Since becoming Minnesota Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations, Flip Saunders has made well-known his desire to acquire a host of "two-way players," individuals who are proficiently involved on both ends of the floor. Some may think coveting this player-prototype is short-sighted and obvious, but Saunders' desire to construct a roster using athletes capable of scoring and defending may just be him speaking in broad terms. Regardless, Andrew Wiggins quite literally exemplifies the two-way player Saunders speaks about so often.
What else has been said?
Many, many words have been written about Wiggins, but statistical and visual analysis will avoid most of the hyperbolic eloquence that has already been used to describe him.
'Wiggins has everything you could hope for in a wing prospect physically, as he sports excellent size (6'8'' in shoes) and length (7'0'' wingspan), and that is an elite athlete,' according to DraftExpress. Although Saunders is receiving the highest possible return value in exchange for Kevin Love Wiggins is anything but a sure thing. There's no guarantee he'll emerge as the NBA's next superstar, or even make a positive impact as a rookie. According to RPM, ESPN's +/- metric, no first-year player this millennium -- not even LeBron James -- has had a major positive impact on his team. However, this standard has received scrutiny from stat-heads and isn't a tell-all in terms of productivity.
Ian Levy has devised a similarity score metric which uses 21 criteria ranging from height and weight to assists per field-goal attempt and points per possession. Levy's model indicates Wiggins freshman season is most similar to Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris' at Tennessee, with a score of 913 of 1000. The next-highest match is Luol Deng. Beyond that, Harrison Barnes, Gordon Hayward, Gerald Henderson and Rudy Gay also rank among those who posted scores similar to that of Wiggins. His model, however, does have it's flaws. "It doesn't capture potential, patterns of development, personality, or athleticism; besides how they are tangentially reflected in a player's production," states Levy. Read Levy's 2014 Similarity Scores by clicking this link.
Layne Vashro's (vjl) data reflects Julius Hodge, Alec Burks, Lawrence Moten, Hayward, and Quincy Miller as 'COMPS' for Wiggins. COMPS: Degree better/worse than closest comp, Name of closest statistical comparison, Proximity to closest comp. Kevin Pelton, an NBA analyst for ESPN Insider, thinks 'Wiggins relatively pedestrian advanced statistics don't match his reputation.' Translated college statistics don't land Wiggins in the top 25 percent of NBA-bound wings in any of the nine core skills he evaluates for strengths and weaknesses. Pelton does believe individual defense is probably Wiggins' best skill, although, it doesn't show up in the box score.
This brings us into the area where Wiggins could make an immediate impact in his first year with the Wolves.
"I don't like when my man scores -- even when I'm on the bench and he scores, it makes me mad."
Wiggins, who tallied roughly one steal and one block per game at Kansas, wouldn't appear be an impact player on the defensive end strictly going by the numbers. I won't go as far as to suggest he is incapable of one day improving in these areas. However, to expect an inexplicable increase in blocks and steals during Wiggins' rookie season would be excessively optimistic.
Rewind time back to February, when vjl110 looked at how we assess potential among NBA Draft Prospects. This study 'took a bunch of players who left college before turning 20, then looked at their progression from their 20 years old NBA season to their 22 years old NBA season. The plots below compare progression across a range of statistics for the top and bottom half of performers at each statistic in college.' Lashro explains the results.
Interestingly, we see no development in rebounds, steals, or blocks (high-skilled blockers actually decrease after their first season something we also see in college which I attribute to opponent game-planning) for either group. This is consistent with analyses I have done in the past. These traits are something a player either has or does not have. Do not expect a prospect who cannot block, steal, or board to figure out how once he enters the NBA (not that this never happens of course). Instead, these traits should be viewed as a part of the baseline a player has to work from, much as height and leaping ability are popularly understood.
Although amalgamating statistics from one year in college with Vashro's findings poses reason for concern, we understand Wiggins was the number one overall draft selection for a reason. A long, athletic frame allows him to move well laterally to stay in front of smaller guards, yet Wiggins is also tall enough to guard larger wings. He can contest shots taken from everywhere on the floor --from the areas both around the rim and on the perimeter-- and be nuisance playing the passing lanes, in theory. Wiggins is determined to be a lockdown defender, and already possesses the physical attributes to become just that. Is the All-NBA defensive team an achievable goal? Maybe, but he doesn't think so.
Let's go to the tape.
Above, Wiggins faces Josh Huestis, who was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder-- another player with talent that is NBA worthy. Huestis dribbles twice with his left hand, spins back into the lane and attempts a push-shot. Wiggins, swift of feet, remains between his man and the basket, causing Huestis to miss. It should be noted that Wiggins also gets into position to grab the rebound. This is a textbook example of a Wiggins completely finishing the possession on the defensive end, despite without recording a rebound or block in the box score.
This time he's guarding Marcus Smart, who the Boston Celtics selected with the sixth overall pick the draft earlier this summer. He keeps from reaching into the body of the ball handler by making sure his feet are in position first, before Wiggins uses his reach to deny Smart a chance to convert a layup. This is another example of Wiggins keeping in front his mark, working against another premier talent from the same draft class.
This highlight taken from Las Vegas Summer League is similar to the first example. The ball handler dribbles into the lane before spinning toward the baseline. Unphased by the sudden change of direction, Wiggins leaves little space for the offensive player to attempt a shot. This play ends after the ball soars behind the basket into media row.
Albeit a small sample; Wiggins produced more steals and blocks per game at LVSL than he did playing at Kansas.
