MINNEAPOLIS – Andrew Wiggins attempts the 10th-most midrange jump shots in the NBA. There are plenty of guys ahead of him in that category that qualify as superstars in the league right now. The difference between them and Wiggins is that, while they’re all attempting a high number of midrange shots, the league’s best make them consistently.
The midrange jumper represents a comfortable area for Wiggins, even if the numbers don’t back that up. Throughout his career he’s consistently been in the top 20 in midrange attempts, even if it meant that his shooting percentage in that range was at or near the bottom of that group.
In the four years following his rookie season, Wiggins has always placed inside the top 20 in the NBA in midrange attempts, but of that group of 20 players, he’s finished 19th in midrange shooting percentage twice (he currently ranks 19th as well) and 20th once. He’s been bad. Again, the problem with his game isn’t necessarily that he takes midrange jumpers, it’s that he makes them at the same rate as Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The initial thought here could be that, ‘Giannis is an MVP candidate, it can’t be that bad then, right?’
Antetokounmpo is one of the worst outside shooters in the NBA. Inside the paint he’s dominant, which is a big reason why the Bucks have been so successful this season and why Antetokounmpo himself is threatening to take home his first MVP award. Teams have tried their best to keep him away from the basket and into jump shots. They just haven’t been successful.
Something needs to change for Wiggins. It hasn’t under interim coach Ryan Saunders, despite the hope that it would. Part of the reason for that could be that it’s difficult for a coach like Saunders to implement this type of thinking without a full offseason and training camp to drill it. He’s had to try and change the mindset of these types of shots on the fly, which is a near impossible task considering Wiggins has spent his entire career launching from this distance.
“It’s something that – we don’t have a whole lot of practice time now, so you can’t necessarily implement those rules with things, or condition guys to think that way,” Saunders said. “I think in time it will get better, but it’s hard to tell right now.”
Since the coaching change took place in early January, Wiggins has actually been taking more midrange jumpers than he previously was. He’s been hitting them at a slightly higher clip, but still not one that’s high enough for him to launch as often as he does from that area.
This isn’t Wiggins being an inefficient shooter, it’s him being one of the worst players in the NBA. For a player with a usage rate as high as he owns, he’s on the verge of joining a historically bad club.
In the history of the NBA there are 14 players that were at least four years into their career with a usage as high as Wiggins’ rate of 24.1 percent that have produced fewer than 1.0 win shares and played at least 70 games in the season (via Basketball Reference). Wiggins is on pace to join that club. So far this season he’s contributed 0.5 wins to the Wolves despite playing 59 games.
For comparison’s sake, Kevin Love — the guy the Wolves traded for Wiggins back in 2014 — has played in 12 games for the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers this season. He’s produced more than double the win shares of Wiggins (1.1). Dwight Howard has played nine games for the Washington Wizards this season and produced a higher win share number. Carmelo Anthony was sent away from the Houston Rockets because things were so bad, and he’s only 0.3 win shares behind Wiggins.
“When I say his comfort zone, he’s playing in a lot of the midrange mid-post area shots, also posting,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said of Wiggins. “They put him in a lot of pick and rolls so you just got to do a good job making it difficult on him. I thought one of the things that happened the last game we played against him was I felt we did a good job contesting on him and to his credit he made some tough shots. It was a couple late shot clock situations, side out-of-bounds, underneath out-of-bounds when the clock was winding down. He hit a fadeaway three, pull-up jump shot, so sometimes you got to give him credit. What we can’t do is foul him. That’s the one thing we have to do a better job of. We put him to the free-throw line too much. Then obviously we’ve got to live with some of the non-paint midrange shots that are highly contested, he’s that kind of player he can make those kind of shots.”
