If the Wolves want to make any noise in the upcoming season, Wiggins will be the deciding factor (if he isn’t shipped out for Kyrie Irving, but that’s a whole different discussion).
We all know Karl-Anthony Towns is a transcendent player. Jimmy Butler is a franchise-changing talent. But in the era of the “big three,” it remains to be seen if Wiggins can complete that trio. At the ripe, old age of 22, Wiggins has proven he can score at will in the world’s most talented league. His scoring has increased consistently every year, beginning at 17ppg in his rookie campaign, to phenomenal 23ppg last season. So what’s the big deal? A 22 year-old scoring dynamo with physical gifts that any player would dream of, his game is completely one-dimensional.
Coming out of Kansas in 2014, Wiggins was supposedly the most NBA-ready defender in the draft. The knock was his offense, not his defense. At 6’8, he possesses a 7’0 wingspan, and a 44 inch standing vertical. Pretty gaudy numbers for anybody. His shaky jumper was reason for concern in college, as he struggled to shoot from anywhere past 15 feet. His athletic ability made up for that. He would AT LEAST be a lockdown defender, right?In the NBA, it has been the complete opposite.
Wiggins can get to the basket at will. His jumper has steadily improved to where last season, he shot over 40% on catch and shoot three-pointers. Not bad for a guy who was said to have an inconsistent jumper. Already, Wiggy has proven to everyone in the league that if you want to protect the paint, you had better be ready to end up on a poster. His dunks on DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert, and seven footer Javale Mcgee put him in conversation for the best in-game the NBA has to offer.
What about his defense? Wolves coaches would rather not talk about it…. Out of 70 qualifying forwards, Wiggins ranks 68th in defensive efficiency. Some of this can be attributed to playing on the lowly Timberwolves, and some (most) can be attributed to not putting in 100% effort. Nonetheless, 68 out of 70 is cringe-worthy. His VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) puts him in company with career backup players Jarell Martin (4 ppg for his career), and Semaj Christon (who is currently unemployed). For a guy gifted by the basketball gods with such otherworldly athletic ability, what the hell is wrong with his defense?
Advanced metrics show that Wiggins’ on ball defense is slightly below average. Playing the starting small forward position means that he gets the toughest defensive assignment on a nightly basis, and he holds his own in on-ball situations. That is where his defensive success ends. In off-ball situations, Wiggins not only struggles, he looks like the Monstars payed him a visit. Andrew is statistically the WORST off-ball defender in the entire NBA. He is constantly lost when his assignment doesn’t have the ball. So much so, that opposing teams construct plays to exploit this. His inability to fight through screens and anticipate his guy’s next move is quite alarming, especially for a guy who was touted as the “best defensive player” in his draft class.
Continuity is key. In the past five seasons, he has had five different head coaches and five different defensive schemes, a tough task for any basketball player, let alone a kid who just this year could legally buy an adult beverage. This next season will definitively label Wiggins as either someone who lives up to his #1 overall draft selection, or a guy who doesn’t understand the concept of defense (shades of Ricky Davis).
Wiggins will always be a shoot-first player, and that’s okay. Worst case scenario, he will always be a guy who can drop 40 points on any given night, and literally contribute nothing else. He needs to contribute in other areas, because right now he is the third scoring option.
If he doesn’t want the dreaded “bust” label and if Minnesota wants to compete in the star-studded western conference, he better figure it out defensively if there is any hope of turning the immense talent on the roster into anything substantial.