It's happening. Andrew Wiggins is on his way to Minnesota. But what can he do as a player, and how can he help the Wolves?
So last night, we got confirmation of a Wiggins deal from the one guy universally trusted on such matters.
And if you happen to be one of those people using the Tweeters, you no doubt noticed the little corner of it the Wolves occupy immediately exploded into manic, gleeful chaos.
So let's start with the obvious: whether or not Wiggins and Bennett actually become good, trading Kevin Love for two #1 overall picks is politically bulletproof. And sure, the deal is being driven by LeBron more than anything, but you have to nitpick pretty intensely to sell this as a bad idea. Love and cast off parts for Wiggins, Bennett and Thad Young is a trade value haul.
(I'll have one of these for Bennett soon as well. In the meantime, check out Eric's awesome breakdown of Thad)
HOWEVER. As us loyal (hopelessly masochistic...?) Wolves fans know, trade value and actual value are usually two different things. The league treats a number one pick as a number one pick until proven otherwise. Wiggins right now holds the same value in most people's eyes as a Dwight Howard. "He's Kobe, he's McGrady, he's Grant Hill" etc etc. Y'know. Anthony Bennett is Kevin Love.....until he's not.
So how true is Wiggins' real value?
Fortunately for you (although rather unfortunately for my free time...) I not only recorded all of the Wolves' summer league games to break down Zach LaVine's game, I also recorded all four Cavaliers games Wiggins and Bennett participated in.
(and let's not be naive enough to believe Cavs PR. A rookie and a sophomore who looked like a total bust as a rookie only played four games "because they accomplished all they needed to"? Puhleez)
Let's cite the numbers one more time: Andrew Wiggins led all college players in transition scoring last year at 1.3 PPP, just eeking out Aaron Gordon and our own Zach LaVine's 1.2 PPP mark. This shouldn't be a surprise. Wiggins is built for the fast game.
That said, he got exactly zero transition opportunities in summer league. Part of this was the Cavs had two excellent guards in Will Cherry and Matthew Dellavadova. Part of this was Anthony Bennett chose to just run the ball up the floor himself whenever he could. Part of this appeared to be David Blatt intentionally slowing things down. I'm not sure if he had something else he wanted to do or maybe he suspected Wiggins wasn't sticking around anyway? But the Cavs as a whole had minimal open court plays and nearly all of those were taken up by Cherry, Dellavadova or Bennett.
So instead, you get a video of Flip Saunders screaming "ball don't lie". I mean, really, you can't complain about that.
The stepback is going to quickly become a patent Wiggins move. Whereas most players will go with the fadeaway or pump fake, Wiggins does a full on, Paul Pierce backwards leap. And between the space he creates and the height of his release, the shot is pretty much uncontestable.
The downside here is the stepbacks and spins are just about the ONLY way Wiggins creates offense off the bounce. We'll go into more detail in a bit, but suffice it to say that he really REALLY struggles with basic pull up jumpers coming off screens or stop-and-pop situations. And same as LaVine, long twos off the dribble are about the most inefficient shot in basketball. It's not something that should be relied on regularly, particularly in a playbook dominated by Rubio.
Catch and shoot:
A few weeks ago, I sent out a controversial tweet that I felt LaVine has more potential than Wiggins. And I still believe that, and the primary reason for that is still coming, but this is certainly a part of it.
Wiggins has two issues in this realm:
- His efficiency varies drastically depending on if his shot is contested or not
- It's debatable is he has legitimate NBA three point range right now
At Kansas, Wiggins scored a very solid 1.31 PPP when left open (remember this encompasses a lot more 3pt attempts, hence why the mark is 'higher' than the transition one) But that figure plummeted to just 0.96 PPP with a hand in his face. Fortunately the (assumed) Rubio-centric offense will get Wiggins plenty of wide open looks, but still....this is obviously not great.
As for the range....well....
Wiggins attempted 8 catch-and-shoot threes in his first summer league game and missed 7 of them.....2 were airballs. He attempted one more in game 2 (which he also missed) than stopped trying them altogether.
Like we said with LaVine, Wiggins is not going to take the ball away from Rubio. That means he has to be solid at this because this is going to make up a good portion of his scoring opportunities.
This was a big thing I noticed watching Wiggins at Kansas, so I made a point to watch for it in summer league and Andrew didn't disappoint.
Wiggins...much like Bazz....has a crazy good ability to crash the glass, particularly on the offensive end. He fights to the front of the rim on nearly every shot and has a fantastic ability to get position. He also gets off the floor consecutively, like Kevin Garnett used to, which allows him to volley around contested rebounds.
This could potentially be a very key factor for the Wolves this year, as we're losing the league's best rebounder and replacing him with a guy who's got more of a small forward body in Thad Young. Dieng will be coming off the bench, and as Eric detailed during the season, Pek's ability on the glass isn't so much his own as it is creating situations for teammates to grab boards.