These examples presenting Wiggins' ability to prevent dribble-penetration as well as alter shots should be perceived as positives. Moreover, awareness defending off ball is another essential intangible a lockdown defender must possess. Take Timberwolves' wing Corey Brewer for example; he's a lengthy, pesky annoyance that can, and has, bothered some of the best scorers in the NBA. However, Brewer has a tendency to become lackadaisical if his mark is without the ball. This results in him drifting away from his man, subsequently burning the Wolves later in the possession if the opposing offense recognizes Brewer isn't where he's supposed to be on the floor. That said, awareness doesn't appear to be a problem with Wiggins. In fact, vision may potentially be one of his strong suits.
Above, he has drifted into the lane because an offensive player appears to be driving toward the basket. Knowing he isn't the primary defender -- the one guarding the ball handler -- Wiggins patiently puts himself into position to block the shot, after arriving from the opposite side of the floor. Below, you can see him emphatically block the shot.
This defensive tactic (above) is likely instinctive, and, while this is solid display of athleticism, it's important that Wiggins learns to recognize when, and when not, to leave his man. In the NBA, penetrating, veteran guards will dish the ball out to shooters on the wing if they are open. What the Wolves don't want is for Wiggins to get burned over and over again while simply providing help defense. To prevent this from happening Flip Saunders could simplify the defensive scheme with Wiggins on the floor.
On this play, Wiggins fights around a Nate Wolters' screen, set at the elbow, before closing in on Jabari Parker. Parker, who sees the clogged lane in front of him, tries a hesitation dribble before feebly trying to elevate and shoot over Wiggins. The shot falls short of the rim and right into the hands of Matthew Dellavedova, leaving the Cavs with an opportunity to score in transition.
This is where we may begin discussing how Wiggins could contribute on offense.
This season, the most anticipated aspect of the Timberwolves is the hope that Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Ricky Rubio will create exciting highlights on a regular basis. Rubio's vision while handling the ball in the open floor aside LaVine and Wiggins -- two, athletic wing players who can jump ridiculously high -- should make for an exciting and uptempo style of basketball.
Individually, Wiggins, whose mother was a track star, runs the floor in transition extremely well (see above). Not only that, but he makes the most of his scoring opportunities in these situations as well. Wiggins' 1.3 points per possession ranked fourth among DraftExpress' top-100 prospect list. This is an area where he will continue to be productive assuming Wiggins remains aggressive cutting and driving toward the basket-- like this...
How he'll immediately contribute in half court situations remains uncertain. Wiggins recorded a 112.3 Offensive Rating with a 25.5 percent usage rate and was a decent shooter at Kansas, shooting 49 percent on two-pointers and 34 percent on threes. Wiggins was proficient at getting to the free throw line, though, and that is reflected by his 53.8 free throws per 100 field goal attempts last season. Wiggins' was a 75 percent free throw shooter with the Jayhawks. Here is his shot chart and basic offensive statistics from one season at KU.
Wiggins does well at the rim, or is at least an average finisher in that area, but the production behind the three point line is a bit alarming.
Despite this very respectable offensive this production Tom Fehr, contributor to Rock Chalk Talk, claims the Jayhawks' offense severely hindered Wiggins' capacity to showcase his abilities and talents.
Because (Kansas Head Coach Bill) Self almost never calls pick and rolls or isolations/clear-outs, there is usually always a post and his defender in front of him. Meaning that even if he takes his defender off the dribble, which he has shown more often than not is not a problem, he is almost always driving right into heavy traffic in the lane. Defenders can easily collapse and make shots difficult or poke the ball loose.
Perhaps these instances described by Fehr explains why Wiggins turned the ball over twice per game, on average.
Having watched him play at LVSL I can say confidently that the Cavaliers offense didn't do Wiggins many favors, either. In addition, opposing defenses were geared toward preventing dribble-penetration and buckets weren't easy to come by at Summer League. That said, Wiggins frequently found opportunities to take three point shots, but, he shot only 15 percent from behind the line hitting on only 2 of 13 attempts (yikes).
Wiggins aforementioned wingspan isn't only useful on the defensive end. Alternatively, long arms help to create a high release point when attempting jump shots.
Above, with the shot clock winding down Wiggins pulls up for a three pointer at the top of the key. Kyle Anderson is in decent position to contest but Wiggins high release point is just out of reach and the shot attempt falls through the hoop.
Here, Wiggins anticipates the closeout so he uses the left hand to avoid the defender. Once near the free throw line. He jab-steps into the lane before connecting on a stepback jumper taken 18 feet from the basket. Wiggins made this one look easy.
Levy's similarity scores mentioned at the beginning of this column mention Gordon Hayward and Harrison Barnes as player-comparisons for Wiggins, heading into his rookie season. Hayward scored only five points, grabbed two rebounds while playing an average of only 16 minutes in 72 appearances as a rookie with the Utah Jazz. Barnes scored nine points, tallied four rebounds averaging 25 minutes per game in 81 appearances with the Golden State Warriors. Barnes recorded very similar averages in his second season, while Hayward has gradually improved since entering the league and posted a 16-5-5 season in his fourth year with the Jazz.
Wiggins isn't going to step onto the floor next year and single handedly bring the Timberwolves to the postseason.
If he proves me wrong I wouldn't be mad, but asking him to post 10 points, five rebounds while defending the oppositions best, or second best scoring option seems like a reasonable and fair goal to set considering he's a rookie.
Thankfully, according to Self, in some ways Wiggins is looking forward to coming to Minnesota-- he's going to embrace the challenge and strive to become better. Flip Saunders did well to get the highest possible value in exchange for Kevin Love, whether or not Thaddeus Young is part of the equation. Either way, Saunders definitely sees the two-way player he often discusses building a team around in Andrew Wiggins.
Has Saunders surround Wiggins with enough talent to progressively grow throughout his rookie year? I think so. What about you?