It’s hard to decide if Andrew Wiggins is bound for superstardom or not.
It started with Steve Nash, a scrawny point guard out of Santa Clara, and it has continued ever since. Canadian kids can really ball. Tristan Thompson, another Canadian, just recently helped the Cleveland Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals. Thompson’s Cavs reached the Finals even without Kevin Love, who was acquired for two Canadian ballers―former number one picks to be exact.
One of those former top picks was Anthony Bennett, a player so pedestrian he could blend into the set of Fargo. The other was Andrew Wiggins, who has contrarily been a very interesting player to follow. He was highly touted out of high school and one year of college as a possible two-way star.
He was expected to contribute right away and at the age of 20 has already played over 100 career games. He didn’t miss a single game during his rookie campaign, where intrigue around his legacy began.
Wiggins cruised to the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year, but that was at the expense of injuries to his competition, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid. Here lies the core of Wiggins’ game: trying to figure out how good he really is. Still, clearly he was good enough to easily win Rookie of the Year.
While playing and starting in all 82 games, Wiggins posted 16.9 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. As the focal point of Flip Saunders offense, the rookie did well getting thrown into the fire, though his shooting numbers, given the context of his situation, were understandably low.
Shooting just under 44% as a rookie is not a terrible feat, especially with a high usage rate, while playing the second most minutes in the league last season. That durability is certainly a reason to be high on Wiggins’ future, though obviously by starting at such a young age he won’t be able to sustain that pace. Just look at LeBron already having to cut back a bit at just 30 years of age.
Given the pace at which Wiggins improved during his rookie season, NBA fans were wondering how the Canadian’s sophomore season would go, especially with the addition of another top pick, Karl-Anthony Towns. Would he get better or worse? Is he an alpha or a beta? While he hasn’t had a breakout year, that might not necessarily be a bad thing.
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Through 29 games, it’s been a mixed bag for Wiggins. His scoring has surpassed 20 points on the season, much in thanks to a 23 point per game month of November. In the month since he’s under 20 points and has taken three less shots per game. During this span he is shooting roughly the same percentage (44%) as he did in November. In 29 games, Wiggins already has eight games with 25 or more points. Last year he had 14 such performance sin 82 games.
However, his fairly low totals of assists and rebounds from his rookie campaign are down even more. His rebounds are down from 4.6 to 3.6, and assists from 2.1 to 1.7 per game. One criticism of Wiggins after his rookie year was that he doesn’t do enough aside from scoring, and that has not exactly gotten better this year. This could really be a problem given Wiggins is now playing almost 60% of his minutes at small forward, a position that demands rebounds.
It especially demands rebounds when a lot of teams are throwing out small lineups for long stretches of games. So you won’t be surprised that his Defensive Rebound Percentage―the percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed by a player―has fallen significantly from 9.5% to 6.6%.
Because he lacks a plethora of outstanding statistics, one almost has to take comfort in his offensive game. Fifteenth in the league in scoring is no small feat when you’re early into your second NBA season. Wiggins has a killer first step, a nasty go-to spin move, and elite hops that border on freakish olympic athleticism.
Despite all of this, however, his shooting has not improved as many thought it might. It would have made sense for him to be able to find his spots more and improve this year with more talent around him. Just take a look first at his shot chart from his rookie season and then his current season below.
Wiggins’ 2014-15 Shot Chart:
During his rookie campaign, it was a grind for Wiggins. Not only was he adjusting to the NBA, but he was drawing the best perimeter defender on opposing teams most nights. That being said, he at least shot the ball at an average percentage at the rim, and found a nice spot on the right side of the three point line. Onto year 2:
Wiggins 2015-16 Shot Chart
Wiggins’ three point shooting is still really bad, but at least he’s a bit more consistent across the board in that regard. He has started to come into his own a bit more with shots just away from the paint, but becoming a stronger and better finisher at the rim is a must given his jump shooting (44% of his FGA). Yet, even with his shooting woes, Wiggins is finally starting to live up to his defensive potential.
Despite having poor advanced defensive statistics like RPM (Real Plus-Minus) and DBPM (Defensive Box Plus-Minus), opponents aren’t having a great time against the second year version of Maple Jordan. Those advanced numbers show there’s room for improvement―as they should―but his opponents shot charts represent plenty of improvement that has already occurred.
The above charts should have Minnesota fans rejoicing more so than his 20.8 points per game. The percentages from the NBA’s three easiest spots - the corner threes and at the rim - were atrocious during his rookie season. Yet, look at his improvements! Sure, he needs to get better at the rim, but he’s in elite company defending the corner three.
In terms of defending the harder shots from mid range, as well as top of the break treys, Wiggins is better than the league average at just 20 years of age. What’s even more impressive about these charts is that he guards the opponent’s best perimeter talent pretty much every night. It’s fair to say the return of Ricky Rubio and the presence of bigs like Towns and Gorgui Dieng has helped Wiggins, but this is certainly stock worth buying into, amidst several digressions in other areas of his game.
That being said, the lack of improvement in a lot of areas 29 games into his second year is no reason to panic. It wouldn’t even merit doubt through 82 games this season and beyond. Just look at the careers of Carmelo Anthony and Jimmy Butler, the latter who I think is a much better comp for A-Wiggins than Melo - Melo was his main comp around draft time. It took Anthony three years to come into his own as a bona fide super star and Butler four years to be above average.
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From his second to third year, Anthony went from 20.8 PPG to 26.5, and his FG% increased from 43% to 48%. There’s precedent for improvement after sophomore years. And in terms of a module for three point shooting, Anthony didn’t shoot above 32% from deep until his fifth NBA season. Anthony also shot 42% and 43% from the field in years one and two. Wiggins is currently over 43% in both seasons.
Butler’s jump came from years three to four, improving from 13 to 20 points per game in a scoring transformation that Wiggins need not replicate. That being said, what was most impressive about Butler’s renaissance was seeing his FG% climb from 40% to 46%, and his 3P% increase by ten percent to 38%. Even though Anthony was once one of our games elite scorers, studying Butler makes more sense for Wiggins.
Butler is a much better player for Wiggins to study because frankly, if he can already score this well at 20, he’s set to have a solid career, whether he improves drastically or not. But in Butler, he can emulate heart, hustle and defense. Butler has truly become a star because of his two-way play.
There are far more offensive players with superior talented than Butler on that end, but not overall. It’s a bit of the Draymond Green conundrum―utterly invaluable with versatility and defense. That’s what Wiggins should focus on, especially since he’s fortunate to possess more offensive skill than either Green or Butler had at his age.
Above all else, aside from personal desires and glory, Wiggins is in a great spot, playing alongside one of the best young players in the game in Towns. Minny’s starting lineup with those two is already outscoring opponents by almost eight points per 100 possessions. Whether Wiggins takes the next leaps or not, the sky’s the limit. Surely Wiggins wants to ascend with Towns, and if he does, boy will Minnesota have it good. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Towns become more dominant before Wiggins, but that doesn’t mean Maple Jordan won’t get there.
* All stats via basketball reference and NBA.com and are through 29 games
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