Andrew Wiggins - Dynamic Scorer or Fringe Rotation Player?

We've seen two very different versions of Andrew Wiggins this season. How Wiggins plays the rest of the season will be monumental for his career.

The young career of Andrew Wiggins has been frustrating and has lacked the expected development from a first overall pick. At his best, Wiggins has shown flashes of his scoring ability, freak athleticism, and defensive ability. At his worst, Wiggins looks like a fringe rotation player. His critics complain about his shot selection, his willingness to defend, and his tendency to disappear in games. The concerns are that Wiggins hasn’t been able to string together any of the high points; all we see are flashes of what his talent can produce. Now in his fifth year, the streakiness of his performances and involvement are legitimate causes to fear that Wiggins won’t develop any further.

I have stubbornly refused to leave Wiggins Island despite the rising waters rapidly destroying beachfront property. I’ve been an optimist on the type of player Wiggins can turn into but this year has been a tough pill to swallow. Through Wiggins’s first nine games (before the Jimmy Butler trade), he was posting a gaudy net rating of -6.5 and his box score stats were down across the board, while his involvement on both ends of the floor lacked substance.

Since the Butler trade, Wiggins has slowly started to come back out of his shell. His box score stats still aren’t the most impressive numbers in the world but his impact has steadily improved while showing more consistent stretches of being an impactful starter. Over his last 15 games, the Timberwolves' offensive rating with Wiggins on the floor has jumped to 112 while their defensive rating has dropped to 106.3. Wiggins’s recent positive impact hasn’t come from piling up the stats (even though he’s had some impressive games recently), but more so by doing the little things well and improving upon bad habits.

Offensively

Wiggins has always produced a frustrating offensive game because he inexplicably avoids what he’s best at. His athleticism has made him an effective finisher at the rim. Whether on an off-ball cut or a post-up, Wiggins is much better when he is attacking the rim. Per Cleaning the Glass, in Wiggins’s first three seasons, 39 percent of his shot attempts came at the rim and he shot 63 percent on these attempts. Both of those percentages rank as one of the best at his position. This year though, Wiggins is only taking 29 percent of his shots at the rim while 41 percent of his shots are coming in the midrange (84th percentile) and 30 percent of his shots are coming from three (21st percentile). As the rest of the NBA looks at the midrange with disgust, Wiggins continues to admire it.

The below clip is a clear example of Wiggins settling for a really poor shot. The play starts off nicely as he dribbles tightly around the pick that puts Evan Turner behind the ball. Instead of attacking Meyers Leonard, Wiggins takes two dribbles, pump fakes, and takes an off-balanced, heavily contested jump shot. By not attacking Leonard, Wiggins allowed Turner enough time to recover and gave himself only one option on the play.

This play was set up to give Wiggins multiple options off the dribble. He could have attacked the rim and forced Leonard to make a strong defensive play. If Leonard committed to Wiggins, he could have dumped it off to Gorgui Dieng on a rim-roll. If either of the wing defenders for Portland collapsed onto Dieng, Wiggins would have been able to kick it out to either of his teammates for an uncontested three. Wiggins gave himself only one option when he decided not to attack off the dribble. He shied away from the smart play and instead took an inefficient shot.

Another downside to Wiggins attacking the hoop less is the precipitous decline in his free throw attempts. In Wiggins’s first three seasons, he was one of the best in the league at getting to the line. Per Cleaning the Glass, Wiggins earned a shooting foul on 17.2 percent, 17.3 percent, and 14.6 percent of his shot attempts in his first three years. These rates ranked in the 95th, 99th, and 91st percentiles respectively. This year, Wiggins is only being fouled on 9 percent of his shot attempts because he has stopped using his athleticism to attack the rim. Averaging only three free throw attempts per game is unacceptable for an athlete like Wiggins.

Despite all this doom and gloom, there is a silver lining. Over the last 15 games, Wiggins has only taken 30.8 percent of his shot attempts in the midrange, which is down from 41 percent on the year. Also during this span, his free throw attempts have risen to 3.6 per game (up from 2.8 before the Butler trade). These numbers aren’t ideal yet but they are a sign of improvement and hopefully things to come. By taking fewer mid-range shots, Wiggins is able to open up more efficient scoring opportunities for not only himself but also his teammates.

