In seasons prior, Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Andrew Wiggins commonly found himself near the bottom of lists ranking players in various advanced metrics.
Just last year, Wiggins finished the 2018-19 campaign sitting at 511th in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), 178th in Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and 340th in Win Shares. What that means – and you can be assured, it’s impossible to spin those marks as anything but terrible – is that Wiggins was getting a lot of minutes and finishing a lot of possessions with the ball in his hands, but was extremely inefficient with his touches.
His raw averages last season – 18.1 points per game on 16.6 field-goal attempts nightly and 41.2/33.9/69.9 shooting splits – indicate the same: Wiggins was a very ineffective player.
But that seems to have changed this season, at least thus far.
The first glimpse we got of this newfound, confident and explosive version of Wiggins came on Oct. 27 when the Canadian forward exploded in the fourth quarter of a tight contest against the now 7-3 Miami Heat, finishing the outing with 25 points (16 of which came in the deciding quarter) on 50 percent shooting from the floor.
Still, though, Wiggins had flashed moments of brilliance before in his career, and they never translated to anything sustainable, so how were we supposed to know this time would be any different?
Well, if the last five games tell us anything, it’s that this time looks to be just that… different.
Over that span, Wiggins is averaging 31.6 points per game, to go with 5.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists (extremely noteworthy for a player with a 2.2-assist career average), 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per game (with just 1.6 turnovers, an absurdly low mark considering his usage rate). The advanced stats, those that were so cruel to the 24-year-old in the past, have changed their tune as well, placing Wiggins among the Top 60 players in the Association this season. That’s still not quite elite , but in comparison to his aforementioned marks from 2018-19, Wiggins ranking 42nd in VORP, 59th in BPM and 22nd in Win Shares (!) is pretty impressive.
When asked about Wiggins’ season thus far, Timberwolves assistant coach David Vanterpool told HoopsHype: “He has been incredible at trying to make his teammates better in every facet. He’s doing a great job with his defensive assignments, and he has been great facilitating for others on the offensive end. He’s a natural scorer so even his scoring, when it’s necessary, helps those around him. He’s playing at an All-Star level.”
Vanterpool isn’t lying; Wiggins looks like a different player as a distributor recently. The Canadian forward’s vision is night and day compared to previous years – he’s keeping his head up while driving and finding secondary and even tertiary options when he draws multiple defenders.
According to the NBA’s primary stats page, Wiggins is passing the ball over 35 times per night this season, a significant jump from his 26 nightly passes last season, and proof of a more well-rounded offensive player.
At the same time, Wiggins hasn’t made a leap this year solely because of his improved willingness and vision as a playmaker. He’s gotten much more effective at putting the ball in the bucket, too.
Per Synergy Sports, Wiggins ranks as a “very good” (82nd percentile) scorer in the halfcourt, producing a total of 1.07 points per possession (PPP) in such chances. That’s a better mark than professional bucket-getters like Devin Booker (1.03 PPP out of the halfcourt) and Trae Young (1.01 PPP), for the record. Last year, Wiggins scored a paltry 0.86 PPP out of the halfcourt, which placed him in the Association’s 27th percentile.
Part of the reason for Wiggins making this massive jump in effectiveness as a scorer is the fact that he’s attempting more three-pointers (6.5) than he ever has before at any point in his career. To make up the difference, the Wolves wing is taking way less long two-point jumpers these days, a shot he used to attempt with aplomb despite it’s well-documented inefficiency.
Coming into this season, Wiggins was taking 35.9 percent of his field-goal attempts for his career from between 10 feet away from the basket and the three-point line – over a third of his shots coming from this hellscape of efficient basketball. This year, however, that number is all the way down to 20.4 percent, a much more acceptable rate for a scorer such as Wiggins.
As a result of both the better shot selection and improved passing, the 24-year-old is producing 1.3 PPP in isolation situations (with passes included) this season, a mark healthy enough to rank as “excellent,” per Synergy, and to put him in the league’s 86th percentile, ahead of All-NBA-level talents like reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (1.07 PPP) and his own teammate Karl-Anthony Towns (1.0 PPP).
All in all, Wiggins’ development this season can be attributed to (much) better shot selection, improved playmaking chops, less floating in and out of games and more consistent effort on both ends of the floor.
There had never been any sort of dispute in regards to his otherworldly physical tools…
…but now that Wiggins is going all-out, full-throttle during his time on the floor, he’s able to shine much more brightly.
The jury is still out on whether this isn’t just an extended flash of hardwood brilliance or something sustainable, but considering the lack of red flags with his production (like fluky shooting marks, for example), there’s reason to believe this is real.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.