Andrew Wiggins, Year Two

A lot of anticipation surrounded Andrew Wiggins as he prepared for his second NBA season. His first year, after the trade from Cleveland, an overwhelmingly positive one for Wiggins, was one in which Wiggins met the expectations others had for him based upon his defensive talent and offensive skill. Wiggins tenacity and skill reminded those old enough to remember Kobe Bryant when he was very young. Wiggins improved each and every month of the 2014-15 year. So, it went without saying that this year, with a full season of NBA bumps and bruises in which Wiggins was able to match and exceed the rookie learning curve and put it behind him, would be an All-Star level. Or, something close.

He had to become a better distance shooter and space the floor. He had to create for others. It’s the truly great players that make their teammates better, that use their talent to elevate the group as a whole.

These are the facts so far. Andrew Wiggins is taking more shots this year than last year but his shooting percentage is worse. His percentage is lower than the team average of 44.2%. His three point efficiency is pretty dismal, in the arctic 23% range, so no spacing of the floor. He is going to the line more, a reflection of his aggression. But his free throw percentage has dropped too. He is rebounding less, passing the ball less and turning the ball over more. He has a higher PER.

2 Years of Andrew Wiggins Points Field Goal% 3-Point Percentage PER
2015-16 20.1 42.9% 23.2% 15.1
2014-15 16.9 43.7% 31.0% 13.9

As is the case with all young players, there is a struggle for consistency. In a loss on Wednesday at home against Denver, he made 28% of his shots in 31 minutes, scoring 11 points. Tonight against Cleveland, the team who traded him away, he had 35 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. The Wolves lost y 26 points.

Against playoff contenders in the West, the Warriors, Spurs, and Clippers, a five game sample, Wiggins shot 35%, averaging 15.2 points. But as unremarkable as his shooting efficiency has been against the league’s best teams, it is his assists that need to improve. In those same five games, he averaged 2. 4 assists, meaning he is becoming the next generation’s isolation player. Except, the league and its style of play has marginalized the iso game. Scorers who are creators are needed, not scorers who are scorers.

Pass First or Pass Last? Assists Assist Percentage
2015-16 1.7 8.9%
2014-15 2.1 9.8

Kobe Bryant, the last great isolation player, is leaving the game in a few months. He is taking a style of play with him that many coaches and general managers find detrimental to playoff success. The game has changed, has gotten faster, more dependent on ball movement and pick and roll and transition points than ever before. Throwing the ball into the star player and watching him work (as everyone stands around gaping) is a dying strategy.

The Lakers, Heat, Blazers, Clippers, Nets, Celtics were games in which Andrew Wiggins did not have one assist. In 15 other games he only had one assist. For his game to move into the All-Star level he has to develop a more well-rounded game and do a bit of everything. 4-5 assists and 4-5 rebounds for his talent level is what Wiggins should be delivering.

But this is his second year. In his second year, Kobe Bryant had similar numbers, although he played fewer minutes.

2nd Year Minutes Points Field Goal Percentage Assists Rebounds
Andrew Wiggins 34.7 20.1 42.9% 1.7 3.8
Kobe Bryant 26.0 15.4 42.8% 2.5 3.1

Andrew Wiggins is ranked 17th in the league in isolation plays (per NBA.com player tracking), just behind Russell Westbrook and Chris Bosh and ahead of Blake Griffin and Rudy Gay. 10.7% of his plays are isolatoon, and he’s scoring 43.3% off of such plays.

He is ranked 16th in post-up plays, just behind Pau Gasol and ahead of Al Jefferson. 13.4% of his plays are post-ups. He’s shooting 48.6% off of such plays.

Wiggins needed area of improvement is in catch and shoot opportunities and pull-up shots.  He is making 33.3% of his catch and shoot opportunities. He is making 31.9% of his pull-up jumpers.

44.9% of Andrew Wiggins elbow touches are scores. 49.1% of his post touches go in, and 48% of his paint touches are buckets. 48.5% of his drives are positive plays for the Wolves. With Wiggins it is all about geography. The closer in he is, the better he is. The farther out he is, the more he struggles to be consistent. Ultimately that hurts the Wolves cause. Teams know they are no threat from distance.

Wiggins is playing a different position this year and is faced with one more learning curve. He is still the Timberwolves best wing and most promising potential but hasn’t taken the great All-Star leap many expected. Of course, we like to get ahead of ourselves when we see the hyper-talented. The great Red Auerbach, when assessing Kobe Bryant in pre-draft workouts, told his staff it would take Bryant three years and Auerbach was right. In Bryant’s third year he was a 20 point, 5 rebound player with a PER of 18.9. Waiting on Andrew Wiggins is the hard part.

Looking back on what happened last summer, there are many who believe LeBron James, and the Cavaliers in particular, made a huge mistake by dealing Wiggins for Kevin Love. A backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Wiggins with LeBron James orchestrating things would have been an hyper-talented big 3 the rest of the league would have trouble stopping. Two #1 picks in the backcourt is unheard of. Kyrie, the driver, 3-point catch-and shooter and finisher, Wiggins the isolation player and finsher, and LeBron who can do it all.

But as shocking as the trade was for Wiggins who is the second quietest NBA star behind Kawhi Leonard, it gave him the opportunity to develop outside of the headlines and boundaries of a LeBron James world. It has helped get him Rookie of the Year. It has helped him become a 20 points scorer. Next on the list for Andrew Wiggins is a NBA creator and consistent 3-point shooter.

photo via llananba