How the Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins is modernizing his game

His fast start to the season puts the NBA on notice

By John Krolik

Special to The Examiner

It wouldn’t be fair to call former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins a bust, or anything close to it, but he has yet to achieve the superstardom expected from players who come into the league with his level of hype. Wiggins has never made an All-Star team. He’s only played in one playoff series, a first-round series his Timberwolves lost in five games to the Rockets.

Before coming to the Warriors in a trade for D’Angelo Russell in 2020, Wiggins had a well-earned reputation of being a “volume scorer,” which has become increasingly faint praise around the NBA. In a league increasingly obsessed with ball movement, efficiency, shots at the basket and three-pointers, and the ability to play multiple positions, Wiggins was seemingly content to put up high scoring numbers at relatively low percentages using a steady diet of mid-range shots without getting his teammates involved all too often. (Court vision has long been an issue with Wiggins, who only averaged 1.5 assists per game in his lone season at Kansas.) It was enough for the Timberwolves to grant him a max extension after his rookie contract ran out, but Wiggins was not setting the league on fire.

He had become a player whose main skill was the ability to generate decent shots, on which the league was placing less and less value. Of course, the role the Timberwolves dictated that he play may have had a huge impact on his development. If he hadn’t been traded to Minnesota by LeBron James’ Cavaliers on draft day, who knows what his career might look like.

Throughout his career, Wiggins has averaged a more than respectable 19.5 points per game, but has only averaged 2.3 assists. His True Shooting (an efficiency metric that takes free throws and three-pointers into account) has been just 52.8%, while the league average during his career has been 55.3%.

With the Warriors, especially this season, the prodigiously talented Wiggins has been, for lack of a better word, modernizing his game. Only 7.3% of his field goal attempts have been long two-point jump shots this season, which would account for a quarter of his field goal attempts in some of his seasons with the Timberwolves. A career-high 38% of his shots have come from beyond the arc. A third of those threes have come from the short corner, which is also a career high.

Wiggins has also been letting his teammates help him out, instead of trying to do everything himself off the bounce. As of Thursday, 60.8% of his two-point shots and 95% of his three-point attempts have come off of assists this season, both of which are career highs. All of this has bumped his True Shooting up to a career-high 57.7%, well above the current NBA average of 54.9%.

In a league where forwards are getting smaller and faster, Wiggins has switched from being a full-time wing in Minnesota to getting a good amount of time at power forward in Golden State. He’s spent a quarter of his minutes playing the four so far this season.

Wiggins’ spectacular performance against his former team on Wednesday, when he scored 35 points on 14-19 shooting against the Timberwolves, showcased of all of Wiggins’ tools. He drained three shots from beyond the arc, scored off cuts under the basket, in transition, and even had success on his long twos, the shot Golden State has been steadily weaning him off. Then, of course, there were his two absolutely spectacular dunks over fellow former No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, which showed why teams have salivated over Wiggins’ talent since he was in high school.

Wiggins has always had the athleticism and skill to be an impact player in the league. Now that he’s applying those traits more efficiently for Golden State, the rest of the league should be on notice.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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