Andrew Wiggins silenced a vociferous herd of doubters last year.
Specifically, going into the 2014 NBA Draft — despite being the most highly-anticipated and hyped perimeter prospect since LeBron James — most scouting pundits had audibly criticized the gangly swingman’s inherent passion for the game, on-court awareness, and rudimentary skill-set.
ALSO ON HOOPSHABIT: The Top 30 Ball-Handlers of All-Time
However, after struggling initially to find his footing in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ veteran-laden starting lineup, Wiggins would gradually emerge — on most nights — as the team’s lone reason for optimism.
By the end of January, the former Kansas Jayhawk had gone from an unconversant, callow neophyte who LeBron James had famously neglected to play with, to one of the most promising young players in the association — dropping 20 points a contest on a nightly basis, en route to capturing the 2015 Rookie of the Year award.
While his perimeter ball skills were as raw as advertised — most notably, his cringe-worthy and highly-vulnerable waist-high dribble puts a damming cap on what he can do athletically — the advanced footwork in the pinch-post and newfound aggression at the rim Wiggins exhibited since his breakout 27-point performance against LeBron, the man he was traded for in Kevin Love, and the Cleveland Cavaliers in late-December, served as a much-needed breathe of fresh air for the sizeable battalion of long-suffering Wolves fans.
At season’s end, specifically in April, Wiggins was routinely putting 7-foot behemoths on posters (or Vines now, I guess, since its 2015) — among his laundry list of victims include the Turkish Hammer, Omer Asik; and the Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert.
More from Minnesota Timberwolves
- 5 NBA players everyone should be keeping a close eye on in 2023-24
- Ranking the 4 riskiest boom-or-bust NBA teams in 2023–24
- Ranking the 10 championship-less NBA teams by closeness to title
- 1 Crucial skill that every Timberwolves star must work on this summer
- 3 players in line for a big raise during the 2023 NBA offseason
He also averaged more than 20 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game post-All-Star break.
Most encouragingly, Wiggins got to line nearly eight times a contest during the aforementioned stretch, and despite his having his perimeter shooting — namely, his 3-point proficiency — desert him, thanks in large to the insane of amount of minutes he was accumulating down the stretch of last season, the 6’8″ skywalker still scored on a respectable 45.2 percent eFG%* and 53.3 percent TS%**.
*eFG% = effective field goal percentage = (FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA
**TS% = true shooting percentage = PTS / (2 ( FGA + 0.44 x FTA) )
A unique type of wing scorer, especially considering the current state of the 3-point and at-the-rim concentrated NBA landscape, the Vaughn, Ontario, native did most of his damage in the mid-range areas of the floor, as approximately 42-percent of his shot attempts derived from 8-23 feet, per NBA.com.
In fact, over a third of his possessions last year came in the form of a post-up or isolation.
As a post-up artist, Wiggins produced nearly 0.84 PPP (points per possession) and scored 44.8 percent of the time he navigated on the block, which ranked within the top 50-percentile.
Likewise, when isolated, he engendered more than 0.85 PPP and spawned forth a bucket on approximately 44 percent of the times when operating as the lone Wolf (pun intended), which ranked within the top 60-percentile.
Although some may argue that his incumbent style of offensive production goes against the grain and core values of modern analytics, 46.8 percent of his field goal attempts last season did come right at the rim. More interestingly, after the trade deadline, approximately half of his shots derived from eight-feet-and-in, where he converted on 56.8 percent of said tries.
Furthermore, when playing with a pair of fresh legs, Wiggins was — contrary to popular perception — a highly-efficacious spot-up 3-point shooter.
More explicitly, pre-All-Star break, Andrew converted on over 41.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts from beyond the arc. However, as the season wore on, and coach Flip Saunders continued to give his prized then-rookie nearly 40 minutes of playing time a contest, that number would plummet down to 17.4 percent over his last 29 games.
For Timberwolves nation (not sure if that’s a thing), they are entering in an unfamiliar era filled with untapped optimism. In addition to Wiggins, Minnesota also house an army of budding young pups, including the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 draft, Karl-Anthony Towns, as well as the reigning slam dunk king, Zach LaVine.
For such reasons, as we head into the 2015-16 NBA season, Wolves fans are unusually giddy.
Even though the team will most likely once again finish at the bottom of an incredibly contentious Western Conference, the franchise may have found their big three; their own Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka; their own Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green … as so they hope.
As for Andrew Wiggins, as he prepared to suit up for the Canadian national team for the first time in his career, many watched anxiously to get a glimpse of what improvements and refinements the 6’8″ pogostick made since mid-April
If the end of last season is of any indication, with his rare concoction of otherworldly fast-twitch athleticism, knee-buckling first-step, and polished footwork, Wiggins already command the ability to score 20 a night — albeit on middling efficiency.
