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Monday Musings: Wiggins Improvement

Has Andrew Wiggins gotten better this year?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On October 11th, Andrew Wiggins signed a 5-year 148 million dollar contract extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves. This extension was based as much upon Wiggins’ potential as well as what he has done with his short NBA career. On one hand, Wiggins is such an obvious scoring talent and comes with Rookie of the Year pedigree after. Those types of players usually get max contracts.

However, as has been noted many times both here at Canis Hoopus and around the NBA, there are a lot of pieces that one can pick apart about Wiggins game. His rebounding, assist, block, and steal numbers were always low for a player who is on the court as much as Wiggins, not to mention someone who has had a sky-high usage rate.

Alarmingly for some, Wiggins also does not grade out well by any advanced statistic. These sort of “catch-all” stats pegged Wiggins as someone who did not contribute to his team’s success, that all those points were akin to empty calories.

Coming into this season, there was going to be some new accountability for Wiggins. With the new contract comes new expectations, to be a leader and a winner. With the new roster, Wiggins was also going to have a fellow wing in Jimmy Butler who would hopefully reduce the scoring burden on Wiggins. This change would, theoretically, allow Wiggins to play a smaller, but more effective, role on offense while also not being required to guard the best opposing wing every night.

The Wolves have given us a fairly good sample size thus far of what this new form of Andrew Wiggins looks like, as the Wolves starting lineup leads all starting groups in minutes played and Wiggins is 2nd the NBA in minutes played.

Thus far, Wiggins is averaging 18.2 points, 4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game. All of these numbers, outside of scoring which is a bit down, are right in line with his career averages. The biggest statistical variance is that Wiggins is 0.2 up in steals per game and down from 2.3 to 1.9 assists per game.

Looking at his stats per 100 possessions, the drastic change is the points per 100 possessions (down from 32.2 to 24.8) and shot attempts per 100 possessions (down from 26.1 to 21).

I try to check in on how Wiggins is doing on advanced stats throughout the year and, while he started out much better, most of his numbers have returned to near his career averages. His is posting career worsts in PER, 13.5 (down from 16.5) and True Shooting Percentage .514 (down from .534). His Win Shares per 48 are down to .4 from .6 and his BPM, while slightly better this year, is still -2.4, exactly his career average.

In fact, of players who have played more than 750 minutes this year, Wiggins ranks 8th worst in True Shooting Percentage (of my Lonzo Ball at .384), 15th worst in PER, 5th worst in WS/48, and 5th worst in BPM.

Not exactly a great place to be for a player who is going to be making nearly $30 million a year next year.

But these numbers do not line up with what we are watching this year. Wiggins has certainly been up-and-down, as evidenced by the game last night, but it would be difficult to say he has not improved. His defense looks better for the most part and while his assist numbers have not shown this, he is making more high-level passes at the right time.

His on-off numbers also show that he is making a positive impact for the Timberwolves, as the team is 4.1 points better with him on the court than off. Part of this, of course, is due to the stunningly bad wing play on the bench, but the starters as a whole have been a positive bunch.

Wiggins has also, importantly, cut back on long-twos in favor of threes. The percentage of shots he has taken from 16 feet to the three-point line has decreased from .253 to .204 and his three-point attempt rate has climbed from .184 to .273. Now, after a hot streak from deep his three-point percentage has fallen to 30.7 percent. However, Wiggins is taking the right threes in a lot of cases. He is willing to shoot them when teams go under on the pick-and-roll and is helping space the floor as a spot-up shooter.

He is taking very few of these threes from the corners, but that seems to be an offense-design rather than what Wiggins is doing himself.

So what to make of this all? It seems hard to tell. We remain at the impasse between what Wiggins seems to be doing on the court as compared to what the numbers say he is doing. He certainly is better this year, but is he max-contract player better? I’m not sure.

One thing remains certain. Wiggins is still an enigma and will be a touchstone for the advanced stats vs eye test debate.