The Warriors' Wiggins is what the Timberwolves always wanted
Golden State goes for two in a row against Minnesota, D'Angelo Russell 'questionable' again
In the LGW writers chat, I’ve become the punching bag that represents all the haters that doubted the wisdom of bringing in the newly resurgent Andrew Wiggins. With my peers walloping away at me, I’m starting to wonder how much better Wiggins has been since arriving to the Golden shores of Dub Nation.
As the Golden State Warriors head into a rematch with Wiggins’ old team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, it’s a good time to dive into the stats and see what’s different, and what’s the same for Two-way Wiggs.
(I’m still not sold on that nickname)
No changes to the injury reports for tonight’s game, but keep an eye out for our old friend D’Angelo Russell, who is nursing a sore quad from a fall. It would be fun to see him, and you know that if he can play, he will.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (9-8) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (4-12)
WHEN: Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 // 7:00 pm PST
WATCH: ESPN / NBCSBA(?)
Warriors Wiggins, Wiseman, and unpredictable development curves
Andrew Wiggins’ NBA story is a weird one. Selected with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Wiggins languished in the cold confines of Minneapolis before getting cryogenically defrosted by the Golden State Warriors.
Was he held back? Did the team suck? Is this just how Wiggins development arc goes?
It’s a series of questions that’s germane to the Warriors own high draft pick, center James Wiseman. Recently benched because the team’s starting lineup was getting killed with Wiseman in it, Golden State has signaled that while a priority, the 19-year old’s development will be subsumed beneath the Warriors broader push to maximize the remaining time with the Curry-led core.
Looking at Wiggins, it’s hard to say exactly what went right; so I dusted off my trusty spreadsheets and nerded out. Most of these tables are compiled from data from Basketball Reference. We are using stats per 100 possessions in order to account for pace of play.
Bottom line up front: Wiggins has shown a clear improvement, but it started before he left the Timberwolves; the improvements with the Warriors are clear, but there’s more to this story than just Wiggins getting traded to a good team.
Whether it be his own internal development, an easier path to success on a court that he shares with Curry, or some vague ‘culture’ movement, Wiggins has thrived here in a way that many others (looking at you, Nick Young’s defense) never did. So what gives? And is it repeatable? The graphs above point to something I found throughout the Wiggins stats: his huge uptick is very real, and it actually started with the Timberwolves before the Warriors trade.
Here’s another one. Check out the usage stacked with his scoring efficiency. While it does look like there’s a limited correlation between Wiggins’ improved TS% and lower usage during the last couple of seasons - the same doesn’t hold true for earlier in his career (and note that I’ve split out Wiggins 2019 into separate buckets for his Timberwolves stint versus the partial season of Warriors Wiggins).
But look at the ‘16-’17 season as well as the subsequent two. One of the best efficiencies, and the highest usage years; followed by two of his least efficient years playing under some of the lowest usage.
Wiggins Warriors explosion is even more pronounced in some of the rate stats. Take a look at his block percentage (the amount of possessions he defends that end in a block) - again, the last two data points are the Warriors seasons, but that 2.1% is his final partial season with the Timberwolves.
Weirdly, it looks like Wiggins started his defensive revolution in that final partial season in Minnesota, before blasting into uncharted territory with Golden State. That patter is also evident if you don’t separate out the split between the Warriors and Wolves last year. The bands, taken from this excellent article, show the change between last season and the prior.
When discussing this yesterday, someone mentioned we could look at Wiggins shot profile. Offensively, we can see that Wiggins has modified his shooting areas to limit those long two pointers that everyone hates these days; and also note the correlated rise in three-point attempts in recent years.
The so what of this is less clear. Despite the graphics and data, the pattern is muddied. Wiggins has altered his shot profile by taking more threes and less long two-pointers, but there’s more going on.
I think that some of this is associated with a fresh start, but it also looks like Wiggins has been figuring out some crucial aspects of his game for a few years now.
Which brings us back to Wiseman.
A highly touted prospect is no guarantee of future excellence. There is development that must happen, and this can’t just be instilled by a good system, the player is going to have to do all the heavy lifting. Golden State is doing everything they can to set Wiseman up for success, and maybe Wiggins path will help the rookie understand the long game. There’s just as much risk in proclaiming Wiggins was beyond redemption in Minnesota as there is in pointing at less than two years of evidence for his salvation.
These stats are all very noisy, but I think my key takeaway from this exercise is the reminder that stats just tell us what happened in the past, players change.
Just like everyday people, these players change and develop - or don’t - according to a complex set of realities and pressures. I don’t know if the Wolves gave up on Wiggins too early, or if he just thrives here in a way he couldn’t there; but his tale reminds us all to be patient with Wiseman.