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What exactly do Wolves have in Andrew Wiggins?

What exactly do we have in Andrew Wiggins?

He was one of the most hyped prospects in recent years during his prep career, had a solid but not otherworldly freshman year at Kansas, then turned in pre-draft measurables that had the entire NBA drooling. He was drafted by the Cavaliers with the possibility of being groomed as the young Pippen to LeBron’s Jordan, but instead was traded to the Timberwolves for the more established Kevin Love and made the centerpiece of a rebuilding team. Wiggins was the Rookie of the Year, but by his second season he had been overshadowed by brilliant young big man Karl-Anthony Towns as the future of the team (and the league).

But Wiggins is still only 21 years old, and all of that potential that he had hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, in the early part of his third season, he’s showing signs that he may be making a leap. So, now seems like a good time to ask…just how good is Wiggins at this stage in his career?

Physical tools:

Wiggins is an extremely tall, long wing. His pre-draft measurements were 6’8.75″ in shoes, 7’0″ wingspan, 8″11 standing reach.  For comparison’s sake, Anthony Davis measured out at 6’10.5″ in shoes with a standing reach of 9’0″. Plus, at that time Wiggins was 18 years old, and he very conceivably could still have been growing.

Now, add in the leaping ability. This pre-draft photo of Wiggins

aw1

…tried to break the internet, and his vertical was later measured at 44 inches.

On the con side, Wiggins came into the league extremely skinny and hasn’t completely filled out yet by year 3. He has broad shoulders which suggests that he could carry more weight, but for now he is still thin. Also, Wiggins is more of a long-strider than a quick turnover guy. He’s very fast, a benefit on the break, but he’s not magnificent at changing direction the way some elite wings are.

Skillsets prior to this season:

On offense, Wiggins played his first two seasons like a traditional 1980s small forward. He was not much of a ball-handler, not much of a passer, and therefore not a wing that you could run the offense through the way you could most of the elite offensive wings of the post-Jordan era. However, what Wiggins did show in those first two seasons was an innate scoring ability, especially when attacking the rim. He has that Dominique Wilkins square-up, then attack the rim with one or two dribbles to finish in the paint. He is good at the two-foot jump stop-and-elevate that leads to easy finishes and a high foul-draw rate. Wiggins has a reasonable mid-range jumper but a streaky 3-point shot that can let him down. On the whole, he is a great finisher on the break and good at getting into the paint off an imbalanced defense, but he hadn’t shown himself to be elite at creating his own shot in the half court nor was he adept at all at creating for teammates.

November 13, 2016 - Minneapolis, MN, USA - Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) makes a second quarter shot over Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. He had 25 points at halftime (Photo by Jeff Wheeler/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Jeff Wheeler/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Wiggins was an elite prospect on defense coming into the league, and many thought that was where he would make his first and perhaps even his largest lasting impact. With his length and lateral speed, in addition to his explosive leaping ability, many thought that his defensive potential ranged from Tayshaun Prince to Scottie Pippen. However, he has not yet shown himself to be in that class as an NBA defender. From Day 1, young Wiggins was tabbed as the go-to offensive player for the Timberwolves, which seems to have translated to not as much effort and energy going into defense. He tends to play defense almost standing up, instead of in a real defensive stance, which gives offensive players lanes and angles to work around him and also makes it harder for him to work through picks. He also hasn’t shown himself to be a huge hustle-back on defense kind of guy. And, perhaps due to his thin-ness, he isn’t all that great at post defense, he can be bull-rushed and finished through, and he’s been a frankly terrible rebounder.

So in short, Wiggins entered his third season as a good volume, average efficiency scorer that was a relatively poor playmaker, rebounder and defender. Players like that don’t tend to be franchise guys, as usually you need more versatility in your lead guy and/or his one ability has to be truly off-the-charts. Plus, there was another consideration…last season the Wolves drafted what is universally agreed upon to be a TRUE franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns demonstrated a clear ability to be elite on both offense and defense, even as a rookie, that essentially pushed Wiggins into a perceived secondary role entering year 3.

Wiggins thus far in Year 3

In his sophomore year, Wiggins averaged 20.7 points on 54.3% true shooting with 3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.2 turnovers per game.

Through the first nine games of this season, Wiggins has averaged 26.3 points on 58.5% true shooting, with 4.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks and 2.6 turnovers per game.

The bad news is that Wiggins really hasn’t added a lot of versatility to his game thus far in year 3. He still isn’t a playmaker, he still isn’t even average on the boards, and at least in the box scores, his defense is even less impressive.

However, on the very good side, Wiggins appears to be transitioning from a solid scorer to flirting with elite. It was well publicized that Wiggins spent a lot of time working on his ball-handling this offseason, and it has shown early on. The Wolves have used Wiggins as a primary ball-handler often this season, at times running him in a point capacity where he brings the ball up and initiates the offense. It hasn’t translated to better creation for teammates, but the tighter handle has paid dividends in his ability to attack the rim. He already had a spin move and a Euro step in his arsenal, but now he’s much better at changing direction on the dribble and getting to his desired spot in better control of himself. This has helped him improve on both his 2-point field goal percentage (47.9% thus far, up from 45.9% in 2016 season) and his ability to draw the foul (9.0 FTA per game, up from 7.0).

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 05: Minnesota Timberwolves Forward Andrew Wiggins (22) looks for a play while Oklahoma City Thunder Center Steven Adams (12) plays defense. November 5, 2016, at the Chesapeake Energy Arena Oklahoma City, OK. (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire)

Wiggins is also shooting the ball much better from the perimeter, which is good but also a cause for some concern as to sustainability. Thus far Wiggins has upped his 3-point attempts from 2.3 to 3.4, but he is making them at a whopping 54.8% clip vs last season’s 30%. He worked on his 3-point shot this summer, but that is an extreme leap in a limited sample size. While he’s clearly not going to maintain that percentage, one difference this season is that only 58.8% of his treys have been assisted vs. 82.5% last year. Wiggins could be the type of player that is more comfortable shooting off the dribble than the spot-up which, when combined with his ball-handling work, could make him a more dynamic scorer overall.

Impact: It is also clear that the Timberwolves are relying upon him more this season and that he is doing well carrying the larger role. One rough-and-dirty way to look at impact is to compare the on/off +/- numbers of the primary players. Wiggins had a solid +6.3 on/off +/- last season, but Ricky Rubio (+8.3) and Georgi Dieng (+7.7) both had slightly better marks with Towns in the mix as well which indicated more that the starting unit was solid than any individual brilliance for Wiggins. This season, however, Wiggins’ +8.0 on/off mark is by far the best on the team among the high-minute players, with Dieng’s +3.9 as the only other positive mark among the five. This would indicate that Wiggins is the common denominator on the units that have had the most success so far for the Wolves.

Bottom line

Wiggins was drafted with sky-high potential as a wing with once-a-generation combos of size and leaping ability. He entered this season having shown an ability to score solidly, but not much else, and he was largely overshadowed by the brilliance of young Karl-Anthony Towns. Through the early part of this season, though, Wiggins has demonstrated a marked advance in ball-handling and scoring ability that has re-established his luster as a brilliant young franchise player-in-waiting. Wiggins still needs to diversify his contributions if he wants to be truly elite, but the early returns for this season are very promising.