Is Andrew Wiggins headed for a sophomore slump?


Andrew Wiggins, the number-one pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, earned the Rookie of the Year award last spring after showcasing his abilities last season, especially late in the year. Post-All-Star break, Wiggins averaged 20 points, five boards, and a steal per game.

His ascension late in the season caused many to select him as a potential breakout player of the year for the 2015-2016 season. And after terrific play for the Canadian team over the summer, Wiggins appears poised to have an incredible sophomore season.

Fast-forward through the preseason and first game of the regular season, and one could say the guard has struggled a little bit over that period of time. In the eight total games so far (seven preseason, one regular season), Wiggins has scored more than 15 points just twice, and each of those games were the only times Wiggins shot over 40% from the floor in the eight contests.

More from Dunking with Wolves

In an emotional game against the Lakers on Wednesday, the Canadian seemingly disappeared at times throughout the game. Of course, his personality isn’t to be continually shouting like Kevin Garnett, or constantly smiling like Stephen Curry. But Wiggs simply looked out of it, not demanding the ball or imposing his will on the Lakers, especially when the Wolves needed a bucket.

One play that stood out to me was in the fourth quarter as the Wolves were battling back from a deficit. Rubio brought the ball up the floor and directed the offense. Wiggins started in the corner, stretching the floor. The ball was shuffled around from player to player, but not Wiggins. The shot clock wound down and a bad shot was taken as it expired without the expected breakout player for 2015-2016 touching the ball. He remained in the corner the entire time.

Is this the Wiggins we’ll see more often than not this year?

Yes, Wiggins did show some exceptional defensive play against Kobe Bryant in the closing minutes, but I’m talking about more from the offensive side of things.

The Sophomore Slump could be a real thing.

The idea that a player that plays exceptionally well in his first season and regresses noticeably in his second season is indeed rooted in some precedent; an article from International Business Times took a look at this theory. By using Win Shares, the writer took a look at the increase or decrease of players from their first season to their second. The data can be seen in this graph.

As you can see, despite the theory of the Sophomore Slump proclaiming that second-year players generally see a decrease in production, a majority of the players actually increased their Win Share production. So while some players’ production decreased, the average, and, I suppose, the expectation, is that a player will ameliorate his play in his second year.

Players like MarShon Brooks, Tyreke Evans, Harrison Barnes, Iman Shumpert and the fans of their respective teams would beg to differ that the Sophomore Slump is actually a real difficulty for second-year players. However, perhaps it’s only because we notice more often when a great rookie dips significantly in his second season, rather than a rookie ascending to greatness, that fans presume most second year players see a drop in production. The numbers say that most players that have good rookie seasons actually continue to improve and get better.

The article concludes by saying that “the data suggests that the sophomore slump, as an overarching trend, does not exist.”

Does this mean that Wiggins is immune to a decline in play this season? Unfortunately, whether or not the Sophomore Slump exists, he isn’t. In fact, many factors could lead a decrease in production for Wiggins.

One, Wiggins has new teammates. Karl-Anthony Towns is the new number-one pick in “town” (thank you, thank you…). He’s going to be looking for the ball and looking for shots. Rubio showed a great improvement in his scoring ability in his first game and if it keeps up, he’ll also need more shots. Martin could be playing for a potential spot on a contending tea, requiring him to showcase his ability to score.

LaVine, Muhammad, and Bjelica are all going to be trying to get more minutes off the bench by showing they belong on the floor and can make buckets, especially LaVine and Muhammad.

Oct 23, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots in the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Target Center. The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Milwaukee Bucks 112-108. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

All this being said, there are a lot of players hungry for the ball. And while the Wolves are sporting a new “We” theme for the season, that doesn’t just negate the desires for players to get the ball. Wiggins could see less looks, which could be a problem for him, being he scores a lot of his points by getting to the line with volume.

Another factor that could affect Wiggins play is that defenses will be more prepared to defend him. Teams know he likes to post-up, make moves in order to get to the line, and shoot step-back jumpers from both sides of the floor.

Wiggins will need to adjust if other teams start to take away certain parts of his offensive game. One way is to continue to develop his three-point game, which he has been doing already, knocking down nine threes during preseason play.

Finally, Sam Mitchell taking the reigns as head coach of the Timberwolves could have an affect on Wiggins’ play. The late Flip Saunders showed a clear desire to get Wiggins the ball often last season, making him the focal point of the offense. But will Mitchell do the same?

Mitchell has experience coaching a young star. Chris Bosh was 20 and in his second season when Sam Mitchell took over as the head man in Toronto. There was no drop in Bosh’s production when he worked with his new coach. Bosh’s play increased until he reached All-Star-level for the Toronto Raptors.

All in all, while the Sophomore Slump may not exist, it wouldn’t even be talked about if it hadn’t happened to players before. Wiggins has a chance to continue to develop into an elite NBA talent, but it will take hard work and help from the team to give him opportunities to lead this young squad.

Personally, I think Wiggins is headed to the All-Star Game this year and won’t be the guy we saw on Wednesday night during a nationally televised game. But it’s far from a sure thing. Which, I guess is one of the reasons why the NBA is so entertaining: you just never know what is going to happen next.

Perhaps Wolves fans will be encouraged with an incredible performance by Wiggins tonight against Denver in which scores 30+ points, gets to the line 10+ times, and plays terrific defense…perhaps.

Next: Ricky Rubio's Magical Opening Night