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Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins voted NBA’s rookie of the year

MINNEAPOLIS — Dressed in a Navy blue tuxedo with shiny black lapels, Andrew Wiggins certainly looked the part while collecting his NBA rookie of the year award Thursday.

The Canadian phenom looked even better on the court in his first season in the league.

Wiggins became the first Minnesota Timberwolves player to win the rookie of the year, and he did it in a landslide. The Vaughan, Ont., native received 110 of 130 first-place votes and had 604 points in the voting. Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic finished second with 14 first-place votes and 335 points and Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel was third.

“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. “It should bring a lot of hope for the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves. It should give people a different look at things. This is the uprising. We’ve got a lot of young talent.”

After coming to the Timberwolves in the trade that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland, Wiggins averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds while playing all 82 games.

Wiggins was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cavaliers last summer and has been a heavily hyped prospect since he was a teenager. He lived up to that in his first year in the NBA, emerging as the new centerpiece of a franchise that has not made the playoffs for 11 straight years.

“When I first came here a couple years ago, I met with (owner Glen Taylor) and said the No. 1 thing we had to do to build a franchise and develop that culture was to get a game-changing type player,” coach and team president Flip Saunders said. “A player that was a two-way type player that could play offence, could play defence. Last year, Aug. 23, when we traded for Andrew Wiggins we got that type of player. And we were ready and set to go.”

Wiggins also impressed fellow Canadian Steve Nash, who retired earlier this year after an illustrious NBA career.

“Andrew had a remarkable rookie season in the NBA,” Nash, the general manager of Canada’s national team, said in a release. “It is exciting for Canada to have a player like Andrew with such high potential and bright talent. With his skill and determination we look forward to seeing him continue to develop as an NBA star and key contributor to Team Canada.”

The Timberwolves started the summer in an incredibly difficult position, with Love wanting to be traded and fans bracing for yet another in a seemingly endless line of rebuilding projects. Then something unfamiliar happened — a stroke of luck in their favour.

After a good freshman season at Kansas, Wiggins was drafted No. 1 overall last June by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not long after, James decided to leave Miami and return home to Cleveland, setting up a possible pairing with Wiggins. The two shared something in common as super-hyped teenagers and No. 1 picks, but his stay in Cleveland was short-lived.

James pushed hard for the Cavaliers to bring in Love, the three-time all-star and his teammate from the London Olympics.

Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders demanded Wiggins be a part of the package. After some back-and-forth, the Cavaliers relented and sent Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to Minnesota in a three-team deal that netted them Love.

After finding his way through the first month of the season, Wiggins took off. As teammate after teammate went down, more responsibility fell on to Wiggins’ shoulders. Forced to become a focal point at 19 years old, he responded by becoming more assertive and more aggressive on both ends of the court than he ever was in his lone season at Kansas.

He averaged 19.1 points per game after Jan. 1 and in his final 13 games, he scored 23.3 points, dished out 3.5 assists and took 10 free throws per game. Saunders, also the team’s coach, said Wiggins represents the kind of perimeter force that all good teams need — a player who can get his own shot when the clock is winding down, one that puts pressure on the defence by getting to the free throw line for easy points.

“For the first time pretty much in this organization we have a player who can do that in Wiggins, to be point blank,” Saunders said. “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, so the way the game is that athleticism, you have to have something to hold onto that.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

Jon Krawczynski, The Associated Press

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