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When Hope Runs Out: Trading Andrew Wiggins

It’s time for the Wolves to move on from Andrew Wiggins

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Potential is a funny thing. It’s easy to see when an NBA player has the chance to be great. They typically have boundless athleticism or the prototypical size and length to be a superstar. Their jump shot could be pure or their passing visionary. We watch the videos of high school games against lesser competition, dominated by thunderous dunks and blocked shots.

But sometimes that potential turns into nothing. Or worse, nothing that occasionally looks likes something, tricking you into believing that maybe, just maybe, this is the time.

That time has run out for Andrew Wiggins.

Thousands of words have been written about Wiggins ability or inability to live up to his potential. One of the articles I put the most work into was diving into Wiggins statistics and trying to figure out exactly why his advanced stats were so poor. Was he simply an outlier or were the stats trying to show us what has been in front of our faces for so long? Was Wiggins a DeMar DeRozan waiting-to-be or, the simpler answer, was he simply a worse Rudy Gay.

Five years in, it is hard to say that we do not have our answer.

There are certainly bright spots where we fool ourselves. After that OKC game where Wiggins stole the spotlight in Ryan Saunders first game as a coach, cries of Saunders as the Wiggins Whisperers flew out across Wolves twitter. Perhaps all it took was a friendly coach telling Wiggins that long-twos were worth negative points and all would be better.

But it hasn’t. The shining moments only serve as blips in the darkness. Here are the facts.

  • Wiggins is only 23 years old. After winning Rookie of the Year in an offense designed to force-feed him the ball, his efficiency has only maintained or decreased throughout the years. He is obviously a moderately effective volume scorer at times, but he has never been an efficient scorer.
  • His lack of rebounding likely does not hurt the Wolves, as they have always rebounded about the same with him on and off the court.
  • In the last two years, the Wolves have played better with him on the court. It does us no favors to pretend that Wiggins is a team destroying player.
  • All advanced statistics rate Wiggins poorly. This season, with the simple criteria of players who have played more than 500 total minutes and scored more than 10 points per game, Wiggins ranks 153 out of 156 in true shooting percentage, 152 out of 156 in WS/48, and 152 out of 156 in VORP. These statistics all care about efficiency and “do-stuff” stats, which Wiggins rates terribly at. His profile comparisons are more akin to Kevin Knox than Paul George.
  • These stats are not new. Wiggins statistics have been maddeningly inelastic for nearly five years.
  • RPM ranks Wiggins as 32 of 88 small forwards, which more closely aligns with his on-off numbers.
  • While Wiggins has been changing with the times and his three-point attempt rate increases every year, this has come at the cost of shots at the rim. He is still one of the few players that rely on the anti-efficiency long-twos.
  • Over the years, Wiggins’ ball-handling and passing abilities have improved, but only in small incremental amounts. Point Wiggins was a failed experiment during the Thibodeau era and, while a Wiggins-Towns spread pick-and-roll should be successful, we see very little of it.

Wiggins has been provided every opportunity to shine or adapt. While he has had four different coaches in his five-year career, Wiggins has played the most minutes of anyone in the NBA over that time. That player, who has played an astounding 13,451 minutes, has nearly the exact same statistics when he was a rookie as the only option on offense, the young player on a team of high-flying scorers, the third banana on a playoff team, and now the second option on a team trying to figure out its future once again.

Of course, none of this really mattered until this season. When Wiggins was playing on his rookie contract, the Wolves were content to roll the dice and hope that fateful leap might happen. After all, Wiggins was the number one overall pick for a reason. If you squinted at the right moment, Wiggins had all the makings of a superstar. It certainly helped that, by all accounts, Wiggins is a wonderful person off-the-court.

However, Wiggins is the 13th highest paid player in the NBA. His contract runs parallel with Karl-Anthony Towns, leaving the Wolves with one of the largest non-injury related albatross contracts in the league.

As the folks at A Wolf Among Wolves pointed out a few days ago here, the fate of Wiggins decides the fate of Towns. The clock is already ticking to a trade request that happens more and more frequently in the player-driven league. Wiggins’ contract (along with a series of other poor financial decisions) precludes the Wolves from making substantive changes to their roster.

This leaves the Wolves with one real option, which is to move Wiggins, likely at cost. It is unlikely to happen within the next 24 hours before the trade deadline, but the time has come. Unfortunately, it is possible that the Wolves have been sitting on their hands while two of the potential landing spots for Wiggins, the Kings and the Bulls, have gone out and got different overpriced wings. It is unclear as of now if that is an indictment of Wiggins’ value around the league or the Wolves’ strategy.

Wiggins’ island has fully sunk, the inhabitants have fled and all homes have been razed when the residents left in despair. It is time for another team to dredge those waters to see if there is anything beyond what these past five years have shown.