(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)
Andrew Wiggins is not the perfect prospect. He was not a dominant scorer in his one year at Kansas, the Jayhawks were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and most statistical models project him as a middle of the pack prospect in his own draft class. Wiggins is a victim of expectations that are impossibly difficult to reach. The idea that an 18-year-old who has logged just barely over 1,000 minutes of truly competitive basketball should be a complete player is extremely misguided.
Nevertheless, Wiggins enters the NBA as an incredible athlete who already translates his physical profile into production on defense, and possesses the traits of a multidimensional but unpolished skill-set on offense.
The perception is Wiggins is a poor scorer, who struggled as a jump-shooter and was disappointing at the rim despite his tremendous athletic ability. In reality, however, Wiggins is a solid shooter when shooting off of the catch. He has a quick enough trigger and good mechanics, consistently keeping the off-hand pointed up and following through. Most importantly, when he gets his feet set, the arc in his shot is beautiful. The statistics back this up: according to research by draftexpress.com, Wiggins averaged a slightly above average 1.1 points per catch-and-shoot attempt.
Wiggins is not as effective when shooting off of the bounce, as his balance is not the same when he is stepping back and shooting over contesting defenders. According to hoop-math.com, Wiggins took a third of his shots from the mid-range area and yet hit them only at a putrid 33.8 percent clip. Many of those shots were taken in isolation possessions, which raise valid concerns regarding his shot selection. If Wiggins often settled for low percentage attempts against opponents who normally could not match his athleticism, why assume that tendency will simply go away now that he will face more athletes of his caliber?
That is not to say he failed to attack the rim at all, however. According to Upside & Motor’s Austin Clemens, Wiggins took 39 percent of his attempts from within five feet of the basket, and hit them at a good 65 percent clip. Wiggins has a loose handle dribbling from side to side and often dribbles the ball too high, which makes him susceptible to being stripped, but he is quite fast on straight line drives, thanks to an explosive first step, long strides and a very smooth go-to spin move.
His attacking the basket game is far from complete, though. Wiggins leaps off the ground in an instant, a lightning fast leaper, but he does not dunk all that often on dribble drives, simply not as comfortable rising through traffic when he is crowded. He hangs in the air very impressively, but does not have great touch to finish at rim level, and cannot yet consistently score through contact which results in an underwhelming shooting percentage when contested. At the collegiate level, however, the speed of his moves often overwhelmed defenders and resulted in 7.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, which he hit at a 77.5 percent clip.
There is a narrative that Wiggins was not assertive enough of a scorer at Kansas, a theory that completely ignores the structure of Kansas’s offense. As Grantland’s Brett Koremenos explained here, the Jayhawks emphasized feeding their post scorers as often as possible, a fact already evident to those who watched them play regularly. Had Kansas isolated Wiggins a handful more times per game, he would have scored enough to have rendered that perception different. But Wiggins does not necessarily enter the league a versatile enough player in facets of the offensive game other than scoring yet to be able to assuage the doubts about his scoring. The pick-and-rolls he ran were merely a different way for him to attack to score individually, as he did not show much in the way instincts when passing the ball out of dribble penetration. Playmaking for others in general was not a strong suit; Wiggins used on average 20.7 possessions per 40 minutes, yet recorded only 1.9 assists.
Wiggins’ efficiency in his first NBA season will likely largely depend on the level of Ricky Rubio’s play and what kind of system Flip Saunders installs. With his physical tools, he would surely thrive on a fast-paced attack, one that is transition-oriented and emphasizes early offense in the half-court. Wiggins is tremendous on fast-breaks, sprinting up the court with great speed. His long strides are also an asset here, as he can go from the top of key to the basket in two steps, and as has already been mentioned, he is a far better finisher when uncontested, exploding off the ground when running with momentum.
Though his open court prowess is the most aesthetically pleasing aspect of his game, it is Wiggins’s defense that is the most exciting part of his game. It is very hard to find plays in which he is not locked in.
The combination of his natural interest in providing full effort when the opponent has the ball, and his physical profile (six-foot-eight height, seven-foot wingspan, quick feet, explosive leaping ability) provides Wiggins the potential to become one of the very best defenders in the pro game right away. And nowhere on defense is this more evident than in his ability to contest shots. The clips below highlight how, even when Wiggins crashes inside to provide help packing the lane or when he gambles for a steal, his recovery is consistently outstanding and he makes it very difficult for his man to get the catch-and-shoot out cleanly.
Defending in isolation is another area where he excels impressively. Wiggins is not necessarily unbeatable off the dribble – Florida’s Scott Wilbekin and Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim did manage to enjoy some success in individual matchups. But he was undoubtedly a dominant one-on-one defender at the college level, and, with his projectable physical profile, also projects to make an immediate impact in the NBA. Wiggins possesses great lateral mobility and is hardly ever blown past; notice in the clips below how disciplined he is with the use of his hips to slow down the momentum of the driver, while also extending his arms in anticipation of a pull-up attempt. He demonstrated a good understanding of Kansas’s defensive principles, consistently sending opponents towards the help defense. His athleticism helped him overwhelm smaller opponents, so much so that Bill Self asked him to defend point guards on several occasions during the season.
Wiggins also displayed good instincts on help-defense, though he was not as impactful as he is capable of, at times being too hesitant to leave his man and more actively seal the edge of the lane. Due to Joel Embiid and Jamari Traylor’s presence inside, Kansas did not need Wiggins to be an overaggressive help-defender outside of the principles of their scheme to make up for a shortage of interior protection from big men. But now in the NBA, Wiggins has been traded to a team that allowed 63.1 percent shooting within five feet last season (worst in the league) and where more will likely be asked of him in this department. With his long arms and explosive leaping, Wiggins has the ceiling of becoming more of a true force in weak-side shot blocking than we saw in college.
The one aspect of Wiggins’ defense that is sub-par thus far is his navigation through screens. In a pick-and-roll heavy league like the NBA, he will be quite exposed in this department if he does not start fighting through those picks harder than he did at Kansas. He consistently went under the screen, which makes it fair to assume that is how he was coached to defend them. But with his quickness, Wiggins should have been able to go around the big and recover to contain dribble penetration a lot better than the clips below demonstrate. He often got caught on picks, and even when the opponent did not attack off the screen right away, Wiggins became a less effective isolation defender after getting screened. New Mexico and Oklahoma State noticed that and enjoyed good success exploiting it, essentially erasing the best perimeter defender in college basketball on several possessions.
Because he is such a smooth athlete, Wiggins’s defensive effort does not pop out of the screen like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s, for example, However, it is evident when watching him more closely.
The ceiling of becoming a force that impacts every single play around him, potentially on both ends of the floor, is very much there for Andrew Wiggins in a way it is for few others. In the early going, he is farther along defensively, and the skillset he brings on that end is rarer. But in time, with good coaching and patience, Wiggins has the potential to emerge as a star in all facets and both halves of the game.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.