'21 Season Review: Welcome to Andrew Wiggins Island

The 26-year old wing shrugged off years of infamy to become the two-way workhorse the Warriors needed this season.

The following is a conversation on Andrew Wiggins’ season between Daniel Hardee and Thomas “Dr. Tom” Bevilacqua, the author of “Golden Age: The Brilliance of the 2018 Champion Golden State Warriors”. 

Daniel: We were two of the early settlers of Wiggins Island. From the day he was first traded to the Warriors, you and I have been very vocally supportive of his presence in the Golden State. Just ask Draymond Green’s trainer! I must say I'm proud of our investment.

Dr. Tom: I mean, this is just our victory lap, isn’t it?

Daniel: I mean I feel like the lap could have been a bit more enjoyable had he won Finals MVP this year, but we'll have to wait till next season for that. Until then, I think there's plenty for us to be satisfied about, relative to the complete utter lack of respect he was receiving from NBA observers at large before this season started.

Dr. Tom: The fact that there were people who were shocked he didn’t get all-defense consideration was kind of amazing, and shows how far the conversation has moved.

Daniel: We were told his defense was terrible! How’d he end up getting a vote for All-Defense??

Dr. Tom: I was going back and looking at his numbers defending some of the star wings he’d frequently match up against. When he defended Kawhi Leonard, he held him to 38.5% from the field. And he absolutely locked down Brandon Ingram, a player that certain segments of the basketball internet would try and convince you is actually better than Wiggins.

Daniel: Wiggins was amazing at hounding the other team’s best player and contesting shots. Per NBA.com, Wiggins defended more shots (1017) than any other forward, while limiting opponents to 44% shooting. For reference Robert Covington, who was a player Warriors fans coveted as a 3-and-D guy, defended 961 shot attempts and allowed 50% shooting.

Here’s a brief rundown of NBA stars being locked into solitary confinement on Wiggins Island this season:

  • Demar Derozan 3-of-13

  • Brandon Ingram 3-of-11

  • Jayson Tatum 7-of-17

  • Khris Middleton 6-of-15

  • Bradley Beal 6-of-13

  • CJ McCollum 5-of-13

  • Jimmy Butler 2-of-7

  • Pascal Siakam 3-of-9

Wiggins was the point of attack defender for the fifth ranked defense in the NBA. That’s elite. I suppose the question is are Wiggins’ supporters overreacting/overvaluing him based solely on him being way better than “the worst player in the NBA”? 

Dr. Tom: To be fair, when we traded for him people were talking like he was the worst player in the NBA so…

Daniel: Oh you mean these people?

Dr. Tom: We’ve talked a lot about his defensive improvement but he’s also improved offensively too, save for points (which makes sense as he’s playing alongside Stephen Curry now). But his field-goal percentage and three-point field-goal percentage numbers are all time highs. The knock on him was that he wasn’t a really efficient player but what this season showed us is that he can be, it was just exceedingly difficult to do so in Minnesota. 

Look at what he did in this game against the Phoenix Suns: scored 34 points, shot 70.4% from the field AND kept Mikal Bridges from going off (which is the real death knell when you’re playing the Suns)? Not bad.

Daniel: Offensively he could be maddeningly consistent, if that’s a thing. Although capable of scoring outbursts like what you just mentioned against Phoenix or his 40-point explosion against Memphis, most nights he wasn’t thirsty to take over the game offensively.

He was comfortable (some might say too comfortable) with just finding shots within the flow of the offense. I don’t think that’s a necessarily bad thing playing alongside Steph Curry, a guy who needs ample touches. Unlike the criticisms levied against guys like Kelly Oubre Jr., Wiggins got pretty good at orbiting around Curry’s gravity and staying out of the way.

But aggressive Wiggins was absolutely a beautiful complement to Curry’s pyrotechnics. I’m reminded of the game against the Pelicans where Draymond Green told Wiggins the team needed him to take over:

“Be aggressive. Attack and just dominate,” Wiggins said matter-of-factly. “Draymond, he told me to take over the fourth. So, that‘s what I did. I tried to go in there and get everyone involved. I was in attack mode the whole time.” Wiggins in attack mode is the one the Warriors like most. He finished with 26 points, supporting the 41 totaled by Curry. But that fourth-quarter flurry, 10 points in a little more than three minutes, was an ultra-welcome sight.

“It’s huge,” Curry said. “It’s a boost for us, but it’s a boost for him because he is capable of doing that. We expect him to do that, to be aggressive and look for his shot. To be ‘the man’ out there, especially if he’s with the second unit. He’s featured. He’s got that capability. We want that aggressiveness from him. We want that killer instinct to come out.”

Dr. Tom: He only scored 25 or more points in ten games last season but, again, unless you’re someone who’s at that KD/Kawhi level of wing player, you don’t really want him doing much that takes him out of the flow of the offense. Wiggins being consistent within the offense (even if you know he could theoretically score more) is so much better than doing anything outside of the offense. There’s value in consistency and that should be taken into account when we evaluate Wiggins.

Daniel: Wiggins set career highs in FG% (.477), eFG% (.543), 3P% (38%), and 2P%(.529). His efficiency came on his lowest shot attempts per game since his rookie year (14.9), while also  playing the fewest  minutes per game of his career (33.3). Such marked improvements from a guy who was written off so thoroughly has to be attributed to both his hard work and the brilliance of the Warriors organization.

Per Synergy, he graded out well nearly across the board offensively, with “very good” success in multiple areas of opportunity in Coach Steve Kerr’s offense.

