NEW YORK – Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Andrew Wiggins lived up to his billing as the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft by being voted the league’s rookie of the year.
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected the 20-year-old Canadian with the top pick in the draft but traded him before the start of the season to the Timberwolves as part of a three-team deal that brought power forward Kevin Love to the Cavs.
Wiggins received 110 of 130 first-place votes to become the first Timberwolves player to win the award, while Chicago Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic finished second and Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel came in third, the NBA announced on Thursday.
“It means a lot to me,” Wiggins, who made himself eligible for the NBA draft after playing just one year of college basketball at the University of Kansas, was quoted as saying on the team’s Web site. “It brings a lot of the hope for the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves.”
The forward was the lone bright spot on an injury-riddled squad that had the NBA’s worst record (16-66) in the 2014-2015 season, averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest and playing in all 82 regular-season games.
Wiggins also improved as the year went on, averaging 23.3 points, six rebounds and four assists per game in April, compared to 12.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and one assist per contest in November.
The Timberwolves’ new franchise player won four of the six rookies of the month awards.
“I thought the No. 1 thing we had to do to build a franchise and develop that type of culture was to get a game-changer,” Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders said. “We got that player when we traded for Andrew Wiggins.”
The 24-year-old Mirotic, who arrived in the NBA after starring for Real Madrid, received 14 first-place rookie-of-the-year votes and 335 total points, far behind Wiggins’ tally of 604 points.
Mirotic averaged 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest during the regular season.
Like Wiggins, the Spanish-Montenegrin power forward also got better as the season wore on, averaging 20.8 points a game in March for the Bulls, who advanced to a much-anticipated clash with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by trouncing the Milwaukee Bucks 120-66 in a series-clinching Game 6 win on Thursday night.
In one other NBA playoff game Thursday night, the Los Angeles Clippers topped the defending champion San Antonio Spurs 102-96 to even their Western Conference first-round series at 3-3 and force a decisive Game 7 at Staples Center on Saturday.