Dunking with Wolves
Many still wonder, contrarily, if the proud Canadian can develop an advanced floor game, master his ballhandling, and cultivate some resemblance of a natural feel for the game.
As such, as the FIBA Americas officially came to its grueling, 10-games-in-12-nights end last weekend, I took the liberty of re-watching every Team Canada game Wiggins participated in — from the Tuto Marchand Tournament to the aforementioned Olympic-qualifying matches, tracking every possession and analyzing every move.
Although Canada ultimately failed to accomplish its ultimate goal — losing to the eventual-event winners, a cinderella Venezuelan team in the semifinals — the inexperienced syrup-sipping and beaver-nurturing squad did capture the bronze.
Wiggins, along the same vein, was all in all quite impressive, averaging 14.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game in the 14 matches he played in over late-August/early-September.
If you extrapolate his production out to the 36 minutes a contest he averaged this past season, Wiggins would’ve put up somewhere along the lines of 21.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists on 53.6 percent eFG% and 56.9 percent TS% — a brand of production that closely mirrored his numbers down the stretch of last year.
Sure enough, Wiggins was named to the FIBA Americas All-Tournament team when it was all said and done, alongside the diminutive fearless point guard of Venezuela, Heissler Guillent; Mexican big man and former-Milwaukee Buck Gustavo Ayon; and Argentina’s ageless dynamic duo in Andres Nocioni and Louis Scola (who was named tournament MVP).
However, despite the glamorous accolades and pretty numbers, Wiggins’ performance still left a lot to be desired. Keep mind, I’m assessing Andrew on things he’s not so good at — his ballhandling, his playmaking, and creativity as a ball-in-hand creator.
At this point, we know what he’s capable of doing in the open floor; we know he can take the souls and dignity of every FIBA player with each demeaning facial.
What I wanted to see was Wiggins breaking his opponents down off the bounce — slicing down the lane via the pick-and-roll, and creating space in tight quarters.
Judging his play through that prism, I’m not sure if we can say he’s made significant strides.
Most notably, Wiggins still has a long ways to go as a ballhandler and playmaker. His movements in general are inherently upright; often times trotting with the straightest back one can conceivably jog with. As such, it makes his handle overtly susceptible to strips, which in turn limits Wiggins’ vision when operating in congested confines.
Conversely, though, the young Wolf is far from an incompetent passer. Wiggins is, actually, not only a willing ball-sharer, but a player that seems to always make the “simple/right” play every time he has the space and an administered grip on his handle.
However, when guarded closely, Wiggins still has a hard time — even at the FIBA level playing while against significantly less-gifted athletes — creating the space he needs to comfortably survey the floor. Here, he misses teammate Nik Stauskas and commits a bad turnover.
Wiggins is also extremely right-dribble dependent, driving to his strong hand even if such a road leads him into a barricade of defenders.
As a result, the lack of fluidity and shake in his dribble-drive game forces Wiggins to take an uncomfortable amount of long twos and causes him to lose his balance when he tries to explode past his defender.
Canada’s head coach, Jay Triano, though, did an exemplary job of masking Andrew’s deficiencies and playing to his strengths.
Not unlike Flip Saunders, who famously allowed Wiggins to work closer to the hoop as a pinch-post savant, Triano moved the second generation star around and put him in a bevy of dribble-handoff and quick hitting pick-and-roll situations,; thereby, allowing him to negotiate against a shifting defense.
Thus, many times, it enabled Wiggins to fully capitalize on his devastating first-step and, either, take a one-dribble pull-up or attack the rim in a couple of effortless strides.
The presence of the pick also gives Wiggy the couple of extra seconds he needs to make the right read; simply catching and firing the three as his man goes under, or hitting the roll man when the big hedges up and sits on his pull-up.
Overall, through the entirety of his summer, approximately 37 percent of his possessions came as the ballhandler in dribble-handoff and pick-and-roll sets. In comparison, only 11 percent and 15 percent of his touches came while spotting up as a catch-and-shoot sniper or posting up on the high-block, respectively.
Of the said possessions, Wiggins scored on an effective rate of 53.6 percent, making over 60 percent of his two point attempts, but only 25 percent of his 3-point tries. In addition, while his assist rate as a dribble-handoff and pick-and-roll negotiator sits at a mundane 12.5 percent, he alternatively turned the ball over just 9.4 percent of the time.
For comparative purposes, during his rookie season as a Timberwolf, only 8.8 percent of his possessions derived as a pick-and-roll ballhandler where he scored on a banal 32 percent eFG% and gave it away 15 percent of the time, per NBA.com’s SportVU Data.
