The time finally came for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. The team enjoyed a 47-win season and clinched a berth in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. While the Wolves lost to the Rockets in five games in the opening round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, it was a step in the right direction for the franchise. Once considered a young team, Minnesota prided itself on acquiring veteran help last offseason, adding guys like Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford. Those veterans were a big reason the Wolves were finally able to end their playoff drought. However, another important piece to the team this season was the inconsistent 23-year-old Andrew Wiggins.
Entering his fourth season in the NBA and coming off of signing a five-year max contract in the offseason, expectations were high for the Kansas product this season; however, the results were mixed. We will take a look into what went well and what went wrong for Wiggins this season for the Wolves, and what the future holds for the youngster’s career.
To start off, it was assumed that Wiggins’ numbers would dip this season with the addition of Jimmy Butler to play alongside Wiggins at the wing position. Wiggins averaged 17.7 points per game this season, but did so while shooting just 43.8% from the field, his lowest mark since his rookie season when he shot 43.7% from the field. In addition, Wiggins went in the opposite direction Wolves fans would have hoped in terms of his three-point shooting. Coming off a 2016/17 campaign that saw Wiggins improve his three-point percentage to 35.6%, Wiggins spiraled downward this season connecting on just 33.1% of his deep balls.
However, not all was bad for Wiggins in his second season under Coach Thibs. Wiggins showed improved defense this season and was more active in other facets of the game besides scoring the ball. Wiggins improved his rebounding numbers, averaging 4.4 rebounds per game this season, including a career-high 3.4 defensive rebounds per game. The defensive intensity that Wiggins showed at times proved that he still has the potential to be a very solid two-way player in the league, but why hasn’t he improved more quickly?
Perhaps the biggest reason that Wiggins has yet to take his game to the next level is his mindset and consistency. Wiggins doesn’t seem to have a killer mindset that so many top-notch players nowadays have. However, the consistency is a much bigger problem. This season, Andrew Wiggins had ten games where he only scored single-digit points, that’s a problem, especially for a player who attempted 15.9 field goals per game. Those ten games make for about 12% of his games this season being single-digit point games, it’s something that star and even average players don’t do.
For example, I took five players that attempted a similar amount of field goals per game as Wiggins and looked at how many single-digit point games they had this season. The results are shown below.
- Klay Thompson: Four
- Harrison Barnes: Four
- Jimmy Butler: Two
- Tyreke Evans: Two
- John Wall: Two
The results are staggering. While some of the players above missed games because of injuries, when you are taking over 15 field goals per night, the points need to back it up, which it didn’t for Wiggins this season.
Three-Point Percentage Drop Off
As alluded to before, Andrew Wiggins struggled from three this season, despite getting more looks from deep and plenty of good open looks from three. The most surprising stat for Wiggins’ three-point shot is his percentage on “wide open” threes, which are classified by the closest defender being six or more feet away from the shooter. This season, Wiggins made just 33% of these shots, well below league average. But, there is reason to believe that Wiggins can improve his three-point shot in the future. This season, Wiggins found some success on the deep ball when he was set up outside the arc, ready to catch and shoot. An example of this type of shot is shown below.
When Wiggins would really get in trouble, especially from the three-point line is when he would hesitate before shooting, throwing off his mechanics and technique. An example of the hesitation shot from the same game is shown below.
As seen above, the first shot is obviously much prettier and more fluid allowing the entire shooting motion to flow how it should. If Wiggins can make a point not to hesitate on his threes, there is a good chance that his three-point percentage can climb back up.
Free Throw Drop Off
In addition to the three-point percentage drop off for Wiggins, his free throw numbers took a hit this season. After he attempted 6.6 free throws per game in 2016/17, making 76% of them, he attempted just 3.8 free throws per game this season, connecting on just 64.3% of them. What these numbers exemplify the most is Wiggins’ aggressiveness. Wiggins was often too timid and wasn’t always willing to go to the basket and take the contact. As a matter of fact, when Wiggins had big games this season, a large part of it was because of his aggressiveness and his focus on getting to the basket. In the nine games this season that Wiggins recorded 25 or more points, he averaged 6.9 free throws per game and made 71% of those shots. On the flip side, in the ten games that Wiggins was held to single-digits this season, he averaged just two free throws per game, making only 45% of them.
A key for Wiggins being able to go where he wants to go with his game will be his aggressiveness and willingness to take the contact and knock down shots at the line. It was a big part of his success last season, and will be a big part of his future success if he takes the initiative.
Reason for Optimism
For everyone that is already labeling Andrew Wiggins as a “bust” and saying he will never be more than an average NBA player, I get it, he has been in the NBA for four seasons, and has yet to live up to expectations. However, give him a chance. Wiggins is still just 23 years old and is coming off of his first season making the postseason. He now knows what it takes to get to the postseason and the level of intensity once the team is in the postseason.
In addition, Wiggins will be entering his third season under Coach Thibs this upcoming season, allowing him to be more familiar with the system and knowing what Thibs expects of him. Furthermore, it wasn’t all bad for Wiggins this season. Wolves fans saw the defensive improvements this year. Andrew Wiggins was more inclined and more willing to use his athleticism on the defensive end this year, as shown in this block below.
Wiggins still showcases flashes of what he can be if he plays with the level of intensity that he plays with against his hometown Raptors team, and the team that drafted and traded him away, the Cavaliers. He has the athleticism and scoring ability to be an elite scorer for many years to come, and with the improved defense, he can still become a top two-way player in the NBA.
While it may be hard to still have faith in Andrew Wiggins, even I have a hard time believing, he is still young and is coming off his first winning season in the league. Maybe, just maybe, there is still hope for Wiggins to reach his full potential.
Video Credits: Dawkings, DF