By: Seth Toupal
Take a look at Andrew Wiggins' 2017-18 season stats compared to his career numbers:
(stats via ESPN.com)
You don't have to look very hard to notice that Wiggins is having what could be classified as a down season. Just look at his numbers from last year compared to this year:
Add in his rankings among other small forwards throughout the rest of the NBA in other key stat areas:
It's easy to look at those numbers and become frustrated with Wiggins. The Timberwolves are in the midst of their best season since 2003-04, a year where the Timberwolves battled the Lakers to the brink in the Western Conference Finals and yet Wiggins hasn't been the same player as in years past, but is there more to it than simply being a down year? Let's take a deeper look.
The first thing that jumps out at me about Wiggins' numbers this year is his shooting percentage. Last year Wiggins per game averages were 8.6 made shots on 19.1 attempts. This year Wiggins is averaging 6.9 made shots on 15.7 attempts. If we take those averages and project them through the rest of the season Wiggins would end up with 567 made field goals which would be his lowest amount since his rookie season. If we do the same thing with his field goal attempts we get 1288 field goal attempts which is also his lowest amount since his rookie season. Simply put, Wiggins is shooting over 3 less shots per game and making about 2 less shots per game. Fewer shots made and fewer shots taken have led to fewer points for Wiggins this year.
Wiggins 3-point shooting has also taken a hit this year but in contrast to his overall shooting percentages, Wiggins is actually attempting more 3-point shots than he ever has. Wiggins has already attempted 254 3-pointers this season, and should shatter his previous career high of 289 set last year. If we project his current averages to a full season he will attempt 344 3-pointers this season, and will make 107, which is four more than he made last year but it will have taken him an additional 55 attempts to get there. So if we add what we learned in the first paragraph to what we learned here Wiggins is taking less shots per game, and taking more shots from outside and away from the rim.
Wiggins is also struggling from the free throw line compared to previous years. Wiggins is 149-235 from the free throw line so far this year which is a 63.4% success rate. Ignore the percentage though and the more concerning thing is the number of free throws. If we extrapolate Wiggins free throw attempts through 61 games to an 82 game season, Wiggins will finish with 316 free throw attempts. That number would be 94 fewer free throws than he made ALL OF LAST YEAR. This makes sense when we add in the fact that Wiggins is attempting more 3-point shots than ever before. Simply put: With the addition of Jimmy Butler the Wolves have attempted to mold Wiggins into a perimeter shooter. Butler and Wiggins are similar players in many ways, but instead of attempting to put a square peg into a round hole maybe it's time the Wolves just allow both to fully flourish?
A solution for the Wolves to consider would be to simply let Wiggins get back to where he is most successful and let other players take the perimeter shots. There is no reason that the Wolves can't allow Butler and Wiggins to both be slashers. Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford and even Karl-Anthony Towns are all shooting better from the 3-point line than Wiggins is. If Wolves want to hold their current spot in the playoffs, they need to unleash Wiggins and let him get back to where he is most effective and more importantly, more comfortable.
Seth is host of The Scoop on KLGR Radio out of Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Listen to episodes of The Scoop here.