A common critique of Andrew Wiggins’ game is that he plays passively, but passive is a slippery word that is often misconstrued. Wiggins’ passiveness comes in a different flavor than the traditional narrative of not looking for his shot. He seems to be carrying the correct level of usage based on his offensive skill set, so it would not be advantageous for him to shoot more frequently. The problem is rather that he has been unable to convert his spectacular tools into dominant play. In spite of his tremendous first step, he hasn’t regularly blown by his opponents in the half-court. In spite of his explosive athleticism, he hasn’t finished strong at the rim in traffic. In spite of his quick feet, he has often gone under screens when he has the tools to go over and still keep pace with his matchup. In spite of all of his explosiveness, mobility, and length he hasn’t generated a particularly impressive steal rate (although his steal rate isn’t bad). I recently wrote about the importance of synergy between tools and skills, and Wiggins seems to lack the skills to capitalize on his tools and produce at a superstar level as advertised.
He has managed to be a good college player nevertheless, as he has been an effective transition scorer and wing defender. But I have not seen signs of him using his tools in a way that screams future NBA superstar, so I checked the stats to see how he compares to past toolsy wing prospects. I used Paul George’s sophomore season, everybody else’s freshman year. Note that Opp D-Rtg is as per kenpom.com, and adjusted O-Rtg adjusts each player’s usage (1.25 pts of O-Rtg = 1 pt of usage) and strength of schedule to match that of Wiggins:
|Usage||O-Rtg||Opp D-Rtg||Adj O-Rtg||Steal%|
Kevin Durant is miles ahead of everybody. Not only was he an elite freshman player, but he has improved by leaps and bounds every season in the league. At this point it is safe to say that Wiggins is completely drawing dead to be Durant level good. Melo and Jabari are also well ahead of him statistically, as Jabari continues to look Melo-esque.
It seems that many people have yet to open their minds to the possibility that Wiggins will be as underwhelming as Marvin Williams, which is silly. Williams was straight up better as a freshman, and sometimes good toolsy players just don’t develop the way people would hope. Wiggins finds himself sandwiched between fellow 5 star freshmen Luol Deng, Thaddeus Young, Harrison Barnes, and Quincy Miller. While his tools are superior to those players, it is a solid group to estimate his baseline value. I especially like the Thaddeus Young comparison since he shares Wiggins’ 3 + D + transition skill set. (Rudy Gay is also there, to provide a baseline.)
Sophomore Paul George is behind all of the freshmen, and it is stunning that he was able to become a top 5 player in the league in just his 4th NBA season. But George’s accelerated development is incredibly rare, and if there was any statistical signal that this was forthcoming it was his steal rate. Perhaps his steal rate not only is indicative of the synergy between his tools and his defensive acumen, but also the aggressive mentality that has enabled him to become a star on both ends of the court. Even if not, George is an outlier in every regard, exemplified by the fact that he grew 2 inches at age 21. Wiggins will also become a franchise changing star if he grows an additional 2 inches and improves his game at an extraordinary rate, but it is not wise to base his draft stock on this as a likely occurrence.
More important than the stats is how they are accrued. Wiggins receives acclaim for excelling in transition, but half-court scoring is far more important to NBA translation. This intuitively makes sense, as teams that are overly reliant on transition scoring often underperform in end game situations (see: 2013-14 Timberwolves) or in the playoffs (see: George Karl’s Nuggets). So let’s see the individual stats on Kansas players when the defense has time to set itself. Note that eFG/40 is FG’s made per 40 minutes with 3 pointers counting as 1.5 FGM:
Not only does Wiggins have middling volume, but he is horribly inefficient as a half-court scorer. Only Frank Mason has an eFG as poor as Wiggins, everybody else on the roster is miles more efficient. Some people blame Bill Self for Wiggins’ underachieving, but his less talented teammates do not seem to be plagued with his half-court woes. Even Wayne Selden and his 12.3 PER scores with similar volume + significantly better eFG. This also illuminates one reason why I am so infatuated with Joel Embiid, as he has shown potential to be a monster half-court scorer. Sure he’ll have a tougher time against bigger and stronger NBA competition, but he has the tools and skills to translate and has plenty of room to develop.
