Andrew Wiggins Might Not Be a Lost Cause After All
As one of the few remaining residents on Andrew Wiggins Island, the value of my beachfront property is skyrocketing after the start of the 2019-20 season.
Through 10 games, Wiggins is averaging career highs in points (25.5), field-goal percentage (47.3), assists (3.3), made three-pointers (2.2) and blocks (1.1), even though he’s playing only 0.2 minutes per game more than he did last season. His effective field-goal percentage has soared to a career-best 52.7, far beyond his previous high-water mark of 48.4.
First-year head coach Ryan Saunders and new team president Gersson Rosas deserve some of the credit for coaxing out the new and improved Wiggins.
When Rosas took over in May, “he mentioned ‘modern basketball’ at least a half-dozen times when discussing his plan,” according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Considering the Timberwolves ranked 26th in three-point attempts per game (28.7) and fifth in mid-range attempts (17.2), it wasn’t difficult to guess what Rosas meant by that.
This summer, the Wolves leaned into their new focus on shot selection by hanging a chart in their practice facility displaying the average points per possession from every area on the floor, according to Jace Frederick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
New chart inside the Wolves practice facility: Points per shot pic.twitter.com/nSlIGLYVmL
— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) July 23, 2019
That was basically a gigantic subtweet of Wiggins.
During the first five years of his career, the 2014 No. 1 overall pick attempted 13.8 percent of his shots between 10-16 feet away from the hoop and 22.1 percent between 16 feet and the three-point line. He shot 36.5 percent and 34.2 percent on such attempts, respectively.
This season, Wiggins has radically overhauled his shot profile. He’s taking a career-low 8.2 percent of his shots between 10-16 feet and 12.1 percent between 16 feet and the three-point line. He’s drilling a career-high 47.1 percent and 40.0 percent of those attempts, respectively. Meanwhile, he’s attempting more shots than ever between 3-10 feet (21.7 percent) and from three-point range (31.4 percent).
Whereas Wiggins ranked 11th leaguewide in mid-range shots per game last season (4.4), he’s down to 24th this season (3.3), tied with LeBron James.
“I feel good in the system,” Wiggins said after a recent practice, according to Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune. “Obviously, they don’t want me taking the mid-range shot. But you take what the defense gives you. If it’s there, I’m going to take it. But I’m going to try to prioritize getting to the rim more and shooting a lot more threes.”
That change in mentality has led to one of the most productive streaks in Wiggins’ career.
The 24-year-old has scored at least 25 points in each of the Timberwolves’ past five games, and he’s averaging an eye-popping 30.6 points on 51.3 percent shooting during that span. Prior to this, he had only one stretch longer than three games in which he scored 25 points each time (in February 2017).
The day after Wiggins dropped a season-high 40 points on 17-of-33 shooting in a 125-119 overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors, Saunders highlighted the change in his offensive approach.
“When he’s had big games before, he’s always attacked the rim,’’ Saunders said, per Youngblood. “But I think, when he’s had big games before, he’s still had heavy mid-range attempts, which can also result in a number of settles. There were a number of times last night where he could have settled, but he ended up getting himself back to the three-point line or getting himself all the way to the rim. So, to me, that shows an improvement.’’
Wiggins deserves credit for his evolution as a playmaker, too.
Although a number of his assists this season have been simple swing passes to open shooters—i.e., no one will mistake him for Trae Young or Luka Doncic anytime soon—Wiggins has been flashing improved passing chops off drive-and-kicks in particular.
It’s really about his improved recognition that such passes are even there to be made:
Such passes have helped him boost his assist rate from a pedestrian 9.9 percent across his first five years in the league to 16.7 percent this season. Coupled with his career-low turnover rate (6.1 percent), Wiggins is suddenly far more trustworthy with the ball in his hands than he has been.
Improved ball-handling is likely playing a factor, too.
“I think he’s had a better transition of the handle to the drive,” teammate Karl-Anthony Towns recently told reporters. “I think he’s doing a really good job of doing great transitions and putting the ball in — I don’t know if you guys know this — in a pocket. He’s putting it in the pocket, making sure he has the chance to make another move if he has to or secondary move or have an explosive move to the basket to dunk or layup or whatever the case may be and attack.”
That has helped Wiggins hone his famed spin move into a far deadlier weapon, too.
Although Wiggins’ impressive start to the season merits genuine excitement, the overarching question remains whether this is a small-sample-size flash in the pan. On Tuesday’s episode of ESPN’s The Jump, former Phoenix Suns executive Amin Elhassan expressed skepticism about Wiggins’ transformation becoming permanent.
“This is who he’s been,” Elhassan said. “He does it for a little bit, we get excited, ‘Ooh, it’s finally coming together for Andrew Wiggins!’ … The tiger doesn’t change his stripes, he just changes jungles. He’s not a second- or third-year player, he’s been in the league for a while. He does this every year.”
While it’s fair to believe five years’ worth of work is more indicative of a player’s baseline than a 10-game sample size, Wiggins wouldn’t be the first late bloomer in NBA history.
Perhaps Wiggins needed Rosas and Saunders to repeatedly emphasize the value of shot selection and cutting down mid-range attempts in favor of three-pointers and point-blank attempts before he overhauled his shot profile. Perhaps he prioritized working on his handle this summer, knowing that it could help him unlock other facets of his game.
Wiggins might regress in the coming weeks, which will cause skeptics such as Elhassan to crow about why they were right not to get overly excited about his early-season surge.
Then again, what if this new and improved Wiggins is here to stay? With strong three-and-D wings such as Robert Covington, Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver surrounding him, Wiggins no longer has to shoulder such a heavy load on both ends of the floor.
If this version of Wiggins isn’t a mirage, the Timberwolves will be far more of a factor in the Western Conference playoff race than anyone outside of Minnesota anticipated heading into the season.
Bryan Toporek is a contributor at The Basketball Writers. He’s also a Quality Editor for Bleacher Report, co-hosts The NBA Podcast and contributes at FanSided and elsewhere. He still trusts the Process.