Timberwolves

Andrew Wiggins Isn’t Haunting the Wolves

Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports

He spent six long years disappointing us. He caused headaches, heartaches, and maybe the occasional stomach ache. Somehow, even though he’s no longer with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Andrew Wiggins is still causing frustrations for Wolves fans far and wide.

From the moment he joined the Golden State Warriors, the public perception of Wiggins shifted from bust to belief. Suddenly, Wiggins plays a vital role in helping them to continue their dynastic run into the 2020s.

“It’s great to have a player who we could put on LeBron, and at least match up physically,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said recently. “It’s the hardest position to guard these days in the NBA. It’s a huge addition for us to add Andrew on the wing. It’s a position we had to fill and we feel really good about it.”

Ummm… are we talking about the same Andrew Wiggins here? Any Wolves fan can tell you that the 6’7”, 200-lb. Wiggins can’t and shouldn’t match up against LeBron. Wiggins’ game is becoming mystified and misrepresented in San Francisco. While I agree that Andrew has shown marginal improvement this year, his bar for improvement is so astronomically low it would be nearly impossible for him not to show some statistical growth while playing next to Steph Curry. As a Minnesota fan, I feel obligated to remind myself and Warriors fans that Wiggins has, and likely always will be, not very good.

To understand how Wiggins has “improved” as a member of the Warriors, you must first understand just how astonishingly bad he was in Minnesota. The bar for improvement could not be any lower.

I wanted to get a sense of how Wiggins compared to other starters in the league. Part of what makes Wiggins so bad is that he plays so many minutes. If Wiggins was a 20-25 minute-a-game player, he wouldn’t be nearly as detrimental to his team. So, I looked at statistics of players who play what I’m calling “quality starter minutes.”

I put the cutoff for a quality starter at 2,460 minutes played in a season. That is 30 minutes per game over an 82-game season. Wiggins averages 35.6 minutes per game in his career. I used stathead.com’s Player Season Finder to compile all of my statistics. Note that the 2019-20 season was shortened I used 1,800 minutes played for the cutoff. For this season I used 800 minutes played. Here’s what we’re looking at.

If you need a scale for BPM, I’ve pulled this from Basketball-Reference:

  • +10.0 is an all-time season (think peak Michael Jordan or LeBron James)
  • +8.0 is an MVP season (think peak Dirk Nowitzki or peak Shaquille O’Neal)
  • +6.0 is an all-NBA season
  • +4.0 is an all-star consideration
  • +2.0 is a good starter
  • +0.0 is a decent starter or solid 6th man
  • -2.0 is a bench player (this is also defined as “replacement level”)

Wiggins was very bad the first five years of his career. From the ’14-15 season to the ’18-19 season he had the worst VORP (-0.6) and BPM (-2.2) among players who played at least 307 games — 75 percent of games in that period of time. He was the most detrimental player in the NBA. He wasn’t necessarily the worst player in the league, but he was the worst player to play the most minutes — 400 games, 14,384 minutes.

They say the greatest ability is availability and Wiggins has certainly shown that. Since 2014 only two players have played more minutes than Wiggins: James Harden and Damian Lillard. In some ways, looking at total minutes played over a period of time is a good way to get a picture of the league. Conventional wisdom is that the players who played the most minutes were probably some of the best players, both because durability is important and generally the best players play the most minutes. But Wiggins is the grey duck in this picture of the league, and his minutes are a result of circumstance rather than success.

If we are to believe that Wiggins has been bad over his career, why is he still starting? Part of the reason is that Glen Taylor gave him a massive contract extension. It’s hard to stomach benching a $30 million player. Also, Wiggins has scored a lot of points — 9,418 since 2014 to be exact, 11th in the league in that period. Shockingly, Wiggins has scored more points during this stretch than CJ McCollum, Paul George, and Kevin Durant!

He has missed only a handful of games in his career, which allows him to accumulate massive totals. Volume, however, is not the same as efficiency. No player ranked in the top 50 points scored since 2014 has a lower true shooting percentage than Wiggins’ 52.3 percent.

I understand that BPM and VORP are not a complete picture of a player’s value. I don’t take one season’s worth of metrics as an end-all be-all summation of a player’s value. But Wiggins has a career’s worth of evidence pointing toward the fact that he is a negative-value player. That is to say, for as good as he is at putting the ball in the basket, he lacks the skill and effort to contribute to winning basketball.

I would contend that during his time in Minnesota, Wiggins was one of the worst starters in league history. I know this is a bold statement. Advanced stats get tricky to track when you go back too far, so I limited my parameters to the 3-point era. I looked at players from 1979 to today who started about five years’ worth of games. I’m setting my floor at 307 games started (75% of games in a “five-year career”) and 30 minutes per game again. I’m trying to get a sense of how many players have been this bad for this long while playing this many minutes. It’s rare company. 

Using my parameters, there are only two players who have had comparable stretches of ineptitude to Wiggins and were still able to play big minutes: Bryant Reeves and Desmond Mason. Reeves averaged 30 minutes per game in his six-year career with the Vancouver Grizzlies. His BPM during his career was -3.4. Mason spread out his 385 games started over a 10-year career, having stretches where he started and some when he came off the bench. Neither of these players was ever the scorer that Wiggins is, peaking at 16 and 17 points per game respectively.

Wiggins’ athleticism and sometimes dazzling offensive game have given many a sense of hope that he just needs to be “unlocked.” The hope for Golden State is that their high-level talent and culture can help Wiggins tap into some of his massive potential. I’m afraid that, even in a smaller role, the Warriors shouldn’t expect anything more from him than what he’s shown. He’s an inefficient, volume scorer who struggles to stay engaged with the game. The only way that Wiggins will help the Warriors maintain their dynasty is if they use his contract to trade for someone else.

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