Wiggins, Wiseman Share Unique Connection


Think back to when you first saw Andrew Wiggins play. Maybe it was his dominant high-school highlight videos or flashes of explosiveness at Kansas. If you were a basketball fan, Maple Jordan came on your radar well before the draft. Though he never truly dominated in college, everyone saw the tools that made him the No. 1 pick. A prototypical NBA wing who can create his own shot? Yes please. Nobody even asked any questions.

Fast forward a bit. After five disappointing years, a massive contract extension, a promise to be better and an extensive bullying session by Jimmy Butler, Wiggins found himself traded to the Golden State Warriors. Overpaid, underperforming and an afterthought in the trade for D’Angelo Russell, he found himself in serious need of a change.

The Student

At the same time, James Wiseman was in the middle of a horrific NCAA experience at Memphis. The consensus No. 1 recruit out of high school, suspect booster rules surrounding his coach Penny Hardaway limited the beastly center to three games. Though in little action, Wiseman showed why he was so highly touted, yet didn’t dominate despite his immense physical tools. Plenty of players like Wiseman and Wiggins come through all the time: prospects you would draw up in a lab with some warts in their game. One of them, Anthony Edwards, even went right before Wiseman to Wiggins’ ex-squad.

It’s not unusual for two raw, underdeveloped athletes to find themselves on a team together in today’s NBA. But for a team like the Warriors, with a staff notorious for valuing experience and technical skill over athleticism and tools, this is a very strange pairing.


The Future?

Despite what feels like ages in Minnesota, Wiggins turns 26 in February. His best basketball certainly isn’t behind him. And despite perceptions around his game, he made serious strides with the Timberwolves before moving to the Bay. Most of the frustration surrounding Wiggins concerned his shot selection, offensive efficiency and lack of defensive impact. His first five years were maddeningly consistent, taking far too many shots from midrange while neglecting the rim and not getting to the line enough.

For someone as physically dominant as Wiggins can be, that was an unacceptable result. The fact that he didn’t take or make threes at a high rate wasn’t helping. He was never the player defensively he could have been, averaging a measly 1.6 stocks (steals + blocks) and not playing a sound game on the perimeter.

But things started to change for Wiggins in 2019. He found his way to the rim, took more threes and cut down his midrange attempts. His defensive impact increased marginally and there were glimpses of the player he could be. When he got to Golden State, these trends developed exponentially. What you see now from Wiggins is a completely different player from his Minnesota days.

From his final year in Minny to now, his blocks per game have nearly doubled. He went 442 games without four blocks in his career until coming to the Bay, of which he now has three in 27 games. His assist-to-turnover ratio in Minnesota largely hovered around 1.1, which for reference puts him in the playmaking company of Taurean Prince, Tristan Thompson and Jonas Valanciunas. His final year with the Wolves it passed 1.3, in the LaVine/Tatum/Siakam range.

As a Warrior he’s over 1.5, comparable to playmakers like Donovan Mitchell and Dennis Schröder. He’s not nearly the volume playmaker as some of these players, but that efficiency is a critical year-over-year development.

As mentioned, his midrange volume has been cut drastically. They represented 34% of his total attempts before the Warriors and only 24% since, while taking more threes. He’s even knocked down 37% of those deep bombs, which would be a big step for a consistent 33% deep shooter. The biggest step to unlocking his potential has been the Warriors’ desire to play him as a small-ball four. Wiggins has spent half his time at power forward this season, when his previous career high was 12% his rookie year.

None of this means Wiggins is close to a finished product. He still has a ways to go in terms of getting shots at the rim and drawing fouls, but the strides in shot selection and defensive impact are big positives for a Warriors team that took a massive gamble on his untapped potential. They have to be confident that a full season of this caliber of play under his belt makes him a quality third option next to Klay Thompson if he can return to full health.

Connecting the Dots

So how does all this relate to Wiseman? Despite being seven years younger, both players are in surprisingly similar developmental situations. The two only have 42 combined games as Warriors, but Wiggins’ inability to seriously develop his game in Minnesota means both players are learning new roles on the fly in a tough system. Both are physically dominant players learning to use their immense talents to their advantage. Yet Wiseman has the advantage of being six years younger than Wiggins. Both have plenty to learn from the Warriors dynasty core of Thompson, Steph Curry and Draymond Green, but Wiseman can soak in Wiggins’ experiences as well.

His ability to learn from a player like Wiggins is paramount to his development. Wiggins spent half a decade calling the same plays for himself, ignoring the same problems and receiving the same criticisms. It took a serious change for him to begin to shed those tendencies. And just like Wiggins, Wiseman has had some frustrating tendencies to start his career. Yes, he’s explosive in the open floor. He makes some nifty passes and has a nice stroke from all over the floor for a true big man. But even at 7’1″, he struggles to get contested buckets in the paint.

He also has failed to make impact as a rebounder despite almost always being the biggest player on the floor for either team. His boxouts are sloppy and his failure to use his strength can be infuriating. He’s had some explosive blocks and defensive plays but he struggles to play outside the paint. A center with his quicks and length shouldn’t struggle in space like he does.

None of these early outcomes are massively concerning for a teenage center playing at the highest level of basketball. His ability to learn on the fly has been on display every time he takes foot on the court. He’s also a sponge off the floor, taking every game as a learning experience in his own words. It stands to reason that he should develop quickly, learn to play to his strengths and hide his weaknesses.

Even with the impressive film put forward at times, there are so many questions surrounding Wiseman’s potential. But in Wiggins he has a great example of what not to do when inevitable struggles crop up. Try new things, adjust your methods, and talk to your elder teammates as much as possible. Luckily he’s surrounded by mentors of all kinds that want to see him succeed even more than us fans do.

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About Charlie Cummings

Warriors writer born and raised in the Bay Area. University of Denver graduate currently living in Denver

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