Andrew Wiggins is starting to look like the guy everyone thought he could be when he was drafted #1 overall in 2014. Last night, he scored a career-high 47 points (five days after setting his previous career-high in Brooklyn with 36, including six 3’s) against a surprisingly competitive Lakers squad under first-year head coach Luke Walton. Wiggins became the 13th Timberwolves player to surpass the 40 point mark and only the 12th player in NBA history to score 47 before turning 22 years-old, while also becoming the first Canadian-born player to score 40 points in an NBA game (Steve Nash’s career high was 48, but he was born in South Africa). He may have gotten the benefit of a tight whistle (he shot 22 free throws), but he’s been extremely aggressive under Coach Thibodeau. “I think he’s smart, he’s driven,” Thibodeau said. “I think sometimes, mistakenly, people take it that he’s laid back. He’s competitive. And I think he’s just scratching the surface. I think he can do a lot more.”
The confidence of his coach and the obsessive work he put in the off-season on his handle and shooting have paid off big time so far. Through nine games, he’s leading the league in 3-point field goal percentage (54.8%), one of his biggest weaknesses coming into the year. Forcing opponents to respect his shot has given him more of an opportunity to blow past defenders and use his world-class athleticism to get to the rim. His quickness and bounce after his patented maple-step are becoming unguardable (without fouling). He’s attempting 9 free throws per contest, up from 7 last season. We’ve even seen a little bit of point-Wiggins for short stretches, especially in the late comeback attempt in Sacramento.
The main criticism of Andrew in his young career has been that he’s only a scorer, and doesn’t really fill up the stat sheet in any other ways. Worst-case scenario was that he would become a pre-2016 DeMar DeRozan, an inefficient, hyper-athletic, mid-range scorer that doesn’t care much for defense. He’s already surpassed that mold because his 3-point shooting is much higher than DeRozan’s career percentage. How high can Air Canada ascend, though? If he can commit to the defensive side of the ball (which, given Thibs’ record, seems likely) and he can greatly improve his rebounding, he may become the next Paul George.
The eye-test suggests that he’s been more active on the defensive glass in 2016, but the stats don’t bear it out yet. Although he takes a number of contested fade-away jumpers out of the post, a la Kobe Bryant, his 3-point attempts have almost all been “good shots,” but they’re coming off the dribble more than they have for him in his first two seasons. He’s been assisted on 58.8% of his 3-point attempts this season, down from 82.5% last season. This, combined with his previous marks in long-range shooting, suggests that his percentages will dip. It’s unlikely he became J.J. Redick over the summer. Regardless, Wiggins has shown marked improvement in his scoring ability each year, and the hype surrounding Karl-Anthony Towns has eased the pressure off him. It’s not hard to see him becoming a perennial All-Star if and when Thibodeau’s defensive principles sink in.
Thoughts About the Thoughts
Brock: The last Timberwolves game I attended was one game before Corey Brewer tied Kevin Love’s then-franchise record of 51 points (Mo Williams since surpassed that with 52 points in 2015). T-Pups fans: I am now accepting free tickets for the statistically-backed outcome of Wiggins dropping at least 52 points immediately after I visit the Target Center.
Brian: You said “maple-step,” which is the only excuse I need to link to The Economist‘s coverage of a real-life, this-actually-happened maple syrup heist in Canada.