A large part of a player’s development is naturally his personality. Derrick Coleman has admitted after retirement that he never liked playing basketball, whereas successful players such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant give off the impression that succeeding as an NBA superstar is as important to them as breathing air.
A common critique of Andrew Wiggins has been that he is plays too passively, as he is not dominating nearly as much as projected. It could be counter argued that he playing within himself and merely needs more time to develop before taking the world by storm with his basketball abilities. My impression from watching him play has been that the former is the case. But there’s a limit to which Wiggins or any prospect can be assessed from afar, as they only offer brief glimpses into their personalities. While I enjoy attempting to thin slice such things, it is not nearly as reliable as a statistical analysis or breakdown of on court performance. So in this case I sought a quantitative means of analyzing Wiggins’s personality: dunk stats!
A large part of Wiggins’s prospect appeal is his physical tools, as he stands 6’8″ with a 7’0″ wingspan and elite explosiveness. There are few (if any) prospects in this year’s class who are better equipped to dunk with extreme frequency than Wiggins. The only thing that may hold him back from unleashing a fury of slams is his personality, so I compiled dunk rates as a percentage of rim attempts that culminate in made dunks. I included a total of 25 prospects of varying sizes and athleticism to offer frames of reference:
Glenn Robinson is shooting an astounding 92.5% at the rim, which is made possible by his high % of attempts dunked. Montrezl Harrell is a funky prospect whose offensive game is largely built around offensive rebounding and dunking, but his volume and frequency show the freakish athleticism that he possesses and make me question having him as low as #24 on my big board. KJ McDaniels re-asserts my feeling that he has NBA level tools by appearing in the same range as known leapers Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine.
The players that are lower than expected are Jerami Grant, Andrew Wiggins, and Noah Vonleh, as they all appear in the same range as Rodney Hood, Nik Stauskas, and 5’11” Keifer Sykes (who is rapidly rising up my big board) in spite of reputations as toolsy prospects.
Jordan Adams offers insight as to why his stats are so disparate from his draft stock, as he has 0 dunks on the season. His lack of athleticism causes him to struggle at the rim against good defenses, and his ability to translate is in question.
The problem with these stats as a whole is that not all dunk opportunities are created equally. It is far easier to dunk on a wide open fast break than it is against a set defense. So using ESPN play by play (which is not perfect, but not so poor so as to be wrong enough to possibly alter the narrative), I split up dunk rates into transition and halfcourt splits. Let’s look at the transition splits first:
Once again Harrell shines, as he dunks roughly everything in transition. LaVine has the most volume, where he has shown off some impressive dunks for UCLA. Even though Wiggins is reputed to be a transition beast and has a good volume of dunks in this scenario, he still isn’t throwing down with the frequency of his fellow athletic freaks. He is also behind the smaller Marcus Smart and far less athletic players such as Stauskas, Hood, and Randle.
Jabari Parker has had some impressive coast to coast plays, but his dunk rate in transition is a mildly troubling sign for his athleticism, especially in tandem with his poor rim finishing percentage.
Now onto halfcourt splits:
This is where Wiggins is failing to shine to the point of concern. He has precisely as many dunks in halfcourt sets as the hopelessly earthbound Doug McDermott! A small amount of blame may be placed on Kansas’s mediocre spacing, but with his tools it cannot be the sole explanation. And it’s not like he has excellent touch around the rim- he has only converted 54.5% of his rim attempts in half-court sets and 61.4% total. He is flat out not using his physical blessings to dominate, and this proves that he is playing passively.
As an aside, Jerami Grant assuages concerns about his low total rate as Syracuse’s slow down offense gives him limited transition opportunities. He does quite alright dunking in the half court, often impressively slamming home putbacks.
These stats comport with my overall perception of Wiggins’ game, which is that he refuses to dominate. He has awesome tools, solid skills, and does not seem to be lacking in instincts or effort. He is having a good freshman season, but his bottom line results are less than the sum of his parts. His common upside comparison is Paul George, but Paul George showed extreme confidence in himself entering the draft. Here are some pre-draft quotes from him as per DraftExpress:
“I haven’t been exposed to this game as much as a lot of other players and I think I’m already a great prospect with good potential,” he says. “Once I get that chance to really get that experience and learn about the game, I think my ceiling is pretty high.”
“At that point I was just starting to learn what playing against real athletes was like,” he says. “It helped me understand how much work I needed to do. I’m just a student of the game. I love to watch it and learn about it. I think that’s really what has gotten me to where I’m at now.”
“I think that’s probably the most important part of my game,” he says. “I’m only 19 and I have a lot of room to keep growing. I know with the people around me and with my work ethic I’ll get to that next level. I won’t stop until I’m one of the elite players in the NBA.”
After reading those quotes, it should be the least surprising turn of events ever that George developed into an NBA star. That is elite self-esteem for a 19 year old. He is down to earth with no delusions of grandeur regarding his level of play at the time, but is also in touch with his potential and the path that it will take to get there.
Does Andrew Wiggins feel similarly about himself? I don’t know, I have never even met the guy. But in observing his play on the court and analyzing his reticence to dunk, it’s hard to find any sign that he does. He could still be a good NBA player without a deep-seated desire to dominate, especially with the aid of a good coach. He remains a valuable prospect, as I have him #2 overall on my big board. But his lack of confident edge that his teammate Joel Embiid shows on the court contributes to why he is a clearly inferior college player and prospect. He is still only 18 years old and has plenty of time to grow, but any team that drafts him needs to ask themselves: on a scale of Marvin Williams to Paul George, what evidence is there that Andrew Wiggins is closer to the latter? There may be a correct answer, but if so it certainly doesn’t lie in his propensity to dunk all over physically inferior competition.