Earlier this week, we ran a blog post that led with the fact that Andrew Wiggins is running away with the Rookie of the Year race.
What the post did not fully explain is how far ahead Wiggins is when compared to the rest of his classmates.
It’s more than the injuries to fellow 2014 draft picks such as Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle which propelled Wiggins to the head of the class almost by default.
It’s more than Wiggins remaining there by performing on a different level. For example, Wiggins has 18 20-point games, which is more than all other rookies combined.
Wiggins is turning the Rookie of the Year into the 1973 Belmont Stakes by starting to hone an important skill that other rookies cannot even comprehend at this stage of their development: working the referees.
On his 20th birthday Monday, Wiggins received a strange present: the first technical foul of his career. It will cost him $2,000 and will also be worth every penny.
Interaction between players and referees has changed dramatically over the years. When I first started watching the NBA in the 1970s, only the true stars conversed with or complained to officials. Hall of Fame guard Walt Frazier of the New York Knicks almost never said a word to the referees.
Nowadays, the player that doesn’t talk to referees is the exception, not the rule. Stars have running conversations with the refs for the entire game and almost everyone complains about a call at some point, which is how you get ordinary players like Matt Barnes, Markieff Morris and O.J. Mayo at or near the league lead in technical fouls.
Every referee has a different threshold for the amount or type of dialogue he is willing to accept from a player, but virtually all of them have one steadfast guideline: They are not taking any crap from rookies.
Believe it or not, it helps both the referee and the player. It helps the referee because it usually buys him at least one season before that draft class joins the hundreds of others already chirping about something. But it also helps the player, letting him know that there are facets of his game he needs to work and develop on before he earns the right to be heard.
Kevin Garnett has 167 career technical fouls, but only 13 came in his first four seasons. Kevin Durant had 12 technicals in his first five years, then collected 12 in his sixth season and 15 in his seventh. Even Russell Westbrook had just seven technicals in his first two years and eight in his third before crashing double digits in each of the next four seasons.
Wiggins had played his first 54 NBA games without rubbing an official the wrong way until Monday, when he finally got tired of being treated like a rookie. So he stopped acting like a rookie, arguing a non-call and getting hit with his first career T late in the third quarter.
The results were astounding. Before the tech, Wiggins was 8-of-19 from the field and did not get to the line. Afterward, he was 4-of-5 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line as he benefited from the invisible halo created by his complaining. And his coach said it was no coincidence.
“At some point, when you keep on getting beat up, you’re going to say something,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “He was frustrated. People always ask why players complain. They complain because it works, because in time you will get some calls because of that. It has been that way in this league for ages. Sometimes you have to stick up for yourself and let them know you’re getting fouled. That’s part of maturity. Guys learn that.”
“If you want to be good in this league, you have to earn respect and sometimes you’ve got to take that step,” Rubio told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “He cares about the game. He cares about what’s going on and I’m proud of him.”
Wiggins now has Garnett as a teammate and can learn more about the dynamics of interacting with officials. But one of the next steps Saunders should take – perhaps next season – is having Wiggins join Minnesota’s team captain in the brief referee meeting that takes place before every game to get to meet and know the officials on a first-name basis.
This is something former Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown did with Allen Iverson, another Rookie of the Year who spent most of his first two seasons saying, “Yo, ref!” whenever he had a complaint.
Iverson averaged just under nine free throws a game for his career, so it probably worked.
On to the rankings.
1. ANDREW WIGGINS, F, MINNESOTA: For the week, he averaged 23.0 points while shooting 51 percent (27-of-52) from the floor in three games. He has attempted just 11 threes in nine games in February but saw no uptick in his free throws per game, which may have prompted his complaints. It has taken him less than a year to join the list of players better than their fathers. LAST WEEK: 1
2. ELFRID PAYTON, G, ORLANDO: His streak of double-digit games ended at five with a stinker vs. Miami in which he shot 1-of-8 from the field and 1-of-4 from the line. And the Sixers did intentionally foul him at the end of Sunday’s win. But he twice threatened triple-doubles this week, including a win over New Orleans where he had a sparkling 11 assists without committing a turnover. LAST WEEK: 2
3. NERLENS NOEL, F-C, PHILADELPHIA: He is GM Sam Hinkie’s only remaining asset who (a) is a human being and (b) plays in the NBA and is taking advantage of it, averaging 12.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 1.75 steals in four games last week. Noel also is averaging better than five free throws per game in his last eight contests, showing a newfound aggression. LAST WEEK: 3
4. MARCUS SMART, G, BOSTON: He kept his starting spot and most of his minutes despite the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas and is in the midst of his best scoring stretch of the season, averaging 12.5 points over his last six games. Smart also had a season-high five steals in a loss to Sacramento. However, his shooting has dropped off dramatically this month (.345 overall, .260 threes). LAST WEEK: 5
5. JUSUF NURKIC, C, DENVER: In nine games in February, he is averaging 9.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks with two double-doubles. Nurkic didn’t quite get there Wednesday with eight and eight vs. Phoenix but did add Suns forward Markieff Morris to his list of opponents clowned with this act of brilliance. As you might expect, he leads all rookies with 147 fouls. LAST WEEK: 6
6. JORDAN CLARKSON, G, LA LAKERS: He had a season-high 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting Wednesday at Utah. Among rookies, only Wiggins is scoring more per game than the 13.6 ppg Clarkson has averaged in February. He also is shooting a respectable 45 percent this month while averaging nearly four assists. If this kid develops a consistent 3-pointer over the summer, watch out. LAST WEEK: 7
7. LANGSTON GALLOWAY, G, NEW YORK: He averaged 15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 18-of-41 overall and 5-of-13 from the arc in three games. However, Galloway’s most impressive number may have been his LeBron-like 38 minutes per game. And with Jose Calderon now playing through an injury, there may be even more minutes and offensive opportunities available. LAST WEEK: 8
8. NIKOLA MIROTIC, F, CHICAGO: In an otherwise pedestrian week, he went for 16 points, a season-high 14 boards and two blocks while filling in for the injured Taj Gibson in Monday’s win over Milwaukee. With Derrick Rose again on the shelf, the Bulls are going to need more of that from Mirotic, who hasn’t scored in double figures in consecutive games since January 12-14. LAST WEEK: 9
9. MITCH MCGARY, F, OKLAHOMA CITY: He averaged 9.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 18.3 minutes over three games this week before a 10-minute donut Thursday at Phoenix partially mitigated by the Suns playing small. With Kendrick Perkins gone and Steven Adams still sidelined, McGary remains a necessary rotation piece. But that could change once Adams returns, which could be as early as next week. LAST WEEK: NR
10. K.J. MCDANIELS, F, HOUSTON: He should be part of a dual case study with Adriean Payne to answer the age-old NBA question: Would you rather play for a loser or sit for a winner? McDaniels was on track to be an All-Rookie Team selection with Philadelphia but has played five minutes of garbage time since being traded to Houston. He’s going to the playoffs, but his season is over. LAST WEEK: 4
DROPOUTS: Bojan Bogdanovic, G-F, Brooklyn (10).
FIVE TO WATCH: Markel Brown, G, Brooklyn; Tyler Ennis, G, Milwaukee; Rodney Hood, G, Utah; Adriean Payne, F, Minnesota; anyone on Denver.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Mondays, and his Rookie Rankings on Fridays. Follow him on Twitter.