The Whiteboard: Andrew Wiggins’ career night highlights his offensive evolution

Golden State Warriors, The Whiteboard

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After getting a win against Phoenix last Friday to end the Suns’ 18-game win streak, the Warriors looked like they might have used up some extra energy. They followed that win with a five-point loss to the lowly Spurs, a game in which Stephen Curry shot 7-of-28 from the field. Luckily, the Orlando Magic were next on the schedule and the Warriors were able to bounce back Monday night, thanks in large part to Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins finished the game with 28 points, including a career-high 8 3-pointers. It was one of his best games in a Warriors’ uniform and another solid data point in what has been, quietly, the best season of his career.

What has changed for Andrew Wiggins this season?

A few years ago, I made this chart to illustrate what I felt was the biggest concern with Andrew Wiggins.

He scored a lot for a young wing. But the degree to which he contributed nothing else besides scoring made him an enormous outlier. He wasn’t a particularly efficient scorer and since volume scoring was the only real contribution he made, his impact was capped far below the star level his raw scoring totals might indicate.

Wiggins is in the midst of inarguably his best season as a pro but it hasn’t really been about diversifying his game. This season he’s averaging 7.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks per 100 possessions — a total of 11.8, about the same as where he landed on the chart above. He’s a slight positive defender by 538’s RAPTOR all-in-one metric, for just the third time in his career. But the biggest change has been that his volume scoring is suddenly coming with very strong efficiency.

So far this season Wiggins is posting career-high shooting percentages on both 2- and 3-pointers — 48.8 percent from inside the arc and 41.6 percent beyond it. That rolls together with his free throw shooting for a true shooting percentage of 59.1, considerably higher than his previous career-best of 56.8 (from last season) or 54.3 percent (the best mark he ever posted with the Timberwolves). And although his points per game total is depressed by playing slightly fewer minutes than he did in Minnesota, his 22.2 points per 36 minutes is the third-highest mark of his career.

Wiggins has now played 107 games for the Warriors, spread out over three partial and interrupted seasons. This offensive evolution really started as soon as he arrived but it’s built to apex during this current stretch. Across six seasons with the Timberwolves, Wiggins was assisted on just 45.6 percent of his 2-pointers and 80.2 percent of his 3s. So far this season, those numbers are 60.5 and 92.3 percent, respectively.

Playing alongside a fully healthy Steph Curry and Draymond Green has helped Wiggins move from being a relatively inefficient high-volume primary and secondary creator to an efficient complementary scorer and tertiary creator.

There are three play-types tracked by NBA.com that generally equate to self-created opportunities — isolation, post-up and pick-and-roll ball-handler. In his last season in Minnesota, those three play-types made up 49.5 percent of Wiggins’ offensive possessions. This season, it’s dropped to 27.5 percent with a large, corresponding increase in the share of his offensive coming in transition, off cuts and on spot-ups.

Wiggins is not quite Klay Thompson but playing a more similar role has helped shave away some of his weaknesses and allowed him to play to his strengths. Thompson famously scored 60 points in a game in which he had the ball in his hands for just 90 seconds. Wiggins scored 28 on Monday night, his second-highest output of the season, and had the ball in his hands for just 126 seconds. Again, he’s not Klay Thompson but playing more like him has helped.

Wiggins is a good shooter who looks better when almost all of his shots are open, catch-and-shoot attempts as opposed to contested and off-the-dribble. He’s an athletic finisher who is much more efficient when the gravity of another player has created space for him at the rim, instead of having to finish over or through multiple defenders. None of this is rocket science but the Warriors deserve credit for seeing what Wiggins could be in their system and Wiggins deserves a lot of credit for buying in and accepting an offensive role that trades primacy for efficiency.

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