In the previous clip, we saw Wiggins hesitate on what he should do. Below we see him make a strong decision and the positive results that can come from it. This play starts off similarly, Wiggins uses the Dieng screen to create space between himself and Turner. Zach Collins decides to hang back in the lane which gives Wiggins a runway to attack and is a sign that another Trail Blazer will likely not collapse. Wiggins is able to lower his shoulder and get straight to the rim. He then neutralizes Collins’s shot blocking ability by getting him under the rim and switching the ball to his right hand as he lays it in.

Wiggins can often struggle to get involved in the game. Recently the Timberwolves have been starting games by running set plays intended for a Wiggins post-up or backdoor cut. He has consistently shown a high aptitude on these types of plays and below we see why the Timberwolves have started using these to get him involved. Wiggins is able to easily establish position deep in the post. He then is able to take one power dribble and use his length to take an easy jump hook over the smaller defender.

Wiggins has also improved his off-ball movement to set up scoring opportunities. Below we see him set up his defender like he’s going to initiate a dribble handoff. Wiggins immediately notices his defender overcommitting so he bolts towards the rim and finishes with an easy dunk.

When he is making an impact with his off-ball cuts, he can then use the threat of his cutting as a way to set up three-point attempts. Below we see how concerned Iman Shumpert is with Wiggins’s cutting ability. Wiggins starts to engage the Karl-Anthony Towns screen and then fakes a cut. As Shumpert frantically tries to recover on the cut, he loses his balance and Wiggins takes advantage of the space to knock down a wide open three.

Wiggins was producing some of the worst offensive basketball of his career at the start of this year. Since he has moved back to the shooting guard position, he has looked more comfortable. He is slowly moving his shot attempts away from the mid-range and is making moves with a purpose. He has been effective around the rim and is able to use his willingness to shoot from three as a tool to attack the rim.

Besides his inefficient offensive woes, one of the biggest criticisms surrounding Wiggins has been his effort level. He frequently looks like someone who is just going through the motions and wasn’t told that shootaround ended hours ago. This is exacerbated when juxtaposed with the play of his teammates Robert Covington and Josh Okogie who play every minute at max effort. However, since the departure of Butler, Wiggins has started playing like he actually cares.

The below clip is an example of the subtle improvements that Wiggins has made. The play starts with a strong drive from Wiggins; something we established he did inconsistently. Instead of forcing up a heavily contested, off-balanced shot, Wiggins makes a great pass to Taj Gibson in the corner. In past years, Wiggins would have forced the shot and hoped for a foul at best. Instead of considering his job done at this point, Wiggins circles back to the paint, tracks the ball, makes a strong offensive rebound, and scores on an easy putback layup.

This type of play would be a complete anomaly for Wiggins in prior seasons. His willingness to engage on the offensive glass is uplifting but the way it seemed so natural for him is the most inspiring aspect. He has carried this effort level over to the defensive end as well.

Defensively

Below we see Wiggins’s improved half-court defense. He has a solid pick set on him which initially gives Nicolas Batum a good amount of room. As Wiggins fights through the pick, he is able to use his speed and leaping ability to recover and block Batum’s shot. In previous seasons, even earlier this year, Wiggins would get held up on the pick and not even bother recovering.

His effort has also drastically improved in his transition defense. In the below clip, Wiggins starts off by turning the ball over due to his sloppy ball handling, an area he desperately needs to improve. Instead of sulking and chalking it up as a lost cause, he immediately turns to make up for his mistake. He stalks Damian Lillard down the court and promptly swats Lillard’s layup off the backboard with two hands.

Similar to the earlier clip, this is a play that Wiggins has historically given up on. I know that the simple act of trying seems obvious but for players who have always been superior athletes, they haven’t always needed to try to succeed. Improving a player’s effort level can be a daunting task. Now that we’re seeing Wiggins accomplish the simple feat of playing hard, it opens the door to him living up to his potential.

Wiggins has styled his offensive game after those that came decades before him. As the league has become smarter and more skilled, this is a style of play that is rapidly going extinct. This year we’ve seen Wiggins start his process of correcting bad offensive habits. He has started to move his shot attempts away from the mid-range and play not only with the math but also to his strengths. His effort on the defensive end has led to him becoming more of a positive impact. He isn’t giving up on plays and is tightening up the little things so he doesn’t repeat the same mistake twice.

We’ve seen two very different versions of Andrew Wiggins in this early season. The first was the same old Wiggins who resorted to his bad habits and lazy tendencies. The more recent version has scored efficiently, focused on executing the little things, and played like he actually gives a damn. The rest of this season is going to be monumental in deciding what type of player Andrew Wiggins is going to be for his career. Wiggins is at a fork in the road, which path is he going to choose?

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