Can Andrew Wiggins Find Himself in Golden State?

Andrew Wiggins is on his way to the Golden State Warriors after spending the first five-plus seasons of his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It seems to me that most of the talk has been about how Wiggins is a better fit for the Warriors than combo guard D’Angelo Russell, who was traded to the Wolves.

But the Warriors are a better fit for Wiggins too.

He was taken as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and traded shortly after to the Wolves as part of the package for Kevin Love. He won Rookie of the Year in his first season but never panned out to be the star that he was projected to be, though he is arguably a tad underrated because most complaints are tied to how he hasn’t lived up to expectations or his hefty contract. His competitive fire is often visibly quenched, which adds to the criticism.

However, he is averaging 22.4 points and career highs in rebounds (4.3) and assists (2.3). And while he’s not “efficient” in any true sense of the word, he does shoot 50.2 percent from two, 33.1 percent from three. So, there is a lot of production available with Wiggins, it just always seems to be overshadowed by the impression of how much more he could be doing with all that visible talent.

Andrew Wiggins Might Not Be a Lost Cause After All

Wiggins’ entire career has seen a revolving door of coaches, teammates and systems. During his tenure in the Twin Cities, Wiggins played with 71 different teammates and had four head coaches.

Again, he’d only been there five-and-a-half years!

By contrast, Golden State has had 46 players and one coach during that same span. There’s a hope that being a better fit in an established system, he could grow into something resembling the player he was supposed to be.

The Warriors’ offense with the Splash Brothers is fantastically impressive at creating open shots. They’ve run (especially in the pre-Durant version) more off-ball screens than anyone in the league to create open jump shots, and that could be a boon for Wiggins’ career.

October 10, 2019; San Francisco, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Herring of Five-Thirty-Eight wrote about this in 2017:

Golden State obviously uses pick and rolls, too, but the club relies on them less than any team in basketball.2 Instead, the Warriors prefer to confuse their opponents by setting screens away from the ball, a strategy the Dubs used 400 times more3 in the regular season than the next-closest team.

Of course, the Warriors do this because when you have Curry and Thompson. Suffice to say you have an incentive to create open three-point shots for them.

Additionally, the sheer range The Splash Brothers both have means that the defense has to cover more space to defend them, which in turn means that those off-ball screens are resulting in lots of wide-open treys. According to NBA.com, about 30 percent of their plays in 2016-17 resulted in open or wide-open three-point attempts.

Wiggins is 36.0 percent from deep on catch-and-shoots this year and has been right around that mark for the last few years. You can expect that number should go up a bit as he’ll be getting more open looks than he usually had in Minnesota where the Wolves were perpetually one of the league’s worst three-point shooting teams, even as their number of attempts have (finally) risen this season under coach Ryan Saunders.

The other thing you can expect is for Wiggins to get a lot more cuts to the rim.

As Mo Dakil points out for Bleacher Report:

Wiggins’ most efficient play is the off-ball cut, at 1.53 points per possession, but he’s been in that action for a small sample size of 55 possessions. Expect the frequency to climb as he plays in the Warriors system, as they ran them a league-high 12.3 percent of the time. Because with space comes lanes and with lanes comes cuts.

Golden State led the league in 2016-17 in cuts, using them for 12.3 percent of their plays.

Nov 17, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the second half at the American Airlines Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Mavericks 111-87. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

So you can expect to see Wiggins doing less of what he doesn’t do efficiently and more of what he does do efficiently.

Though Golden State’s remaining Big 3 rightfully get most of the headlines, it’s important to remember that their dynasty was also built upon a strong supporting cast, much less the MVP arrival of Kevin Durant for their pinnacle. Pre-Durant, however, it was small forward Harrison Barnes who proved to be a valuable shooting and finishing outlet, providing just enough athleticism and range to make opponents pay for keying too hard on Curry or Thompson.

It’s ironic that Barnes was often lambasted for lacking a visibly high-running motor—a knock that has followed him during his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings—but his value to the Warriors was palpable, even as it was quickly forgotten by Durant’s production more than filling the vacated spots.

Thus, Wiggins arrives as something of a split between the two: He offers more pure scoring, upside and athleticism than Barnes, but certainly not the two-way efficiency of Durant.

There are still the glaring issues with Wiggins to figure out, such as the lack of competitiveness at times and his lack of defense perpetually. But playing alongside Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green—who have won rings before and are established stars and veteran leaders—will either help with both of these things or definitely prove that Wiggins can’t (won’t?) be helped and he is who he is.

Whereas there was a built-in excuse when playing for the sad-sack Wolves, Wiggins will have every opportunity to carve out a critical role without having to step too far outside himself.

This is absolutely a career crossroads for Wiggins. But if he finds his best self in Golden State? This could work out very well for both the team and the player.

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