Get a grip, people.
Mirotic, Noel and Payton all have had fine rookie campaigns. All three are putting together strong finishes to their season. And Mirotic will get a chance to play in the postseason, where we certainly will learn more about him.
But to say any of them have had a better rookie season than Wiggins is such a stretch, it is borderline absurd.
Wiggins is averaging five points per game more than the next best rookie – which isn’t Mirotic, or Noel, or Payton, by the way. He shoots two more free throws per game than any other rookie and nearly as many as Noel and Payton combined. And while you may not be enamored of his shooting percentage, he is considerably better than Mirotic and better than Payton, both overall and from the arc.
You want to talk about strong finishes? Wiggins has scored in double figures in every game after the All-Star break, reaching 20 or more 13 times and averaging 19.9 points. Mirotic, Noel and Payton combined to 20 or more points a dozen times after the All-Star break.
Some folks like to look at a player’s numbers per 36 minutes, which makes for a somewhat more fair comparison – as long as you are willing to overlook minor issues such as fatigue and fouls and whether those minutes are even available. If you want to know what Wiggins’ per-36 numbers are, just look at his regular numbers. He plays 35.9 minutes per game, by far the most of any rookie.
Wiggins has done this with the burden of knowing that the Minnesota Timberwolves had no chance of winning if he didn’t score. Once he started scoring, teams began loading up on him. And every fellow starter has either been traded or missed a huge chunk of the season due to injury, allowing opposing defenses to focus more on him.
Last week vs. Toronto, Wiggins started alongside fellow rookies Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne and Lorenzo Brown and second-year man Justin Hamilton. You think the Raptors knew who was getting the ball? And Wiggins still scored 25 points, getting to the line 10 times.
Wiggins has started and played in every game this season. He didn’t temporarily lose his starting job, like Payton did. He didn’t struggle to figure things out, like Noel did. He didn’t disappear for weeks on end, like Mirotic did.
Mirotic, Noel and Payton all are fantastic building blocks and belong on the All-Rookie Team. Mirotic eventually will be a starter in this league. Noel and Payton eventually will be guys who play 35-40 minutes a night at their respective positions.
But don’t insult my intelligence by trying to tell me that any of them have had a better rookie season than Wiggins.
Because Wiggins already is a starter, playing 35-40 minutes a night. And what he eventually will be is an All-Star.
For the final time this season, on to the rankings. They are in inverse order, with numbers 10-6 comprising the All-Rookie Second Team and 5-1 making up the First Team.
10. LANGSTON GALLOWAY, G, NEW YORK: He edges Denver’s Jusuf Nurkic for the final spot on the Second Team, even though he has played barely half the season. That’s because Galloway – an undrafted free agent who didn’t debut until January 7 – has figured out how to score, which lottery picks such as Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum cannot say. He should be part of the Knicks’ plan and could have a long career as a third guard.
9. RODNEY HOOD, G, UTAH: A highly overlooked element of the Jazz’s excellent rebuilding plan because he battled injuries (ankle, concussion) throughout the season. But Hood will end up playing 50 games and is averaging 8.2 points while shooting 36 percent from deep. Those numbers jump to 11.5 and 42 percent since the All-Star break, and Utah is 8-3 when the prototype wing goes for double digits in that stretch.
8. ZACH LAVINE, G, MINNESOTA: Perhaps the most surprising inclusion of first-rounders on this list, given that he began the season behind Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams and appeared headed for the D-League. Instead, LaVine has averaged 9.3 points and 3.4 assists in a trial by fire and won the Slam Dunk Contest. Yes, he’s a little wild. (OK, a lot.) But the Summer League and some dedication can help with that.
7. BOJAN BOGDANOVIC, F, BROOKLYN: His Opening Night start and quick break out of the gates raised expectations and left us wanting more. So when he struggled, we probably judged him too harshly. But BoBo certainly can shoot (8.4 points, 44 percent overall, 33 percent threes) and at times showed he can rebound his position as well. He is averaging 10.5 points during Brooklyn’s 11-4 playoff push.
6. MARCUS SMART, G, BOSTON: He has a terrific competitive spirit, refusing to allow himself to fall behind due to an early season ankle injury and defending at a consistently high level. That same spirit has gotten Smart into some trouble with quick shots and flagrant fouls. He might be on the First Team if the Celtics make the playoffs even though he has slumped of late (5.5 points, 18-of-52 FGs in last 9 games).
5. JORDAN CLARKSON, G, LA LAKERS: No one knows what the Lakers’ future plans are, but he should be part of it. Clarkson is not a fad or a fluke; he won Rookie of the Month for March, is averaging 16.0 points, 5.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 48 percent since the All-Star break and has an overall PER of 16.55. He also has the mechanics to become a better shooter and the quickness to become a better defender.
4. NERLENS NOEL, F-C, PHILADELPHIA: A tough call to place him behind Mirotic because he leads all rookies in rebounds (8.1), blocks (1.9), steals (1.8) and double-doubles (18) while becoming a disruptive defender. But Noel’s erratic offensive game is an issue, although it did improve down the stretch. In fact, his scoring average jumped nearly five points per game after 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams was traded.
3. NIKOLA MIROTIC, F, CHICAGO: Here is something to consider regarding Mirotic, who is averaging 16.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in 26.3 minutes since the All-Star break. He comes off the bench for a playoff team and doesn’t carry the same weight that Payton and Wiggins do. But he should be in the mix for Sixth Man Award. In 2005, Emeka Okafor won Rookie of the Year but Ben Gordon won Sixth Man for the playoff-bound Bulls.
2. ELFRID PAYTON, G, ORLANDO: He overcame a lot, losing his starting job early in the season and playing for two coaches. But his defense got him back in the starting lineup and Payton has become a triple-double threat, collecting two while averaging 12.0 points, 8.5 assists and 5.9 rebounds since the All-Star break. He gets to the rim even though he can’t shoot a lick. If he ever develops a stroke, he will be an All-Star.
1. ANDREW WIGGINS, F, MINNESOTA: His path to this award clearly was made easier by the trade (which the Cavs will regret) and injuries to Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle. But you still have to do it, and Wiggins has done it. Since the All-Star break, he is 19th in scoring (19.9 ppg), fifth in free throws (7.6) and first in minutes (38.9). He is going to be a remarkable two-way player for a long time.
FIVE TO WATCH: Jerami Grant, F, Philadelphia; K.J. McDaniels, F, Houston; Mitch McGary, F, Oklahoma City; Jusuf Nurkic, C, Denver; T.J. Warren, F, Phoenix.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Mondays, and his Rookie Rankings on Fridays. Follow him on Twitter.