The biggest wart preventing Wiggins from being a useful half-court scorer is his poor finishing ability. I compiled all of his rim attempts and a few short jumpers from 6 conference games (Iowa St x2, Baylor x2, @Texas, vs Oklahoma State). In sum he shot 41.4% from 2 in these games and averaged 14.5 pts, and he is averaging 42.4% from 2 and 16.4 ppg in conference play, so I think it’s a fair selection even if not the most flattering:
There’s no way around it: Andrew Wiggins has horrific touch around the rim and is completely inept at finishing in traffic. In 10 games against teams that are top 130 in both defense and block %, Wiggins is shooting just 22/72 (30.6%) from inside the arc. There’s likely bad variance on long 2’s in that sample, but the fact remains that it’s hard to find footage of him finishing over trees.
These are not pace adjusted, but seeing that Kansas plays at an above average tempo, adjusting for pace would only paint Wiggins in a less flattering light:
|Yr.||HC FG/40||HC eFG%||Trans FG/40||Trans eFG%|
Again his half-court scoring splits look poor in comparison to those of his peers. This highlights why PJ Hairston is absolutely a lottery talent, as he is an elite weapon in the half-court with his endless barrage of high % 3’s. Again Jabari completely outclasses Wiggins on both volume and efficiency. Even Aaron Gordon scores with greater volume and efficiency in the half-court in spite of having a completely broken shot. Gary Harris is nearly as inefficient at 45.1%, but that seems in part due to fluke as he had a 53% half-court eFG as a freshman.
I also included transition stats to show that while I am weeding out a strength of Wiggins’ game, he isn’t a uniquely good transition scorer. He is among the best in this sample, but he doesn’t blow everybody away because he still struggles to finish when he doesn’t beat the entire defense down the court.
It is hard to say whether there have been any past examples of such poor half-court scorers who developed into stars, because nobody tracks these splits prior to 2011-2012. But this all stems from Wiggins’ inability to get to the rim and finish. He has converted a grand total of 30/58 (51.8%) half-court rim FG’s in 24 games. He has done a solid job of drawing free throws, but until he adds weight and becomes a respectable finisher, he will likely have a tough time fully translating this to the NBA.
Currently he has several problems, and none of them can be addressed independently of the others:
1) He does not have advanced ball handling skills to get to the hoop at will
2) He does not have the touch to finish contested shots in traffic
3) He doesn’t atone for his lack of touch by using his athleticism to dunk over everybody
He has issues with both creating and finishing, and he will need to address them simultaneously. If does make a stellar improvement skill-wise and add bulk to his frame, his tools will enable him to be a weapon in the half-court. Skills can be learned, tools cannot. But when he is starting so incredibly far behind his peers, is it realistic to project such drastic growth such that he is able to become a good attacker in the half-court against NBA defenses? It would be swell if it did happen, but it seems like a long shot to me. The best argument for his upside is that a sharp coach finds a way to unlock some hidden upside unseen by this analysis, but again this is not safe to bank on.
Realistically, I would expect Wiggins to continue to provide value in the areas where he currently does. The Thaddeus Young mold of 3’s, defense, and transition suits him well. Also he could contribute in other ways playing off the ball, such as finishing lobs and scoring on cuts and putbacks. A slightly toolsier Thad Young is a happy return on a pick in the middle of the lottery. But in the top 3, it is insane to take him on the outside shot that he mimics Paul George’s otherworldly development curve and becomes a two way superstar. It’s more likely that he becomes Marvin Williams (or worse) than Paul George (or better). Wiggins still has time to improve his stock, but at this stage I believe he belongs in the 4-9 range and I suspect that he will not be in the top 5 of my final big board. It is time to update the narrative that he is a rare prospect. Andrew Wiggins has rare tools but his skill level and employment of his tools are alarmingly worse than advertised.