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Where are We with Andrew Wiggins?

Examining Andrew Wiggins’ turbulent 4th-Year

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, I wrote a deep dive on Andrew Wiggins vs Advanced Statistics, which you can read here, trying to figure out exactly why he looks so bad by most advanced metrics.

The optimistic point of view is that Wiggins is either an outlier in his development, i.e. he will follow the only other career trajectory in recent memory of a star who had an extended bad start to his career (DeMar DeRozan), or his skills and contributions are not being captured by advanced metrics in a way that seems to be consistent for most NBA players.

Unfortunately, the other option is that Wiggins is exactly who he has been for the last four years and is unlikely to improve significantly.

The short answer to that query is that most advanced metrics target what Wiggins is bad at, such as counting stats (especially rebounds and assists) and shooting at a high percentage. Many of us were optimistic this could change this year, as with the introduction of Jimmy Butler, Wiggins would be able to focus more exclusively on picking his spots on offense as well as contributing to the team’s overall success without the ball.

Early on, there were hopes that this was going to take place, and we got this exciting moment.

However, from a statistical point of view, this improvement did not happen.

While Wiggins’ shots per game dropped, he saw only slight increases in rebounds per game, while kept near his career averages of assists (2) and steals (1) per game. He still maintains an approximate 1:1 turnover to assist ratio. His advanced statistics of “doing stuff” basically did not change, other than his usage rate, while his shooting statistics cratered. Wiggins shot career-worst numbers from the free throw line (64% after shooting 76% last year), three-point percentage (33% after shooting 35.6% last year), and overall field goal percentage (43.8% after shooting 45.2% last year).

As a result, the addition of Butler did absolutely nothing to improve his advanced statistics, which, for the most part, ended at career worsts. Last year, Wiggins (while playing the most minutes in the league) was basically the least efficient volume scorer in the NBA. His true shooting percentage, 50.5 percent, was more akin to Carmelo Anthony, whose team has performed better with him on the bench all year. Of players who shot 10 ten times a game, had a usage rate higher than 20 percent, and played over 500 minutes, Wiggins ranked 119 out of 138 in true shooting percentage (Karl-Anthony Towns is 3rd). He is similarly ranked among these players in BPM.

Of course, as seems to always be the case with Wiggins, those watching the games saw an at times imperceptible, but steady increase in defensive awareness and overall activity. That proves out with pretty significant defensive advanced statistics increases, going from a DBPM of -2.9 to -1.4, and a DRPM rise from -3.16 to -1.79 (which is still ranked 84th out of 89 small forwards, but at least it is not last anymore).

On the other hand, his on/off splits show a significant difference from previous years. In 2016-17, the Wolves were 6 points better per 100 possessions on offense with Wiggins on the court, as he was one of their two players (with Towns) who consistently scored. But they were 3 points worse defensively that year with him on the court. This season, however, they were roughly the same offensively with or without Wiggins out there, but their defense was 3 points better per 100. This is in part because his replacement was frequently Jamal Crawford, whose defense was catastrophic, but it does reveal the ups and downs of his changed role.

The argument throughout the year was that Wiggins was fitting in poorly to his role as a “third banana.” For the first three years of his career, Wiggins was the de facto scorer, and although he took the most shots per game on the team, his touches per game decreased significantly from 51.3 to 42.7 per game, which was behind even Taj Gibson. There was going to have to be an adjustment period.

However, the Butler injury provided a large enough sample of Wiggins this year with and without Butler and the statistics are basically identical (almost eerily so). Both Wiggins with and without Butler provided relatively stable lineups, as the Teague, Wiggins, Butler, Gibson, Towns lineup led the league in total minutes, while the Teague, Wiggins, Bjelica, Gibson, and Towns lineup was still the 18th most used lineup in the league.

Wiggins Stats

Statistic With Butler Without Butler
Statistic With Butler Without Butler
Total Possessions 3453 2614
Effective Field Goal Rate 49.4 47.6
True Shooting Percentage 51.5 50.1
Usage % 21.8 25.5
Points Per Possession 1.09 1.04
Free Throw Rate 0.22 0.27
TOV % 6.9 8.2
AST % 7.5 9
TRB % 6.3 7.5
Stats from NBA Wowy

The problem is that this not just in the stats. We have seen Wiggins completely disappear from big games, such as the last two games of the playoff series against the Rockets. The number of opportunities that Wiggins has had are not typically provided to most NBA players. It is hard to argue that Wiggins has scratched the surface of his potential and now the Wolves are going to be making him one of the most highly paid players in the league next year at over $146 million over 5 years.

All of the problems that Wiggins presents remain the same. It is hard to imagine trading Wiggins, as if he does reach his potential he could become one of the best players on the court at any given time. Players with Wiggins physical tools do not come around every year. However, it is has been basically four years with only incremental improvements from Wiggins. There has been no large step forward.

But it is also hard to say that this is all there is to Wiggins. He can go on stretches on both ends of the court where he plays like an absolute superstar. Game 3 against the Rockets where Wiggins played solid defense while scoring 20 points with 5 rebounds and 5 assists still happened. He is (still) just 23 years old and while he has certainly played an incredibly high amount of minutes in the NBA, many players do take longer into their careers to fully blossom.

The odds that Wiggins becomes max-level player surely seem to be diminishing by the day. The question that the Wolves may have to answer this summer is what kind of player they think he will become and if that player is worth $146 million.