Andrew Wiggins is happening right now.
And the timing could not be more perfect. After steadily improving since the end of 2014, Andrew Wiggins scored a career high of 33 points against LeBron James and his pseudo-former Cavaliers on Saturday night in front of a Minnesota crowd desperate to see their acquisition of raw talent transcend into stardom.
That game may have been his coming out show (and a statistical outlier), but we have already seen those ingredients throughout this season, he just hasn’t put them all together before in a way like this. When so much of the attention was put on Kevin Love’s first return to the Target Center to face the Wolves, the teenager brought his best game, scoring 23 points in the first half off an array of triples, steals, points in transition, on attacks to the basket, in the midrange, off of designed post plays and a gorgeous, slightly cheeky step-through while guarded by King James himself.
An increase in minutes, from 28 mins/game in his first 11 games in the season to 38 in the most recent 11 games, has created more opportunity and lead to more success. A rise in production spilling across the board in the major stats categories, including an increase of 11 to 19 points per game, has come with a rise in efficiency, from 43% shooting to 46%. Wiggins is already finding his spots and playing with the scope of the struggling Wolves: a 2% increase in usage rate has translated into a 7% increase in percentage of team points scored.
A deeper look inside the numbers illustrates where Wiggins is efficient and where he isn’t. Attacking on cuts and getting to the basket is his strength – while his complimentary ability to hit open three pointers will keep defenders honest to his jumpshot, opening up those attacking chances. Fortunately, the lion’s share of his shots (46% of them) come from less than 10 feet from the basket, where he is shooting 53%. Inititally used as a crutch in Kansas and early in the season, his patented fast spin-move has allowed him access to the basket with relative ease. Only a fifth of Wiggins’ shots are in catch-and-shoot situations, but there his eFG% is 49%, including 43% on catch-and-shoot threes.
Wiggins struggles on pull-up shots, shooting 30% and a dreadful 19% on pull-up threes. The mid-range hasn’t been going on all season, and has often been the location of shots from abandoned drives and forced post-ups when the teenager has been unable or unwilling to get the ball to the rim.
Of course, this all comes in the context of a very difficult situation in Minnesota: lots of young players from countries all over the world, lacking a real point guard, and without an offensively creative coach. Wiggins is attracting attention from the league’s best defenders while also having to cover the other team’s best on the defensive end. (For a more in-depth analysis of Wiggins’ defense through advanced stats, Vantage Sports has that here.)
His education as a professional basketball-playing person something akin to being tossed from a cruiseship only to be rescued by sailboat full of other young, eager sailors — and soon become their captain. Even though the 19-year old rookie has yet to play 50 games in his pro career, he has years of experience handling the pressure of such lofty expectations.
The growing mainstream popularity of basketball in Canada has coincided nicely with Wiggins’ ascent from high school to Kansas to the NBA, and there are expectations on him to not only do his best as a member of the Timberwolves but also to represent as a Canadian. Both fan bases are desperate in different ways – one hath faced rejection for decades, the other having just started dating for the first time. Given his quiet public demeanor, his ability to attract attention is going to derive from the incredible things he can do on a basketball court. It is happening at a rate that few expected, validating the opinions of the few voices (mostly Canadian ones) that have been so adamant about his success.
Despite all of this pressure, which is very real and not imaginary, Andrew Wiggins is no doubt worthy of his draft slot, despite whatever you think about the trade that sent him from Cleveland to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love.
Wiggins’ history with James, Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers – drafted first overall, being left out of “the letter,” waiting all off-season to be traded — is now a footnote. For a while, Wolves fans waited with bated breath to confirm the referendum on exactly how much grief the loss of Love would bring Minnesota basketball fans. From here on out Andrew Wiggins is no longer a secondary mention in any NBA transaction he is involved in.
Selected to represent the international team in the All-Star Rising Stars Challenge, Wiggins sits at the familiar spot of being the most high-profile (and probably best) player on his team. Critics once cold on him or simply trying to temper their expectations, like me, are starting to see glimpses of what Andrew Wiggins, Superstar will look like: elite two-way play, efficient 3-point shooting, a versatile post-up option, a lethal scoring threat in transition, electrifying dunks and the intangible benefits of being the soul of every basketball club he has played on – both in the NBA and internationally. All of this while still being a teenager.
Knowing they have another franchise changing (super)star blossoming in wait, the Wolves can finally move forward. From now on, it’s hard to imagine Wiggins name being involved in anything without the gravitas of narrative bending in his direction. The star is being to demand his own story, in his own terms.