Hearing Donovan speak on Wiggins’ midrange game is interesting, not just because his answer is a super thoughtful and detailed one, but because the only player in the NBA that shoots more than four midrange jumpers per game at a less efficient rate than Wiggins is Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
In fact, there are 59 players in the NBA that take more than 2.5 midrange jump shots per game. Of the 59 players, only two players shoot a worse percentage on them than Wiggins does. Westbrook and Miami’s Dwyane Wade. While Westbrook and Wiggins are near the top of the leaderboard in attempts, Wade is only taking 3.1 of them per game.
The few differences there are between Wiggins’ shot chart and that of Westbrook point out that the latter does a much better job of finishing at the rim than the former. With that being said, Wiggins is a far better 3-point shooter than Westbrook.
This leads to what may be the solution for Wiggins: More 3-pointers.
Wiggins hasn’t been a great 3-point shooter by any metric in his career, but he does shoot a very similar percentage from behind the arc as he does the midrange. Simple math says that taking more threes at that rate would be supremely beneficial to his game. That’s been said time and time again and it hasn’t happened.
The Wolves need it to happen. They need to figure out whether or not Wiggins is ever going to develop into anything more than he is now. He’s too expensive, and they’ve invested too much in him for his offensive profile to continue to be this bad. Either he’s going to have to get better, they’re going to have to find a way to utilize him differently, or they’re going to need to try and trade him – even if that means attaching an asset or two just to get someone else to take him on.
All 3-pointers aren’t created equally, either. The corner-3 is considered the most efficient shot in basketball in today’s day and age. It’s a shot teams strive to create at the highest rate possible, and one that defenses hope to take away.
Part of the reason so many teams love that shot is because it’s the shortest shot on the floor worth three points. That’s why it’s an enticing shot for Wiggins. He already shoots plenty of shots worth two points from 22 feet or further, so it’s essentially the same shot from a different distance, and worth an additional point. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Wiggins’ current shot distribution shows that he takes corner threes on 5.4 percent of his attempts. That’s too low.
Wiggins is good at them, specifically from the left corner. He’s shooting nearly 60 percent on the season from that spot on the floor, the issue is that they don’t come at a high enough volume. The left corner is the best spot on the floor for him. Not just behind the arc, but also in the midrange. He shoots 47.3 percent on the left baseline outside the paint. He only takes 12.1 percent of his shots from those areas, though.
It hasn’t been to date. Wiggins has taken only 34 3-pointers from the left corner this year. Despite connecting on 20 of them, he doesn’t shoot them nearly often enough.
A reason for Wiggins not being able to generate as many corner-3s as would be ideal is that the Wolves are short on shot creators. While he’s not anything more than an average ball handler, he can create his own shot, which can be a challenge for others on the court at times.
Stationing Wiggins in the left corner feels like it would be wasting his talents, but he’s spent so much time mostly floating invisibly through games where this would be an upgrade. Turning Wiggins into essentially a ‘3 & D’ guy isn’t going to get him anywhere near his potential – or suspected potential – but it would be an improvement over what the product is now.
One way to get Wiggins the ball in that area would be through Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s been playing the best basketball of his career to date, and one area that’s definitely grown this year is his passing ability.
Towns has flashed that he can get the ball to almost any area on the floor when he has it in the post and senses a double-team coming.
Here he sees the double team coming and gets the ball to Anthony Tolliver who knocks down the open three created by Towns.
Planting Wiggins in the corner the way Tolliver was seems like a waste of his abilities, but if it results in three points, it’s better than any alternative.
Here’s an example of Towns doing the same thing to get Wiggins an open look, which he has no problem knocking down.
With the perceived, and somewhat legitimate argument that the Wolves can’t afford to lose Wiggins’ playmaking skills by sticking him the corner still there, it must be mentioned that Towns can handle some of that burden. Most teams would never dream of their 7-foot big man taking guys off the dribble and creating shots for others through that avenue. Then again, most teams don’t have a big man nearly the caliber of Towns.
If Towns can do this, it helps. He’s expanded his game and that in turn could help to maximize the production that the Wolves get from Wiggins on a regular basis. Sticking Wiggins in the corner on a permanent basis isn’t the answer, but having him spend more time there than he currently does could help.