It’s still early, but Wiggins may have found just the change of scenery he needed
One of the biggest questions facing the Golden State Warriors this season and beyond is what they have in Andrew Wiggins.
In his five-plus seasons in Minnesota he proved he could score 20 points per game if asked, but he graded out as an inefficient volume shooter who got poor marks on the defensive end. That was enough for the Timberwolves to sign him to a max contract, which then added the label of overpaid to his resume. There was obvious talent in the hyper-athletic No. 1 overall draft pick, but had he reached his top potential or was there still room to grow?
The Dubs took a gamble by using their precious fourth max contract spot on him. Could he develop into a more efficient offensive weapon, in a different system where he didn’t need to be the primary focus? Could he improve his defense on a team that was already good at it, under the tutelage of Draymond Green? The trade that acquired Wiggins was a win no matter what for other reasons, but if a change of scenery could unlock another level to his game then it could have a major impact on Golden State’s chances of rising back to championship contention.
We’re only 20 games into the new season, but that’s given us our first glimpse at Wiggins on a winning team led by a healthy Steph Curry. So far, the progress has been promising — his skill set has fit well into the Warriors lineup, and as a result he’s been more effective than ever on both ends of the floor.
23.3% usage rate
This isn’t something Wiggins has done, so much as how the Warriors are using him. That is, slightly less. In Minnesota, he was often cast as the primary scorer, or at least a close second. Now there’s a distinct top dog in Curry, and Wiggins can settle into the secondary crew with a few other teammates, taking charge when it makes sense and deferring when he doesn’t have a good enough look.
This usage rate is two ticks below his career mark, four ticks below last season, and farther from first on his own team than ever. Another way to look at it is his 14.4 shots per game, which is his lowest since his rookie year, two below his career rate, and four fewer than he was putting up in Minny last winter before the trade. He’s still heavily involved and he hasn’t lost an ounce of aggression when he does act, but without needing to force it when it’s not there because he has more help around him.
40.6% three-point shooting
That opportunity for superior shot selection, plus the required nod to Curry’s gravity and Draymond’s playmaking, has helped Wiggins become far more efficient. That’s most apparent from three-point range, where he’s blowing away his career rate with the T’Wolves (33.2%) as well as his previous personal high (35.6%). Even if you allow for some regression over time, he’s striping it like never before, on the second-highest volume of his career.
Possibly related: More of his 3s are from the corner than ever before, by a significant margin.
He’s also been better on his two-pointers, shooting a career-high 50.8% (career: 47.3%). This is where we might be seeing the effect of him taking fewer shots per game overall, since the ones he’s cut out are the mid-to-deep range jumpers that (obviously) used to carry his worst percentages.
Add it up and he’s shooting 47.2% overall, which, you guessed it, is his career-high and way above his lifetime mark (44.2%). Same story with his True Shooting Percentage, which is at 56.4% (career: 52.3%) even though he’s taking fewer free throws and his make rate at the line is slightly down in the small sample.
1.5 blocks per game
And what about the other end of the floor? There’s a lot more to defense than steals and blocks, but in this case the latter does catch your eye. That’s more than twice what he posted in any full year in Minnesota. If you take the 2021 NBA leaders and remove all the centers and center-ish big men, then Wiggins is tied at the top with Kevin Durant.
One advanced metric was bullish on his overall defense through the first 15 games:
— Henry Abbott (@TrueHoop) January 22, 2021
The eyeball test has been encouraging as well. I can’t speak for what he looked like with the Wolves, but here he’s part of an army of long, quick, active defenders who seem to give opponents problems more often than not. And, as noted above, he’s personally getting in the way of a lot of shots, often because he doesn’t give up on plays — including times when he gets beaten by his man but recovers quickly enough to catch up and swat the ball from behind.
Are we seeing a new and improved Wiggins, or just a hot start to the season? Has he gotten any better himself, or is he just a better fit in his new environment, and does the answer even matter? Can he and his max contract be part of a championship starting lineup?
One key to remember is that he doesn’t need to be a superstar. The Warriors already have three of those when Klay Thompson comes back, and maybe they have another brewing in James Wiseman. He just needs to be a good starting wing, the kind that salary cap rules wouldn’t have allowed the Dubs to sign outright in free agency, and anything beyond that is a bonus. A 40% deep shooter who can slash and finish, defend at least decently, and block shots would do nicely.