Minnesota Timberwolves: Analyzing Andrew Wiggins’ top scoring games this season (so far)

BROOKLYN, NY - JANUARY 3: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - JANUARY 3: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

What can we learn from Minnesota Timberwolves’ wing Andrew Wiggins’ top scoring outputs of the season so far?

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a $147 million question to answer.

Was Andrew Wiggins worth the five-year mega-deal that the team gave him prior to the 2017-18 season? The 6’-8”, 194-pound wing still doesn’t turn 24 until next month, and at times, the 2014 No. 1-overall pick has looked like a competent Robin next to lead actor Karl-Anthony Towns’ Batman.

Much to the frustration of Minnesota fans, however, there have also been moments where  Wiggins impact is hardly noticeable. Is the former Kansas Jayhawk worth additional patience, or is it time for the team to shop their underachieving star as the NBA trade deadline approaches?

Wiggins is a capable scorer, currently averaging 17.7 points per game and carrying a career average of 19.5 points per contest. Twenty-point scorers in the NBA are not easy to come by, and many could consider moving on from the young wing hitting the panic button too soon.

Let’s examine Wiggins’ 10 highest-scoring performances this year and see what, if any, conclusions can be drawn from them.

23 points – November 14 win vs. New Orleans Pelicans

In a home game against the Pelicans, Wiggins logged 38 minutes while scoring 23 points. He was 8-of-22 from the field (36.4 percent), 4-of-9 from three (44.4 percent) and 3-of-5 from the free throw line. Wiggins posted a plus-minus of -5 and the Timberwolves won the game by a score of 107-100.

23 points, November 16 win vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Wiggins posted  similar numbers in his next outing at Target Center against the Blazers. A stat-line of 9-for-21 from the field (42.9 percent), 3-8 from three (37.5 percent) and a perfect 2-for-2 from the free throw line was good enough for the Timberwolves to help the Wolves to a 112-96 win. Wiggins was a +17 in this contest in 37 minutes.

23 points, January 24 win at Los Angeles Lakers

Another 23-point outing for Andrew, but this time he did his work on the road at Staples Center. He posted stats of 9-of-23 from the field (39.1 percent), 1-of-4 from three (25 percent) and 4-for-5 from the free throw line. In another Timberwolves victory, this time by the score of 120-105, Wiggins was a +15 in 37 minutes.

25 points, December 12 loss at Sacramento Kings

In one of only three losses in this list, Wiggins was 10-for-15 from the field (66.7 percent), 2-for-5 from deep (40 percent) and 3-for-4 at the line. He played 37 minutes and posted a plus-minus of +2 but the Timberwolves fell, 141 to 130. Notably, this is also the only game this season in which Wiggins shot north of 60 percent from the field.

26 points, December 5 win vs. Charlotte Hornets

In a home Timberwolves win by a score of 121-104, Andrew posted a stat line of 11-of-19 shooting (57.9 percent), 3-5 from three (60 percent), and 1-of-3 at the free throw line. Wiggins was an impressive +26 in 34 minutes of action.

28 points, January 6 win vs. Los Angeles Lakers

In a winning effort against the Lakers (the Wolves won easily by a score of108-86), Wiggins posted a stat line of 9-of-23 shooting (39.1 percent), 3-for-10 from three (30 percent) and 7-for-11 from the the charity stripe. Andrew played 36 minutes and was a +18 on the night.

30 points, December 23 win at Oklahoma City Thunder

While logging 42 minutes in Oklahoma City, Wiggins was 11-of-20 from the field (55 percent), 2-of-4 from deep (50 percent) and 6-of-10 at the free throw line. Andrew was a -8 on the night but was clutch late in a 114-112 Minnesota victory.

31 points, January 2 loss at Boston Celtics

In a losing effort in Boston, Wiggins posted a stat line of 10-of-18 from the field (55.6 percent), 2-5 from three (40 percent) and was 9-of-12 at the line. The wing posted a plus-minus of -14 in 31 minutes of play.

35 points, January 27 loss vs. Utah Jazz

In a 10-point home loss that was closer than the final margin, Wiggins poured in 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting (56.5 percent), 3-of-8 from deep (37.5 percent) while making 6-of-7 free throw attempts. He played 38 minutes and logged a plus-minus of -6.

40 points, January 8 win at Oklahoma City Thunder

Another successful night in Oklahoma City yielded a stat line of 11-of-24 shooting (45.8 percent), 2-for-4 from beyond the arc (50 percent) and a season-high 16 made free throws in 18 attemps from the free throw line for Wiggins. The team won by a score of 119-117 while Andrew posted a plus-minus of -3 in 40 minutes of play.

What, if anything, does this list tell us?

At first glance it may seem like there is little that can be deciphered.

Of the 10 games, five were away from home while four were at Target Center. Individual-game plus-minus is a fickle stat, and indeed, his falling on the positive or negative side of the ledger was hit-and-miss on this list, too.

In this sample size, most of Wiggins’ shooting percentages land fairly close to his season averages of 39.6 percent from the field, 34.3 percent from deep and 71.1 percent from the free throw line.

The stats that stand out the most are field goal attempts and free throw attempts. On most of Wiggins’ higher scoring nights, he attempted 20 or more shots from the field. This is higher than his season average of 16.3. In each of Andrew’s top-5 scoring games, he attempted seven or more free throws, which is up from his season average of just 4.5.

Essentially, in order for Wiggins to score more, he is going to need to take more shots. He is, after all, known as a “volume scorer”. And while this makes practical sense, however, the real indicator seems to be foul shot attempts. When Andrew is attacking the rim, his free throw opportunities are bound to increase as well.

The question the Timberwolves have to answer is how well does this style of play fit next to alpha-wolf Karl-Anthony Towns? Would Towns benefit more from having a cast of wings/guards that demand less touches while also making more out of their limited shot attempts?

It is worth noting that the team went 7-3 in Wiggins’ 10 highest-scoring contests. But that said, would the team be wise to look for additional defensive-oriented, efficient wings more in the mold of Robert Covington (43.1 percent from the floor and 37.8 percent 3-point shooting on the year) to replace Wiggins at potentially a fraction of the cost? Or does the team decide to ride it out and see how the pair of number-one overall draft picks continue to evolve?

Wiggins’ ability to create offense should also keep him around in Minnesota as the team has few other long-term options in the backcourt as Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague are both aging and potentially playing their last season as Timberwolves; Rose is playing on a one-year league minimum deal and Teague has a player option heading into next season.

Wiggins’ contract alone could make him hard to move — unless a team like Memphis wants to make a leap — so look for Minnesota to bank on interim head coach Ryan Saunders to get the most out of the fifth-year wing, perhaps by staggering his minutes with Towns’  to include more time with the bench unit, thereby allowing Andrew to continue his recent offensive aggression.

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Even though it often takes over 20 shot attempts, the numbers suggest that the Timberwolves are more likely to win if Wiggins scores over 22 points. We’ll see if that’s Saunders’ approach to trying to maximize the impact of Andrew Wiggins moving forward.