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The Sad Demise of Wiggins Island

The ‘Wiggins Island’ movement was a beacon of hope for Wolves fans. Now, it has become a wasteland, and a reminder of disappointment and false promises.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the Jimmy Butler era in Minnesota, there were legitimate concerns about the fit between him and Andrew Wiggins. Both are athletically gifted players who love to go to work in the post and beat players with a variety of fade away jumpers, so they got in each other’s way a lot of the time. Butler is of course a lot better than Wiggins, but many point to the fact that Wiggins’ best year came before the arrival of Jimmy Butler in 2016-17; A legitimately good season where Wiggins averaged 23.6 points per game on improving 45/35 splits gave Wolves fans hope for the future.

The ‘excuse’ given to Wiggins’ mixed campaign last year was that he and Butler were a bad fit. Wiggins had a good spell of games towards the end of the year where he averaged 20 points per game and kept the Wolves afloat after Jimmy Butler’s injury.

It was from these ashes that ‘Wiggins Island’ was born. A large number of Wolves fans stuck by him through his downs, and suggested that Butler was the problem. This only intensified with the infamous practice before the season begun, where Butler took the Wolves third stringers and outplayed both Wiggins and Towns.

In the wake of the Butler departure, the Wiggins Island faithful expected the Canadian to take off, and start to earn some of his max contract. Many fans expected his numbers to spike. There was a large enough sample size sans-Butler to suggest that Andrew Wiggins was going to at least improve upon his tepid numbers.

A few months on from the Butler trade, Wiggins Island looks to be deserted. It was a symbol of hope for long suffering Timberwolves fans, but it is now only occupied by those who are clinging on to faith rather than reason. It is now a barren wasteland only occupied by those who are trying to save face by not abandoning an idea they went all in on. Or potentially, by those who are as guilty as I am of putting fandom before reason and analysis.

Wiggins has been atrocious since the Butler trade, by pretty much every metric and stat count available to us.

He has averaged 17.7 points per game on an almost impressively bad 39/31/69 splits. He has drifted out of games to the point that the national media such as Doris Burke are picking up on it. In recent weeks, the Anti-Wiggins Island movement has intensified, with many including myself suggesting that he is beyond repair.

It is not news to anyone that Wiggins has been bad at basketball this year, but there are some statistical placings that really show how bad he has been.

Wiggins is 47th amongst NBA starters in usage. Among those 47 players, Wiggins is dead last in field goal percentage, below the likes of Josh Jackson and Dennis Schroeder. He has taken a major step back as a free-throw shooter too, which is worrying for a guard who was supposed to be built on getting to the line with a variety of finishing moves and sheer power.

Among the 117 players attempting at least ten shots per game, Wiggins is 111th in field goal percentage. If you change the statistic to true shooting percentage which takes shot selection into account, Wiggins’ drops to 116th, with only rookie Kevin Knox below him.

Wiggins is also posting his career lows in win shares, offensive box-plus minus and VORP. Not only has Wiggins’ game failed to translate to wins and overall value, but he has been terrible to watch as he constantly makes poor decisions in the half court.

Wiggins is actually shooting threes at a career high rate. The issue for Wiggins though, has been that he has not shot the two efficiently enough. Wiggins is shooting just 34% from mid range, and he is shooting just 29% on long twos. Those two shot ranges account for nearly a quarter of his overall shot attempts, which explains why his shooting stats and overall metrics are so bad.

The major problem I have with Wiggins is not that he struggles as a shooter. I still believe there is a place for a wing in the modern NBA who purely attacks downhill. The issue is that he is simply not good downhill. The conclusion I have come to is that he is not an NBA calibre dribbler. I thought for a long time the mid-range jumpers were just a mental thing. But in reality, the bloated mid-range usage is a result of his inability to consistently attack downhill and blow by perimeter defenders.

Wiggins Island got hit with a max exodus against the Atlanta Hawks. Lloyd Pierce’s outfit have improved lately, but the stretch was perhaps the most infuriated I’ve been at this team since becoming a fan in 2011. Karl-Anthony Towns was hot, but Andrew Wiggins wanted to ‘take over’. It is hard for a player with a lack of a downhill ability to really take over a game.

The play below is really as bad as it gets.

Not everything in this possession is on Andrew Wiggins. The Wolves ran very little action before the shot. But max contract players are supposed to make something of broken plays, that’s essentially what you pay the money for. Wiggins had zero intent of attacking the 42-year old Vince Carter, and he instead settles for a poor jump shot. This isn’t just a mental issue. I’m just not sure he is actually very good at attacking downhill. His athletic profile has not translated to someone who is a monster at getting into the paint. This is the type of drive where good dribbling was needed, he essentially needed to turn this into something. Like on many other occasions this year, Wiggins came up short.

If Wiggins was a solid jump shooter, the pull ups would not be an issue. Tobias Harris is an example of how a player can be very reliable while relying on pulling up as opposed to charging into the paint. But when you see that Wiggins is shooting just 31% on jumpers, you realize that these limitations attacking downhill are fatal. The fact he is shooting under 50% on layups this year doesn’t exactly paint him in a positive light either.

This play from a previous game against the Knicks was equally frustrating.

The modern NBA is all about attacking mismatches. A lot of teams switch, especially on wing action. Here, Wiggins gets DeAndre Jordan in a one on one situation. Jordan has the reputation of being a defensive force, but he is not a particularly great perimeter defender and he has certainly taken a step back this year. Instead of trying to blow by him, Wiggins settles for a poor jump shot. Again, this is not all mental, I just don’t think he has the dribbling moves to attack mismatches, which is fatal. Not every player needs to be a shooter, but you need to take what the defense gives you. If Wiggins can’t attack switches, then he will never be a plus offensive player.

The Wiggins Island concept banked on a post-Butler revival. This revival has not happened though. The imaginary island is a barren wasteland that is almost as ugly as his shot chart for the year. Not everything is his fault, the Wolves have a collection of point guards who hold the ball for too long, and a very basic offensive scheme. But Wiggins has had these problems now under four different coaches, and the real step back he has taken this year means that we should probably stop making excuses for him.

The saddest part of this whole thing is that what was a legitimate source of hope for this team, is now firmly in the rear-view mirror. I do not know that Wiggins will ever build upon his promising 16-17 campaign, and it leaves Timberwolves fans with very little to celebrate moving forward.

The Hawks game was the final straw for most. Thousands of people sailed away from Wiggins Island. But if we are being real, these problems are not new at all. A loss to a floundering Hawks team should not have been the final straw, because he has been that bad for a long time. I hope he gets better, but I’ve also found myself being positive about him on too many occasions.