Wiggins Was Once Compared to LeBron James
Judging the career of Andrew Wiggins at this point comes down to expectations. As a prospect, he drew comparisons to LeBron James as a result of his physical tools and measurements. It’s probably safe to assume he won’t be the next LeBron, but he’s also not the next James Posey. With the changes this summer in Minnesota, Wiggins is in a great position to start reaching his potential.
Entering the NBA, the defensive potential of Wiggins seemed like the most reliable aspect of his game. With his length and mobility, developing into a dynamic defender should be the expectation.
However this has not been the case. Rather than being a raw offensive player that makes a defensive impact, Wiggins has been an offensive workhorse for the Wolves. While he still has work to do to round out his offensive game, he’s shown that he can shoulder a considerable load offensively.
Wiggins scored 23.6 points per game last season. Doing so with a respectable 48.4% effective field goal percentage. He has also shown he is skilled in the post and the ability to draw fouls in multiple situations. Skills that will help him maintain effectiveness even when his shots not falling.
But while his offensive game has been solid, it’s been another story on defense.
Last season Wiggins ranked 460th out of the 468 ranked players in Defensive Real Plus Minus. While that doesn’t tell the whole story, it’s clear that he has not had a consistently positive impact on that end of the floor.
While his total defensive impact has been disappointing, there are reasons to believe he can still reach his potential. In one on one situations, Wiggins has shown the ability to play lockdown defense. He can stay in-front of almost any wing and prevent them from getting what they want when they want.
The issue is that he’s not always in position or aware of where his man is defensively. As pointed out by FiveThirtyEight, having Wiggins defend you is a dream for offensive players:
Possession by possession, there are a few defenders who are as bad as Wiggins. When Wiggins contests a shot, opponents hold a 56.1 effective field goal percentage; when they are unguarded, they hold a 56.4 eFG percentage. Fundamentally, getting a shot up against Andrew Wiggins is the same as getting an open shot.
While this stat is a huge indictment on his game, it still isn’t a reflection of what he can do defensively. Especially in one on one situations. If you watch the film, where Wiggins struggles is fighting through screens as well as his off ball defense. The number of times where he leaves a man wide open off a screen or as a result of a mental lapse greatly inflates these poor defensive numbers.
He casually walks into screens, making little effort to get around them. You can also see several instances in games where his man catches an easy in rhythm three-point attempt with a late/useless closeout from Wiggins. To watch him defend often resembles watching a pick-up basketball game defense after several games.
So the question is, why does Wiggins struggle to contribute in other aspects of the game? In addition to the lack of defensive effort, his rebounding numbers are poor for a player his size. His assist numbers also are lackluster for a player that gets as many touches as he does. The answer may lay in his workload.
Too Much, Too Soon
The problem with top prospects is that they often go to bad situations. Wiggins is no exception to this rule as the Wolves post-Kevin Love have continued with a tradition of losing.
It’s this lack of depth and talent that has miscast Wiggins and forced him into a role that isn’t natural. As a prospect, many wondered if he was aggressive enough to be a leading scorer on a team. While he’s put many of those doubts to rest, the size of his role may have taken its toll on the rest of the game.
Wiggins came in third last season in minutes per game and led the league in regular season minutes played. His usage rate of 27.5 was good for 21st overall and was higher than Giannis Antetokounmpo last season.
For a player that’s just 22 years old, that’s a lot to ask. To make matters worse, the team had little to no depth to surround him with. All his minutes were high-leverage and if the team was going to have a chance to win, it would need to be the result of he and Karl-Anthony Towns having outstanding games.
The lack of depth also meant that Wiggins drew the toughest defensive assignments. While his struggles defensively are well documented, he still was the team’s most reliable option on the wing. So it’s not like the team was trying to hide him and he got lit up, he was going up against the best wing player every single night. Which didn’t help his defensive numbers throughout the season.
Help Has Arrived
This will be the season we learn a lot about who Andrew Wiggins is. With the arrival of Jimmy Butler, Wiggins will now likely be third in the Wolves pecking order. Towns has shown all the signs of becoming a future MVP caliber player while Butler is an elite wing player in his prime.
How Wiggins responds to this change in role will determine whether or not he’s worth the max contract he seems inline to receive. With Butler in the fold, Wiggins will be asked to shoulder less of a load on both ends of the floor.
With a reduced workload, we will see if he is able to divert his energy into other aspects of his game. He should have more energy to spend on the defensive end of the floor and to fight for rebounds.
In addition to that, with the presence of both Butler and Tom Thibodeau he will have all the tools he needs to better understand the defensive end of the floor. Thibodeau didn’t have the immediate impact on his game last season. But with an on court mentor in Butler that can also help hold him accountable, Wiggins is set up in a perfect situation to realize his defensive potential.
If Wiggins can contribute in ways beyond his scoring, the question will be whether or not it has an inverse effect on his offensive game. Jeff Teague will bring a more offensive minded approach compared to Ricky Rubio. While Butler will also reduce the number of possessions Wiggins will be used to initiate the offense.
The key for Wiggins will come down to how much effort he displays when the ball isn’t in his hands. He no longer will be asked to carry an unfairly large role on both ends. So he will need to make himself available cutting off ball to make up for a reduced number of touches. He can also create opportunities for himself by attacking the boards and jumping passing lanes.
Wiggins is now in a position to succeed. He has a perfect mentor in Butler and the right coach in Thibodeau. While he has had his share of struggles to this point, it’s nothing that isn’t common for young players in his situation. He now has an opportunity to show up those that have written him off too early. If he fails to show growth in this situation, then it may be time to lower expectations on what he can be at his peak.