Everyone wants Andrew Wiggins to attack the rim, but will he?
MINNEAPOLIS—There were times in the Minnesota Timberwolves' much-needed-109-103 victory over Golden State on Sunday, March 11, when it appeared as though the flip had switched for Andrew Wiggins.
He challenged the Warriors' defense by getting into the paint and creating easy looks for himself. The result: 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting. It was the first time in awhile that Wiggins looked like the dangerous offensive weapon everyone knows he can be. And his approach seemed to have everything to do with it.
"Just trying to find open spots and stay aggressive," Wiggins said. "I had my mind set on not settling for jump shots unless it's there and just driving to the rim."
That's music to the ears of everyone else in the Wolves' building. Wiggins has all the tools necessary to be one of the league's great scorers—his spin move and Eurostep are nearly impossible to defend—yet he seems to limit himself based largely on his shot selection. The least efficient shot in the game, the 20-foot jumper, is Wiggins' go-to look.
Wiggins often says he's taking what the defense gives him, but there's a reason defenses give that shot up. Teams rejoice when players such as Wiggins take long twos instead of attacking the bucket. If LeBron James simply took what the defense gave him, he would shoot nothing but jumpers. At some point, great offensive players need to dictate what shot they take.
"We told him to quit settling, man, and get to the basket," point guard Jeff Teague said. "He's one of the best athletes in the NBA."
The first quarter Sunday showed just how effective Wiggins can be when he's assertive. Through the first 12 minutes, Wiggins went 4 for 5 for a team-high nine points. Three of those makes were either in the paint or the restricted area. His other make was a three, while his lone miss was a mid-range jump shot.
Wiggins' hot start had everything to do with his previous struggles. Against Boston on Thursday, Wiggins finished with 13 points on abysmal 6-for-21 shooting.
"My shot wasn't really falling last game, so I told myself to just get to the rim early," he said. "Get some easy ones and get going."
That should be his mind-set every time out, but consistency has never been Wiggins' forte. Over the final three quarters Sunday, he took one shot in the restricted area, two in the paint, five from the mid-range and three from beyond the arc.
His shooting stats over the final 36 minutes: 5 for 11—not bad, but not great.
"I settle sometimes," Wiggins said. "I love my shot."
It's tough to know why. All players need to be confident in their shot, but they don't need to rely on it. Particularly Wiggins, whose shot has often betrayed him during his career. This season, Wiggins is shooting 58 percent on shots in the restricted area or the paint. That number drops to 34 percent on shots from all other areas of the court.
Yet despite the discrepancy, just 43 percent of Wiggins' shots this season have come from in close. That's a change from each of his first three seasons, when at least 50 percent of Wiggins' attempts came in the restricted area or the paint. Wiggins averaged 6.4 free-throw attempts a game over his first three seasons. That number is down to 3.9 this season.
Maybe it's been part of his adjustment to playing alongside other scorers such as Teague or Jimmy Butler, maybe it has something to do with his poor free-throw shooting this season (64 percent), but by not attacking the rim, Wiggins is relegating himself to the areas where he's least effective.
"I've just got to stay aggressive, keep driving and putting pressure on the defense," he said.
That's been a constant frustration for everyone who watches Wiggins, but at least the 23-year-old guard is starting to see the fault in his ways. The question is, will he do something about it?
"He's got to do it. It's in him. I see it. I know he sees it," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I think he's played, for the most part, really well since the all-star break, and I want more. I want more aggressiveness. I want him to keep attacking. His teammates do (too). When he gets downhill, it's almost impossible to stop."