Likewise, only 3.6 percent of Wiggins’ possessions came in dribble-handoff sets — as Saunders seldomly, and severely underused, the said avenue for offense.
Going forward, interim coach Sam Mitchell will be wise to expand Wiggins’ offensive horizons by utilizing the 20 year-old cyborg on the move, and letting him attack to his right with a full head of steam.
Along the same vein, Wiggins also excelled as a 3-point shooter off of the catch. In fact, he made more than 46.1 percent of his tries from beyond the arc, exhibiting terrific balance, insane bounce, and an ultra-quick release.
If there is one skill Wiggins can hone to pair with his elite athleticism, it is his shooting.
His form is highly photogenic and efficient, and the results have been proven fruitful when he’s not being worn down with an unmanageable amount of minutes/responsibilities.
On the other hand, however, Wiggy was not nearly as efficacious neither in the post nor in isolation situations as he was during the regular season.
Chiefly, Andrew did not attack the rim with quite as much conviction, and instead, settled for a lot of high-degree of difficulty step-back and turnaround jumpers. In fact, he only engendered an uninspiring 0.61 PPP when posted on the pinch-block.
The most glaring issue for Andrew when, either, facing up in the high-post, or isolated out on the perimeter, is the high-variance rate in his “go-to” moves.
Namely, although his signature spin move, between-the-legs pull-back dribble, and step-back jumper are remarkably aesthetically-pleasing when it works, the trio of maneuvers are also vulnerable to live ball turnovers, and in general, spawn not the most efficient allocation of shots.
Explicitly, his pullback dribble is often times sloppy, and when combined with his aforementioned upright disposition, the move is usually the victim to a bevy of on-ball steals.
His spin move has been highly-regarded, and thoroughly scouted, since his high school days at Hunting Prep. When performed on instincts, Wiggins can still wow the crowd and get all the way to the basket; but, when he predetermines his twirl, the defense is more times than not sitting on his trademark maneuver.
As for his step-back, it does curate the material space he needs to unleash his J, and the sheer height he gets on his jumper produces the occasional shooting foul drawn, but most of his forays almost exclusively end in a long two — which most often times, are of the contested variety.
Unless Andrew suddenly morphs into a Dirk Nowitzki-esque mid-range artist, the step-back jumper out of the pinch-post should be utilized more judiciously.
Overall, watching Wiggins in the international game blitzed me with the same avalanche of queasy feelings as it did during his lone collegiate year at Kansas; the floating in-and-out of games and the off-and-on motor returned.
Defensively, Wiggins once again proved — when engaged — he can be an absolute lock-down defender.
However, he isn’t always in-tune, often defending with a hunched back, contesting threes half-heartedly, and losing sight of his help assignments.
Not to mention, the wiry swingman still lacks the lower body and core strength needed to effectively defend power perimeter players; often relenting a driving lane after an opposition gives him a shoulder.
Admittedly, I may be a tad bit nit-picky with this assessment, but there is just so much more Wiggins can do, and so many different areas of the game Wiggins can affect, given his once-in-decade brand of athleticism. He can be a much more disruptive defender and a much more veracious rebounder.
The skill-set should come along in time — and while he may never develop into a James Harden– or Kevin Durant-esque primary ballhandler on the wing given his stubborn innate habits, when considering his potential as a shooter — an aspect of his game the defense must respect, going forward — and propensity to make the correct read, he can comfortably grow into a secondary ballhandler once he tightens up and shortens some of his chief moves.
Looking into the future towards next season, it will be interesting to see how Mitchell utilizes Wiggins, especially offensively. With the additions of Karl-Anthony Towns and Nemanja Bjelica, the Wolves now house a capable legion of multi-skilled bigs.
Minnesota could inversely spread the floor, with their big men serving as the floor spacers, while their wings dominate the paint — thereby, continuing Wiggins’ maturation as a throwback pinch-post devotee.
However, the coaching staff will also have the luxury of leveraging their frontcourt’s ability to shoot, pass, and put the ball on the deck, by initiating the offense through its big men elbow-extended, creating an influx perpetual motion, and run a throng of dribble-handoffs against a scrambling D.
Such a look should congruently remedy the Wolves’ utter lack of 3-point attempts, while giving, not only Wiggins, but also LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad opportunities to attack the rack with the opposing defense spread out.
As such, while his ball skills continue to lag behind, the Timberwolves might just have the ideal concoction of talent to coronate the King of the North and maximize the talents of Andrew Wiggins.
More from Hoops Habit
- The 5 most dominant NBA players who never won a championship
- 7 Players the Miami Heat might replace Herro with by the trade deadline
- Meet Cooper Flagg: The best American prospect since LeBron James
- Are the Miami Heat laying the groundwork for their next super team?
- Sophomore Jump: 5 second-year NBA players bound to breakout