On January 27, Andrew Wiggins had perhaps the best day of his career. He was named an NBA All-Star for the first time (and a starter at that), just hours before playing a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he had spent his entire career before being traded to the Golden State Warriors.
He dropped a highly-efficient 19 points in that game with a few nice highlights, and threw in 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks, without a turnover. Two days later he had a very efficient 24 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks, again without a turnover, and on the final day of January recorded, efficiently once more, 23 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, with just 1 turnover.
And that was the last we saw of that Wiggins.
Wiggins rested in the first game of February, but has played in all 10 of the Warriors games since then.
He’s yet to score 20 points in any of those games, and has exceeded 15 points just twice. He’s shooting just 41.5% from the field, 36.2% from the three-point line, and 41.2% from the free throw line, while averaging a mere 13.6 points per game. He’s had just one game with multiple blocks after those three straight, and his defense has, on the whole, looked nothing like the All-Defense level that many anointed him with early in the season.
In those three hot games before the slump, Wiggins put up plus/minuses of +16, +14, and +17, giving him five straight games with a positive double-digit plus/minus. In the 10 games since he’s had a positive plus/minus just three times, topping out at +7 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Plus/minus is a team stat, so take that with a grain of salt as the Warriors have, as a team, been playing quite poorly. But Wiggins is a big part of the team, and the Dubs’ struggles have been at least in part due to his poor play.
So what’s going on?
In addition to the obvious answer, which is the same one that’s plaguing the Warriors right now — slumps happen — there are a few weaknesses in Wiggins’ game that can be identified.
Lack of aggression
Your eyes might have popped out a little bit when you saw that Wiggins’ free throw percentage over the last 10 games is a paltry 41.2%. But that figure is in dire need of context: Wiggins has only attempted 17 free throws in that time, and made seven of them.
The big issue is not that Wiggins has shot such a low percentage, because the sample size can partially explain it. Instead, the issue is that he’s only attempted 17 free throws, which is a measly 1.7 per game.
That’s a frighteningly low number for an athletic wing in the modern game, especially one who is tasked with being the tertiary, or often secondary scorer. For reference, 1.7 free throw attempts per game would rank tied for 127th in the league. Of the 68 NBA players who are averaging at least 31.3 minutes per game — Wiggins’ mark over this 10 game stretch — only five are averaging fewer than 1.7 free throw attempts per game: Mikal Bridges, Seth Curry, Josh Giddey, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Royce O’Neal.
Wiggins’ inability to get to the charity stripe hasn’t been because he’s avoiding contact, but rather because he’s simply avoiding the rim altogether. Prior to this slump, Wiggins was averaging 3.3 attempts per game in the restricted area, with another 2.8 attempts per game in the non-restricted area of the paint, with just 2.5 mid-range attempts per game. Since the start of February, he’s averaging a mere 1.3 attempts per game in the restricted area, with a virtually identical 2.9 attempts per game in the non-restricted area of the paint, and even more mid-range attempts: 3.0 per game.
For a player with a deep offensive toolkit but often middling efficiency, that shift in shot quality can be the difference, quite literally, between being an All-Star and being a below-average player. And in fact, his pre-February true-shooting percentage of 58.7% was well above the league average (56.1%), and would rank 46th in the league out of 187 qualified players — tied with Jimmy Butler, and just ahead of Jusuf Nurkić, Bam Adebayo, and James Harden.
His true-shooting percentage since then (49.5%) would rank 178th — ahead of just 10 players, half of whom are rookies.
On the one hand, Wiggins is slumping, and variance tipping a little bit in his favor would make his numbers much more palatable. On the other hand, his efficiency has always been a game with a minimal margin for error, and his shot selection lately is the primary culprit for his poor play.
Lack of defensive ... umm ... focus?
I struggle to ever say a player isn’t focusing, because it’s imposable to know what’s happening with the mental element of the game. But whatever Wiggins is doing on defense, it plays out very similarly to someone who isn’t feeling particularly committed and focused on that end of the court.
You could make the case that Wiggins’ defense has been overrated for a while now, but it has been quite solid for much of the season. Lately? Not so much. His off-ball defense — long the weak point of his defensive repertoire — has been virtually non-existent lately. His close outs have been late and undisciplined, he’s lost players countless times to open corner looks or backcuts, and the energy level just seems low.
Is it mid-season exhaustion? Regression? A lack of inspiration with the rest of the team struggling?
It’s unclear. But what we do know is that the Warriors defense, No. 1 in the league all year, has been ranked No. 21 over the last 10 games. Wiggins is far from the only person deserving blame for that, but he’s advertised himself as a two-way player, and at the moment that label isn’t bearing any fruit.
Lack of help
I caught a lot of flack earlier this year when I said that if Wiggins and former Warrior Harrison Barnes swapped places it would be Barnes in the All-Star Game, not Wiggins. I didn’t mean that as an indictment of Wiggins — Barnes is having a fine season — but rather a reminder that much is hidden when you’re on a good team, and extra credit is often doled out, while the inverse is true if you’re stuck on a bad team (Wiggins and Barnes’ numbers, it’s worth noting, are strikingly similar).
Wiggins deserves credit for taking massive strides over the last two years, but some of the perceived growth is really getting to pair his offense with one of the greatest offensive players in the game, and his defense with one of the greatest defensive players.
With Draymond Green sidelined for the last 25 games, Wiggins’ defense has looked substantially worse. And with Steph Curry struggling a little bit in his own right, while Klay Thompson bounces in and out of the lineup and looks for his rhythm, Wiggins has looked a bit lost on offense.
Again: Wiggins deserves tons of credit for turning himself into a valuable player and an All-Star. But the underlying narrative was always that he’d found the right situation in which to thrive, and with the Warriors both slumping and injured, the situation is no longer rosy. And as a result, Wiggins no longer looks effective.
Hopefully in a few games, weeks, or months, we look back on this rough patch in Wiggins’ season and smile, seeing it as the dip before the eruption. It’ll start with better shot selection and more defensive commitment, as Wiggins has never been the rebounder or playmaker to make up for faltering scoring and defense.
For now though, it’s fair to be a little concerned.