Andrew Wiggins’ offensive performance to start the first 10 games wasn’t ideal.
He was averaging 15.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists, on 43/33/81 shooting splits and 53.9% True Shooting. He had spurts of rim aggression — using his burst and vertical athleticism to put pressure on defenses and draw fouls — but they were mixed in with bouts of mid-range settling and inefficient scoring.
Wiggins is effective whenever he does decide to be aggressive, but the problem has always been his reluctance to put his shoulders down and embrace physicality and contact. That has been one of the biggest knocks on his game.
On a team that is replete with intelligent decision making and perimeter shooting, Wiggins’ ability to collapse defenses inward is crucial. It creates advantage situations, and in turn, the reluctance of defenses to sag off the likes of Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole opens up driving and cutting lanes that provide Wiggins with plenty of attacking avenues.
One bright spot to Wiggins’ early season start has been an increased rim-attempt frequency. Including those that have resulted in free throws, around 38% of his shots have been at the rim — significantly more than the 31% rate he posted last season, and placing him at the 80th percentile among wings in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.
The aforementioned attention Wiggins’ teammates garner gives him more opportunities to be aggressive; the onus is on him to grab those opportunities with fervor and confidence — which he did a couple of times against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Nothing was more exemplary than this poster dunk on Karl-Anthony Towns:
Anthony Edwards’ indecision — being caught up on whether to help on Curry on the wing or stick to Wiggins in the corner — plays a huge part in making Wiggins’ dunk possible. The baseline practically begs for Wiggins to take it all the way to the rim, much to Town’s chagrin, whose attempt to rotate and help is admirable but ends up being the wrong business decision.
“(Wiggins’ aggression) is huge,” Curry said. “Obviously, he’s capable of doing that. He’s got all the physical presence and skillset to impact the game like that on the offensive end and obviously, on the defensive end he does it. But obviously an efficient night.
Wiggins was indeed efficient, finishing with 35 points on 19 shots, including 3-of-6 on threes and 84.3% True Shooting. It was perhaps the first time this season that he took full advantage of his skill-set — which may have been due to him finally getting into full shape, not long after dealing with a minor injury.
“He started camp with a knee issue and we had him on a minutes restriction for the first four or five games,” Steve Kerr said. “It didn’t look like he was in rhythm and I don’t think I did a great job, frankly, of putting him in positions to score and to attack. I thought we did a better job tonight of getting him into a position to do that, but it was all him obviously attacking and getting to the rim and really being aggressive.”
While Wiggins’ efficiency, aggression, and two poster dunks on Towns will capture the headlines and dominate SportsCenter highlight reels, there was a particular sequence that helped secure the win for the Warriors — and of course, Wiggins was involved in it.
Sans Draymond Green, who was ruled out of the game due to a thigh contusion, the Warriors needed scoring late in the 4th quarter to separate themselves from a resurgent Wolves team. They managed to score on a nifty wrinkle on a staple set play:
The Warriors’ “modified” low-post split action — the modification taking the form of a screen up top and a dive cut before proceeding to the classic split-action maneuver — is used in the possession above, but with a twist.
After Curry curls around Poole and dive cuts toward the rim, he sets a screen for Wiggins underneath, who is stationed at the dunker spot, that frees him up for the curl and the dunk.
Another sequence that helped the Warriors pull away from the Wolves involved the classic Curry “gravity.” Out of a timeout, the Warriors draw up a series of screens for Curry that bamboozles the Wolves defense:
Starting from the left corner, Curry runs around a Wiggins down-screen and cuts to the opposite side to make use of another down-screen from Kevon Looney. Curry’s defender, Patrick Beverley, has a stick-to-Curry-at-all-times mindset, which allows Looney to slip the screen.
Naz Reid, Looney’s man, assumes a switch is coming, but Beverley isn’t on the same page. The result: two defenders sticking to Curry, and Looney being wide open under the rim for the dunk.
Having a so-so start to the season himself, Looney found a matchup he could thrive in — against Towns — and came out of it with a double-double: 11 points and 17 rebounds. He was largely a deterrent against Towns, whose 17 points were scored on an inefficient 6-of-19 from the field.
Considering the fact that Towns is an elite shooting big — he is a career 40% shooter on threes, and is averaging nearly 47% on 7 attempts per game this season — Looney was still able to haul in the boards despite having to guard Towns out on the perimeter for the majority of the time.
“That’s one of the toughest matchups in the league with Towns,” Kerr said. “Towns is a great great player and for Loon to go out there and battle them and get 17 rebounds and play 29 minutes. That’s a pretty, pretty heavy load for Loon, but it’s where he is now. That’s the great thing. He’s healthy again and it’s so great to see because he’s one of those guys you just root for, the way he works.”
It was Wiggins’ turn to shine against his old team, while Looney also had a significant impact. The Warriors’ next-man-up philosophy continues to win them games, but a collective effort will be needed for them to pass their toughest test yet — against the Chicago Bulls on Friday.
With the possibility of Green sitting out that contest, it could be a tough obstacle to overcome. But with a deeper team, a stronger collective buy-in, and of course, having Curry on the team, the Warriors should put up a fight, no matter the outcome.