I know what you’re all thinking and I’ll admit, I’ve thought it too.
“Here we go again.”
“We’ve seen this before.”
“Give it some time.”
All of that may turn out to be true, but the reality is that 10 games into the 2019-20 NBA Season, Andrew Wiggins has been a good, winning basketball player.
Now, I’m not completely ready to project this forward and buy into this just being who Wiggins is now, but I do want to at least dig into the WHY, and see if things actually might be different, or if it’s just a patented stretch of good shooting.
In case anyone was unaware, the former number one overall pick is averaging 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game, shooting 47.3% from the field and 33.8% from the three-point line. The rebound and assist totals aren’t eye-popping, but Wiggins has grabbed at least 5 boards in 6 of Minnesota’s 10 games and has dished out at least 5 assists in half of those 10 games, including 5 of the past 6.
Andrew Wiggins' games with 5+ rebounds and 5+ assists:— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) November 12, 2019
Before this season: 17 out of 400 games (4%)
So far this season: 3 out of 10 games (30%)
The passing, in particular, is noteworthy. We harped on it all offseason, and into the beginning of the season — Minnesota needs to find a perimeter creator to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns. We spent all offseason dreaming of D’Angelo Russell, Darius Garland, etc.
The one thing we never considered, even for a second, was that Andrew Wiggins could be that guy, and for good reason. The passing chops he’s shown off the past few games has been stuff that we simply haven’t seen from him before. For reference, before this season, Andrew Wiggins had never posted an AST% above 10.9%. Thus far, his AST% is a career-high 16.7%. That’s not an elite number by any means, but the improvement is there.
There have been times (a few tonight even) when Wiggins gets into the paint, but not all the way to the hoop, wherein years past he would do that rocker-step turnaround (and miss), but now he is kicking it out to a shooter. A small thing, but a HUGE development.— Travis Lyle Czech (@TravLyleCzech) November 12, 2019
This is one of the best passes Andrew Wiggins has ever made. Feels like I’m saying that a lot this season.— Jake Paynting (@jakepaynting) November 11, 2019
So again, the question is, is this here for good? We’ll find out sooner rather than later, but Minnesota’s needs change quite a bit if this is.
The thing is, he SHOULD be able to keep this passing up. His handle looks much, much better this season, and it’s allowed him to be much more confident and effective in the pick-and-roll. He’s been able to get downhill (#DownhillWiggs), and collapse defenses. If he continues to do that, there will be (theoretical) shooters open for him to hit. He hasn’t just been finding them this year, either. He’s been hitting them right in the shooting pocket more often than not, which is an equally shocking development.
Andrew Wiggins collapsing the defense has been huge for the Wolves and for him growing as passer.— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) November 12, 2019
An aggressive Wiggins has turned him into a better passer, too. pic.twitter.com/iKIw310AMc
Career-high efficiency is great, as is his improved shot-distribution. Still, the most exciting the most exciting thing about Andrew Wiggins kinda/maybe/hopefully turning a corner: He's not a complete blackhole this year. Career-high 16.7 assist percentage. pic.twitter.com/GwlD4PNYNy— Paul Headley NBA (@PaulHeadleyNBA) November 12, 2019
It’s also worth noting that with his increased responsibility as a ball-handler and passer, Wiggins is averaging a career-low in turnovers per game (1.5) and TOV% (6.1%).
Let’s talk a little bit more about that handle for a minute. We’ve all been begging him to get back to the free-throw line more often. The most common theory as to why he wasn’t getting there as often as his first few years was that he didn’t have a handle tight enough to get there.
Well, the handle has looked pretty good, but his free-throw rate remains mostly unchanged.
For his career, Andrew Wiggins holds a FTr of .333, with the last two season clocking in at .242 and .245. Thus far, he holds a FTr of .246 on the season. He’s attempting over 5 free-throws per game which is decidedly higher than the past two seasons, but he’s become a higher volume player than ever before, which is keeping that FTr down.
One positive for Wiggins surrounding the freebies is that his free-throw percentage has rebounded a bit, to 72.5%. That’s not a great number, but it’s better than the sub-70% that he had been shooting the past few seasons.
Where the most glaring improvement has been, however, is in his scoring inside the three-point line.
We all know that one of the things holding Wiggs back in the past was his propensity for the long twos. Well, he’s taking only 8.2% of his field-goal attempts from 10-16 feet, and only 12.1% of his attempts from 16 feet out to the three-point line. His previous lows in each of those respective areas were 12.2% and 18.1%, so there’s some obvious improvement there.
Some may feel like those numbers are still too high, and you may be right. The only thing I’d say is given how much he has the ball in his hands, especially at the end of the shot clock, you’re going to have to take SOME of those shots. Outside of James Harden, there aren’t any perimeter creators that can completely ignore those shots. Sometimes, you just have to get a shot up and take what the defense gives you.
What’s interesting is that he’s hitting at career-best rates from those areas, making 47.1% and 40.0% respectively. If you were to look for an area to show that this could just be another one of his “fools gold” stretches, those numbers would be your indicators. Turning into a Bradley Beal-level shooter from this area would certainly be surprising.
The counterargument, however, is that given how few he’s shooting from this area, even a regression to something just a bit above his old mean wouldn’t completely tank his efficiency.
Speaking of that efficiency, Wiggins, for the first time in his career, looks to be flirting with slightly above league average efficiency. His TS% currently is at 55.6%, which would obviously be a career best. League average has bounced around the 54-55% range for the past few seasons.
From what I can tell, the thing that’s helped his efficiency more than anything is trading those long twos for more floaters and short hooks around the rim. Wiggins is attempting a career-high 21.7% of his shots between 3 and 10 feet from the rim and converting those shots at a 46.7% clip. He’s displayed a really nice touch from this area, and if it continues would be quite a weapon for Minnesota.
So, the improved efficiency really seems to rely on Wiggins’ continued excellence on his two-point scoring. It’s unlikely that the percentages hold to the extent they’re out now, but there’s a reason to believe this isn’t a complete mirage again, either.
Bringing this all together, the bigger picture shows what we thought we’d been seeing. As of now, Andrew Wiggins has a positive BPM (0.9) and VORP (0.3). Additionally, he’s been worth 0.15 WS/48, which is more than double his previous career-high (0.069). These numbers aren’t crazy great, but they are a whole heck of a lot better than what we’ve come to expect.
Small sample sizes and all, I have no idea if this is going to continue, or if it’s even realistic to expect it to continue, but I’m going to enjoy it for now. With each passing day, it looks better and better. This kind of play is what the Timberwolves need to compete.
It’s hard to ignore the “Here we go again,” in your head, but as P.J. Fleck said this past Saturday, maybe it’s time to move past that line of thinking in Minneapolis.
*All data from basketball-reference.com