Outside of Steph and “hot night” Jordan Poole, the Warriors didn’t have many guys who could just go out and get a bucket night in and night out. Wiggins’ pick-and-roll/isolation prowess was a handy tool for the Golden State offense to summon on a nightly basis.

Dr. Tom: That jump in eFG% is really impressive. Efficiency was the thing that Wiggins got mercilessly criticized for while in Minny (or one of the things). To show that kind of improvement in his first full season with the team (and when the team wasn’t at full strength/was dealing with a ton of injuries throughout) deserves a ton of appreciation.

I think a lot about Draymond’s comments about a player not being in the right spot with Wiggins. The situation in Minnesota just wasn’t right for Wiggins to show off these skills/this kind of a game.

One thing I would like to see Wiggins do a little bit more of is driving to the basket or draw contact. Wiggins’ wasn’t drawing as many shooting fouls as he did in past seasons (both in terms of the raw numbers and per game) and would, at least to my eye/in my memory, settle for turn around jumpers. He’d make a good number of those but I also think some of those times he would’ve been better served by attacking.

Daniel: Dub Nation definitely wished he hadn’t settled for this shot with the season on the line...

I wonder if that has anything to do with his inconsistent free throw shooting? Perhaps he’s not exactly eager to go to the charity stripe since he was shooting 71% there?

Dr. Tom: That seems to be a trend dating back to his exile in Minnesota--his free-throw attempts have been decreasing over the past three seasons.

In the name of finding interesting comparisons for Wiggins so that we can better talk about him, I went and looked at what Harrison Barnes did at the same age as Wiggins this past season:

  • Black Falcon: 34.2 MPG, 18.9 PPG, 6.1 REB, 2.0 AST, 44% FG%, 35% 3PT, 0.2 BLK

  • 2-Way Wiggs: 33.3 MPG, 18.6 PPG, 4.9 REB, 2.4 AST, 47% FG%, 38% 3PT, 1.0 BLK

Daniel: Hmmm not sure if I should be celebrating or quietly unnerved that he has very similar counting stats to the utilitarian but sometimes underwhelming Harrison “Black Falcon” Barnes. Am I just too spoiled after having the Slim Reaper experience?

Dr. Tom: Hey, the Black Falcon becomes Captain America!

I think for the post-KD construction of this team, those numbers from Wiggins are really good (especially as they’re integrating James Wiseman and then with whomever they end up drafting). But even if you look at other players and compare them, it stacks up well for Wiggins. Take a look at how he compared to Brandon Ingram last season:

  • Ingram: 34.3 MPG, 23.8 PPG, 4.9 REB, 4.9 AST, 46% FG%, 38% 3PT, 0.6 BLK

  • 2-Way Wiggs: 33.3 MPG, 18.6 PPG, 4.9 REB, 2.4 AST, 47% FG%, 38% 3PT, 1.0 BLK

Ingram’s numbers were better but not by much (owing to having to do more/having a slightly higher usage rate). Would the Warriors be better with Ingram instead of Wiggins? Probably not. But that’s the player the Warriors would be getting if they move on from Wiggins. KD or Giannis or Embiid or whomever… those aren’t players who are available to bring in. A lot of the criticism of Wiggins (and the desire to move on from him) comes from a place that’s fairly divorced from reality.

Daniel: I don’t think Ingram’s getting any all-defense votes! I think the conversation about Wiggins gets clouded when his hefty contract and status as former #1 draft pick gets involved. Take a look at the top 50 most expensive contracts in the NBA for this season. The Dubs have four guys on that list; Wiggins’ deal ranks at 25th.

Pundits think he should be doing more for that money; fans fantasize constantly about other players that contract could be dangled as trade bait for. But when we look at his quality season on both ends of the ball and the success Steph and Draymond had on the floor with him, it’s pretty easy to imagine him fitting seamlessly alongside Golden State’s Big 3.

The Warriors have so much firepower with the Splash Bros, perhaps they don’t need a superstar third option. Maybe they just need someone who can put up 20 in his sleep while playing stout defense, even if that costs a lotta Joe Lacob’s money. Oh yeah and as Fitz says, “the best ability is availability”. Wiggins played in a team high 71 games; next closest was Kent Bazemore with 67 games.

Is fan frustration here about Wiggins’ contract simply that they don’t believe the Warriors will find more complementary pieces due to the luxury tax? Per Basketball-Reference, here are the top contracts on the luxury tax strapped Dubs.

Dr. Tom: I think the fact that Wiggins played a role/did things that the Warriors didn’t have at the time when they traded for him has to factor into how we see the contract. They didn’t have that steady, solid wing player to go with Steph and Klay in the backcourt. Having Wiggins, even on that contract, is a lot better than having D’Angelo Russell (who didn’t make a ton of sense with the backcourt already in place) on a roughly similar contract. 

So then I guess the question one is asking… do you wish KD just left for nothing/they hadn’t traded for D-Lo in the first place? 

Daniel: Not me! Over the last 15 games of the season when the Warriors were in a mad dash for the postseason, Wiggins averaged 20.4 PPG, 5.6 REB, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 BLK on 48% shooting (35% from downtown). All that on a team high 35.7 MPG, chasing around the opposing team’s best scorers. And look how he did LeBron!

He’s a workhorse and if Klay recovers from his Achilles injury anywhere close to what Kevin Durant has, Wiggins’ scoring/defense will be the perfect complement on the wing. Klay won’t have to hound the opposing team’s best player every night like he used to.

I’m happily handing out pamphlets for real estate on Wiggins Island. It’s filling up fast though Dub Nation; are you buying?