By now you’ve likely heard the quote from Andrew Wiggins — the one in regards to hearing the boos from Target Center last Friday night. While some fans may be better than others, Wiggins’ timing could not have been worse.
First off, the Timberwolves were playing in front of a sold-out crowd for the lowly Atlanta Hawks. Had this game happened outside of the holidays, it likely would have been smaller than the announced attendance of 18,978. These fans expected a win regardless but watched the home team trail by 22 early and later blow a 14-point lead late to send the game into overtime. Fan frustration and disappointment were understandable.
What was most disappointing about Wiggins’ remarks is that these fans still care about this team. They endured the decline of the Kevin Garnett era on the heels of the euphoria of a Western Conference Finals run only to be sold on Al Jefferson three years later. In less time than that, fans were sold that Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love were the saviors only to find that backfire. And then once again being sold on Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns before Jimmy Butler joined the team to end the 14-year playoff drought. Of course, Butler lasted little more than a year before demanding a trade.
There is so much more in between those lines that add to what fans have had to deal with from poor drafting, David Kahn and more. I’ve always said this team’s attendance numbers aren’t due to fans that don’t care but fans that need to be convinced that their entertainment is best spent on the Minnesota Timberwolves or one of the five other professional sports teams or innumerable other entertainment options in town.
The only team that is the exception to this rule in town is the Vikings.
Think about it. With a plethora of entertainment options, 19,000 people chose to go to a Timberwolves game. Maybe they were visiting friends and family or hosting or whatever. Regardless, this probably isn’t the first time fans have invested in this team and felt that they didn’t get their money’s worth. But that’s the risk of going to a sporting event, right?
Fans were right to be frustrated. After all, they came back on the Hawks based on sheer talent alone and still successfully kicked the game away. Watching what was the sixth-best free throw shooting team in the NBA make just 55.3 percent (21-for-38) of their free throw attempts was infuriating for everyone.
The two biggest offenders? Wiggins at 5-for-12 and Towns at 10-for-15. You look at a three-point loss and you find 12 uncontested points the Wolves missed out on from two of their most-featured players alone. That doesn’t even mention the 23 Hawks turnovers or the disparity in 3-pointers. Seventeen free points were lost and that allowed Atlanta to win a game they had no business winning.
Sure, you could say it’s one bad night. Towns has been an 83.3 percent free throw shooter in his four seasons. Wiggins. however, has made just 66.5 percent of his free throws over the last two seasons. Combined with the fact that he was a respectable 76 percent from the line in his first three, this is a concerning trend rather than one bad night. We now have a 114-game sample of Wiggins being a sub-standard free throw shooter and we saw how those struggles contributed to a bad loss.
This isn’t meant to pile on Wiggins because Wiggins is a likable guy and still rather young. But after five years of having the same discussions about lack of effort, inefficiency, and inconsistency, you wonder if this is who he is already.
Wiggins is arguably mired in the worst season of his career. He has a true shooting percentage below 50 percent and the only area of the floor that he’s shooting above 40 percent is within three feet of the rim. He’s taking 5.1 percent more 3-pointers and less midrange garbage but only increased his efficiency from deep to 35.8 percent.
The overall numbers aren’t great either. Of 470 players, Wiggins is 431st in value over replacement player (VORP), so he has ranks above 39 other players.
In terms of win shares, Wiggins is 301st. What’s great about win shares is that the best players rise to the top. For instance, Anthony Davis leads the league at 6.4 and Phoenix’s Josh Jackson is last at -1.3. Nothing about Wiggins’ role with this team nor contract suggest that 300 players should be better than him. What may be most interesting about Wiggins’ win shares is that his offensive win shares (-0.3) are dragging down his defensive win shares (0.7).
Wiggins is also 307th in box-plus/minus and 284th in PER, and 440 in offensive win shares. Yes, these are metrics that can be picked apart on their own but when you put together everything that we’ve seen and the numbers that verify the eye test, you see a consistent trend of underachievement. Even his basic stats like assist and rebounding percentage have stagnated.
He appeared to be rebounding from a dismal November before struggling mightily over the final six games of December. Wiggins averaged 17.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 37.6 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent on 3-pointers.
I’ll be honest. There aren’t many, if any, other industries than sports in which we discuss the salaries of others so freely. It’s kind of gross when you think about it.
Yet, in a salary cap league and especially a mid-sized market, paying someone one-third of the cap is a big deal. When you pay a player $30 million per season, you need to know that you’re going to get upper-echelon performance out of that player because that contract likely means that your means are limited for addressing weaknesses going forward.
Now imagine you have two of them.
No one is worried about Towns receiving a max contract because he does things like he did on Sunday and produce at a level not seen since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. There are few if any, concerns about the production the Wolves will get out of Towns over the course of his new deal.
Yet, Wiggins is another story. The growth hasn’t come and he has even regressed in some ways. Unless Dario Saric or Robert Covington have another level, the Wolves are going to need to start hoping for an overnight miracle from Wiggins.
No one can fault Wiggins for taking the money and much like where a player is drafted, the contract is a valuation of not how good a player currently is but what they expect in the future. Can anyone comfortably say that Wiggins is or is trending towards being a player that meets the team’s admittedly lofty expectations?
No matter who the player is, there aren’t many times that it’s a good look to call out your home fans. Wolves players in the past have lamented playing in front of sparse and quiet crowds in close games in the past. Players do notice the presence of fans.
Fans sometimes cross that line between making their displeasure known with boos and other times they make it personal. That’s unacceptable. But what we’re talking about here and what precipitated Wiggins “s—– fans” comment was booing when the team was underperforming. There’s a big difference. Towns tried taking his teammate’s back by saying he missed five free throws himself, which is true. Again, Towns missing one-third of his free throws is an off night. Wiggins has had practically 114 off nights over the last two seasons.
What also separates Wiggins from the Davis’, LeBrons, or Currys is that they have earned that credibility over the years. And I don’t believe that fans expressing their unhappiness with the performance of the team necessarily makes them bad fans. If anything, apathy would make them bad fans.
Even for the great players in the league, what’s the upside to saying there are some bad fans in the stands? Had the situation escalated past a few rounds of boos, it might be defensible or understandable.
Unfortunately for Wiggins, he hasn’t earned the right to call out the fans.