Inside the Numbers: Wiggins Surges Without Butler

(photo credit: Jim Faklis)

There have been five games in the 2017-2018 season where Jimmy Butler has not suited up for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In those five games, the Wolves are 2-3 including two recent and impressive wins against the Raptors – second in the East – and Clippers (6-1 in their previous 7 entering the game).

Two of the three losses were against two lesser opponents – the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers – and could be partially attributed to early season jitters, a new group trying to figure out their roles, or a combination of both.

And of course, the Portland Trail Blazers was absolutely on fire from behind the arc Wednesday night.

With the exception of the game in Indy, where he only played 30 disastrous minutes due to foul trouble, Andrew Wiggins has been everything the Wolves thought they were going to get from the 2014 1st overall pick in those games without Jimmy Butler.

So what gives? Is Maple Jordan better off without Jimmy Buckets?

Let’s start by acknowledging that five games is an extremely small sample size, and that cutting out one of them skews the data even more. That said, Wiggins’ success without Butler is something worth looking into as it could have rotation implications down the road and we can look at possession stats to get a better sample  

Below is a quick look at his per game stats:

Wiggins w/o Butler (incl. IND) 5 17.4 55.17% 4.0 35.00% 6.2 58.06% 4.0 1.8 0.6 0.4 2.8 24.2
Wiggins w/o Butler (excl. IND) 4 19.5 57.69% 4.3 41.18% 6.3 68.00% 4.0 1.8 0.5 0.5 3.3 28.5
Wiggins w/ Butler 45 15.7 43.08% 4.3 32.82% 4.2 63.83% 4.2 1.8 1.2 0.7 1.4 17.6

Wiggins has seen improvement in most categories when has is not sharing the floor with Butler.  The reasons for the increase turnovers can be directly attributed to Wiggins possessing the ball more.

In the 2,577 possessions Wiggins and Butler have shared the court this season, Wiggins has a usage percentage of 22.2 percent.

In other words, Wiggins was used on about 567 possessions, where “used” is defined as a player contributing to a possession that ends in a field goal attempt, free throw attempt, or turnover.

On the other hand, there have been 889 possessions where Wiggins has been on the floor without Butler. In those possessions, his usage rate jumps to 29.5 percent – in 262 possessions – which is a significant increase especially considering an “average” usage rating is considered to be 20 percent.

It’s obvious that without Butler, Wiggins is more involved and more aggressive, but what’s even more encouraging is that he is more efficient.

According to nbawowy!, Wiggins’ points per possession figure is 1.06 without Butler and 1.10 with Butler. Despite this, he is averaging seven more points per game because he has been a much more efficient shooter.

Taking out the Indiana clunker, Wiggins’ shooting splits increase by 12 percent and 3 percent for 2-pointers and 3-pointers, respectively. After analyzing the stats, let’s think about what this could mean for the 2nd half of our season.

First, we need to realize that Thibodeau is not one to mess with the rotation too much, especially when it comes to the starters, so this isn’t so much of what I think will happen over the next 33 games but what I think should happen.

Thibodeau does a good job of trying to keep at least one starter on the court at all times. Regardless, there is a decent drop off from our starting unit to our various secondary units.

Without any reduction in playing time for either player, there could be benefits to Wiggins spending a little more time with the secondary units and Crawford with the starting unit.

From an offensive perspective, this will allow Wiggins more time to be “the man” where he has been thriving of late.

For Crawford, he would become the third or fourth option on the floor which could provide him with some more open looks, all while taking the primary perimeter defender off him.

Defensively, it’s no secret that both players struggle on this end of the floor. That said, Wiggins has been improving of late and comparatively is a much better defender than Crawford.

In fact, when Crawford plays alongside Butler, his defensive simple player rating (DSPR) improves from minus 2.8 to minus 1.0 whereas Wiggins rating sits at minus 0.8 regardless if he is with Butler or not.

At worst, this would result as a wash on the defensive end of the court. Overall, I think this could end up being a net positive for the first unit and secondary units when Butler returns. 

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