He's the category that Wiggins annihilates LaVine at. Wiggins posted a tremendous 54% free throw rate at Kansas (he took a free throw for every two field goal attempts) He then posted an absurd 88% FTr (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) in summer league, attempting 37 free throws to 42 FGA, propelled entirely by taking 20 free throws in game 4 against the Rockets.
As you can see, Wiggins does what you're pretty much supposed to do going to the hoop: just go straight into the contact. Wiggins has a herky-jerky, somewhat Brewer-like method of body control that makes his crashing really look like crashing, and is it ever effective in getting him to the line. Even if his shot never really irons out, he has this, and quite honestly if you can only pick one, this is the better thing to be good at.
This, right now, is Wiggins' biggest strength and the area he'll probably make the biggest impact in this year (and maybe period, in his career) Wiggins doesn't slide his feet quite as well as Zach, but he more than makes up for it with reach, smart positioning, and impeccable timing. He knows where he is, where the hoop is, where the help is...everything. And he instinctively positions himself at the best angles to disrupt dribble and contest shots.
Soon after being drafted, Wiggins was asked the cliche "what are your goals this year?" question, and along with the typical Rookie of the Year and All Star answers, he also listed All-Defensive team:
"I try to set goals with the person I'm guarding. I don't like when my man scores -- even when I'm on the bench and he scores, it makes me mad."
Goddess knows the Wolves have been a comic tragedy on defense the last few years, using unconventional pace and non-fouling techniques to make up for the fact they just didn't have anyone who could check a good scorer one-on-one. If Wiggins contributes nothing else, awesome defense without being a scoring liability would be the biggest thing.
I imagine this will generate heat, so let me start off by saying I'm not trying to throw shade at Andrew here. This is just something he struggles with and I'm trying to be honest about how I think this caps his potential.
The core of the problem is Wiggins dribbles the ball very high and far away from his body, which leads to all sorts of issues for him off the bounce. He struggles to consistently 'catch' the ball on the bounce, which slows down his foot speed because the ball simply doesn't always go where he's trying to get it to go. That affects his shooting off the bounce...as he sometimes can't corral the ball into a proper shooting form on the move, which causes him to take some awkward heaves at the hoop...and his passing, where he often throws the ball at bad angles or way too high because he didn't have control of the ball before he threw it.
This also forces him to twist his body and dribble in directions he doesn't want to as he tries to shield the ball from defenders. When he doesn't, it's very easy for defenders to poke the ball away from him, and sometimes he ultimately simply loses the ball outright in light or no pressure situations.
This is a big, BIG problem for an NBA wing to have. It was a problem at Kansas (check DX's scouting video) and it's obviously still a problem now.
The pre-draft metrics were pretty down on Wiggins considering the hype, and this is the core reason why: he struggles to create good offense, both for himself and for others. His shooting efficiency was down in the Harrison Barnes range, and he averaged more turnovers than assists (and averaged less than 2 assists/game as it was) He tallied one single assist in 4 games at summer league.
Superstars are superstars because they control the game, and they control the game by controlling the ball. If you can't control the ball, then your game is really at the prejudice of someone else who can. Watch for that this year. Is Wiggins getting good shots for himself? Or is he dependent on Rubio, LaVine and Mo Williams to set him up? Based on Kansas and summer league, it's much more likely going to be the latter.
This is why...at least right now....Wiggins is not Kobe, and why I believe LaVine has more potential. He's not TMac, he's not Grant Hill or Scottie Pippen. Those were guys with yo-yo handles and unique court vision. LaVine at least has the handles, and he's an effective (if not necessarily spectacular) facilitator. Wiggins is practically a negative in this department right now, and it's debatable whether this is something that really improves. Our own team history kind of says no....Brewer's handles have capped out at sorta-adequate. Beasley (who has pretty much the exact same problem as Wiggins) still has that problem. Derrick Williams is still a weird first-step windup toy. Wes Johnson, if anything, is even more of a disaster off the bounce now.
I'm certainly not saying Wiggins can't be a special player. But if he's going to be, he will need to solve this problem because there's just not a way to hide it if a guy wants to be more than just 'part of the team'.
Wiggins clearly wants to be awesome. A couple weeks ago he told Kansas coach Bill Self he wanted to be traded here, because it would force him to become something. You have to love that kind of attitude. And in his favor, he does three things that always translate: rebounding, free throws and defense. So if nothing else, his floor is high. He's destined to at least be useful as an NBA player. But let's not ignore the reality of who he is right now: a 19 year old rookie with flaws just like any other rookie. This isn't going to be an instant thing any more than LaVine will be. Wiggins is a work in progress.