Andrew Wiggins’ off-the-dribble 3 is the key to stardom

Nov 9, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) looks on against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 9, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) looks on against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The youth-infused Minnesota Timberwolves made the rounds in preseason projections as a team on the rise, and one that could threaten for a coveted playoff spot out West. The franchise hasn’t enjoyed postseason basketball since the 2003-04 campaign and after nailing multiple first round draft picks, it’s time to cash in — or so we thought.

The Wolves are off to a dangerously slow start at 5-10 despite generational talent Karl Anthony-Towns, human jumping bean Zach LaVine and the increasingly explosive Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins is still just 21-years-old and is coming off a sophomore season where he averaged 20.7 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting almost 46 percent from the field. Only three other wings 20-or-under put up those numbers — LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Adrian Dantley. While impressive, Maple Jordan is still in the baby deer stage of his scoring acumen and with continued work should only improve in that area.

Last July Wiggins — the unofficial savior of Canadian hoops — released a statement announcing he would not be playing for Team Canada as they attempted to qualify for the Olympics, but would instead focus on improving for the 2016-17 season. So far through 15 games he’s averaging 24.0 points and 4.1 rebounds on 43.3 percent shooting, so the extra work in the gym is paying dividends even if it’s not translating to wins just yet.

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Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Wiggins’ improved scoring arsenal is his efficiency from outside. Over his first two seasons, Wiggins shot 30.4 percent on 3-pointers with 96 made 3s. Right now he’s shooting 42.1 percent from distance and is on pace to hit 131 3-pointers. Quite the improvement indeed.

Wiggins is definitely shooting and making more 3s from all areas of the floor, however it’s his increased proficiency — and frankly his increased willingness — shooting off the dribble that should be the focus.

Look at this pull up 3 against Dario Saric:

Robert Covington goes under the screen, allowing Saric to pick up Wiggins, because frankly he hasn’t shown a propensity to hit that shot with enough regularity to worry the Sixers. Clearly this was the plan coming into the game, and it was a sound strategy given Wiggins’ history.

But check out this pull up against Rondae Hollis-Jefferson; a stout defender even at this point in his career:

Yes, the shot clock was getting low but the pull up occurs with four seconds on the clock, which is more than ample time for Wiggins to attack the paint. Yet, he chooses to pull up for 3, with a hand in his face, and he does it with the internal confidence of a Bruno Mars backup dancer. Just money.

Spacing is of utter importance in today’s NBA. The name of the game is spreading the floor with stretch 4s and 3s who can fill it up as well. The Wolves have Anthony-Towns and providing him with increased space to work in the mid post and on the block should be priority numero uno. If Wiggins can prove to consistently hit these shots off the dribble, then defenders will be forced to fight through screens allowing Wiggins and Towns to almost create a two-on-one situation off the pick.

Just watch Sean Kilpatrick and Bojan Bogdanovic willingly go under screens only to be burned by a Wiggins deep ball:

Wiggins hit six 3s in this game against Brooklyn. You can hear the commentator after the first one saying “he’s 5-of-6” which means Wiggins had already hit FOUR 3s and Kilpatrick still didn’t blink. Wiggins can ultimately force defenders to alter the way they guard him outside of the arc if this pace keeps up.

We are beating a dead horse at this point but here Jeff Green allows Bismack Biyombo to take Wiggins off the pick-and-roll, so Wiggins backs up and drains the 3 over the outstretched hands of Biyombo. The confidence in which he’s taking these shots is important to note, because there’s not a wince of hesitation. These shots aren’t being forced by a dwindling shot clock; he’s choosing to take them because of the offseason work he put in.

Another telling statistic when looking into Wiggins’ surge from behind the 3-point arc the dribble are the assisted vs unassisted numbers.

  • 2015-16: Made 3s were 82.5 percent assisted; 17.5 percent unassisted
  • 2016-17: Made 3s are 56.5 percent assisted; 43.5 percent unassisted

The star forwards in the NBA can create shots on their own accord, and not just any shot, the shot they want to take. Wiggins is adding a weapon to his arsenal before our very eyes and it’s only year three for him.

wiggins3s /

Above you can see the eight small forwards who averaged at least 19 points per game and hit more 3s than Andrew Wiggins in 2015-16. The chart on the left simply shows their raw numbers with the green being above league average from 3 (35.4 percent) and the red being below. Of the elite small forwards in terms of scoring Wiggins was dead last in 3-point efficiency and makes.

The data on the right shows those same small forwards in their third year in the NBA. Wiggins is on pace for 131 made 3s which would be second only to Paul George. There are three paces for Wiggins because he won’t likely finish the season right at 42.1 percent, so there’s a range of hypothetical outcomes with the lowest percentage finishing at league average for him.

His progression in scoring is only going to continue because he’s obviously putting in necessary work to fill the voids in his game. This added weapon is not only going to improve his personal production, but it will help open the half court set options coach Tom Thibodeau can access. Towns won’t be as easily double-teamed, Gorgui Dieng and Cole Aldrich and be successful rolling to the rim out of the pick-and-roll with their increased space and ultimately Wiggins can create foul trouble for opponents off his attack since they will no longer be able to simply drop under screens.

Danilo Gallinari is guarding Wiggins on this play and he literally turns his head to double Towns, completely neglecting him from outside. The more Wiggins is able to hit shots like these, the less teams are going to be willing to leave him to double Towns and others. The domino effect of this added wrinkle to his game is exponential if used correctly by the coaching staff.

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Andrew Wiggins is best when attacking the paint, just like his peers LeBron James, Paul George Kevin Durant, however they have all enjoyed the benefits of a deadly outside shot and now it’s Wiggins’ turn. Settling for outside jumpers should not, and cannot, be an alternative to this however, so as long as Maple Jordan (seriously we don’t use this nickname enough) keeps taking the shots he wants to take, there are numerous benefits.

The Wolves are a disappointment at this point in the season, however their three foundational pieces are all just 21-years-old. Fans do not want to hear the phrase “just be patient”, but that has to be the message at this point. If improvement like this continues, then a full team turnaround is on the horizon, but right now fans can take solace in the small victories; like more 3-pointers.