Wiggins: A Wolf in Attack Mode

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Milwaukee Bucks

Two years ago, Andrew Wiggins was heralded as the next big NBA superstar.  That is a lot of pressure to put on a 20-year-old kid.  After winning NBA Rookie of the Year, Wiggins was perhaps the most likely candidate to have a breakout second year.  Then came Karl-Anthony Towns.

In no way am I saying it is KAT’s fault that Wiggins did not have a breakout season.  I am not even saying that Wiggins did not have a great season.  Rather, I am saying that the “Karl-Anthony Towns – Rookie of the Year, soon-to-be MVP, and future Hall of Famer” season (yes, I know that is a mouthful, but it was that impressive) seemed to overshadow the improvements that Wiggins made in his second year.

With the focus shifted toward KAT, Wiggins often flew under the radar last year.  He averaged 20.7 points, 3.6 boards, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 steal per game while shooting 45.9% from the field.  These may not be headline numbers, but they are impressive numbers for an NBA player in only his second season.  This is especially true when one considers he increased his scoring by nearly 4 points per game while playing fewer minutes and shooting more than 2% better from the field.

Not only are these numbers and improvements impressive, but Wiggins was the reason the Wolves played close with teams come the fourth quarter last season.  In the fourth quarter of games last year, Wiggins averaged 5.2 points (tied with LaVine for the most on the team) and led the Wolves’ starters with a positive +.7 plus/minus.

Fast forward to now.

Andrew Wiggins is in attack mode.  We may only be two games into the season, but Wiggins came ready to play.  Many have criticized him for his tendency to disappear on occasion during games, only to reappear in the fourth quarter when games get close.  Some have called him lazy.  Others have said he does not care.  I believe the “future NBA superstar” killer mentality that Wiggins once displayed heard these critics and is ready to respond.

Watching Wiggins pick apart the Sacramento Kings defense in the fourth quarter on Saturday night to get the Wolves back into the game should give fans chills.  When Wiggins is on – he is ON FIRE.  The most impressive aspect of his game was the way he was doing it.  Instead of settling for long range jumpers and his typical “take a few dribbles and fadeaway from the basket” shots, he attacked the hoop and split defenders on his way.  Although he did shoot well on jumpers in the first half, he figured out they were not falling in the second and found a new way to score.

Check out his highlights from the other night here:

This should be how he always plays.  In 2015/2016, Wiggins shot 48.5% when driving to the hoop.  When settling for pull up jumpers and taking shots from 20+ feet, his averages fell to 33.8% and 38.4% respectively.  Compare these with his field goal percentage in the paint (60.0%), in the post (59.2%), and from the elbow (46.2%) and it becomes clear that the more Wiggins works to get close to the hoop the better he shoots.

Then there are the numbers from this year.  Although only two games in, Wiggins has been unstoppable when he drives to the hoop.  He is shooting 75% on drives and gets fouled an astounding 37.5% of the time he attacks the rim.  His percentage on post ups is an identical 75%.  When these percentages are compared with his 40% shooting on pull up jumpers, it again becomes obvious he needs to attack the hoop.

These numbers are only from two games and will certainly change as the season continues, but as of now it definitely looks like Wiggins is finding the right mentality.  His 27.0 PPG and effective field goal percentage of 51.5% to get those points is a welcome sight for all Wolves fans – and that’s just offensively.

Defensively, Wiggins looks like a different person.  Last year, he seemed to be in a daze quite frequently on defense.  Having been a shut-down defender in college, Wolves fans thought they were getting someone to match up with the superstar 2’s and 3’s in the league when he came to Minnesota.  He has not quite lived up to that expectation.

That being said, at the end of last season, Wiggins looked a lot better.  He squared off with some very talented scorers and rose to the occasion.  During the last 15 games of the season, Wiggins held his matchups to shooting nearly 4% below their average.  To put that in perspective, NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard held his opponents to 5.5% lower per game last season.

While Tom Thibideau probably deserves some credit for this new defensive mindset he is trying to instill in his players, Wiggins appears to have grown in this category.  He was aggressive defensively during the preseason and is shutting people down in the first two games.  His matchups have shot an astounding 14.9% worse than they do against other opponents.  If he can keep his matchups shooting even remotely close to that far below their average, the Wolves may have found their lockdown defender.

It is truly scary to think what the Wolves would look like if both Wiggins and KAT are playing at their top level.  KAT has had an okay first two games, but nothing to get overly thrilled about.  If he can reach that next level most people expect out of him and Wiggins continues his hot start to the 2016-2017 NBA season, there is no ceiling for the Wolves.

I hope you are excited, because I know I am.  And that is without even mentioning the level of play that Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn could hit soon.  And, if Shabazz Muhammad can find a way to sneak out some more minutes, he appears to be ready for the next level, too.  Get ready, Wolves fans, because once the Wolves figure out the winning formula there is no looking back.

Follow Evan Hagen on Twitter @Hagen_Wolves

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