on him,” Team Canada head coach Jay Triano said. “Even as a rookie last year in the NBA playing all the games that he did. We are going to make sure to give him the basketball and we expect him to be a big player for us.”
On a relatively young team loaded with NBA talent including his Timberwolves teammate Anthony Bennett, Wiggins acknowledges his leadership role. Mexico represents a chance to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, so he has to step up, the future is now.
“I believe (I have a leadership role),” Wiggins said. “I believe a lot of the stuff that I do is to lead by example.
“I want to win. I believe with all the talent we have got, I believe we are the best team. We just got to go out there and fight. I think we were the last team to get together, so we got to work hard in practice and get the chemistry good and go out there and give it our all.”
Team Canada does have a few players with international experience, however, the guy with the biggest international and professional reputation has taken a management role, not that this has kept former two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash on the sidelines during training camp. Wiggins does have someone he can talk to who has been on this stage before with an opportunity to take his team to the Olympics.
“I’ve seen (Steve Nash) a couple of times over the summer time,” Wiggins said. “I’ve been able to ask him questions. I played the international game a couple of times when I was younger. I kind of know what to expect, but not fully at this level of competition, so I am looking forward to it. Our team is full of youth. I think that is going to be our biggest negative factor, but it’s a positive too.”
Wiggins will get help adjusting to this level of international play from some of teammates as well. This will be point guard Cory Joseph’s third trip to the FIBA Americas tournament with the Senior Men’s National Team and both Andrew Nicholson and Brady Heslip were big contributors in 2013. Kelly Olynyk played at FIBA Americas in 2011 and there are several other players with international experience that Triano is counting on to expedite the learning process for his FIBA Americas rookies.
However, there is no ignoring the impact a talent like Wiggins can have on a team. It might not be fair to put the burden of Team Canada’s success or failure on the shoulders of such a young player, but that is the reality every superstar player faces. He will be leaned on. Fortunately, he’ll have a lot of help.