Why Aaron Wiggins is the key to the Oklahoma City Thunder
Aaron Wiggins hasn’t lost as a starter this year. His well-rounded blend of skills and athleticism make him a perfect fit for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After Tuesday’s eye-popping 33-point beatdown of Boston, the Oklahoma City Thunder are now 7-0 with Aaron Wiggins (no relation to Andrew Wiggins) as a starter this season. The team is 9-21 in other games.
As coach Mark Daigneault has noted, Aaron’s mere presence at the tip-off circle doesn’t guarantee a Thunder win. Wiggins isn’t some hidden superstar, waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting league. But he is the exact kind of player every winning team needs: an unselfish, energetic two-way player capable of hounding opposing guards on defense while filling the gaps on offense.
Let’s start at the top. Wiggins is +61 in 209 minutes as a starter and has been a +13 or higher in five of his seven starts. According to Cleaning The Glass, Wiggins has the second-best on-off differential among Thunder players who have played at least 500 minutes, as the team is +5.1 points per 100 possessions better with Wiggins on the floor than off.
Aaron’s per-game statistics as a starter don’t jump off the page (he’s averaging 11.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists), but he’s posting lovely 53/39/85 percent shooting splits, so he’s doing his job without making mistakes (fewer than one turnover per game).
Aaron Wiggins doesn’t take anything off the table for the Thunder
Merely looking at the stats blurs the picture, however; a deeper look at the film provides clarity for Thunder fans’ rose-tinted glasses. There’s almost nothing Wiggins can’t do.
Want a post-up on a smaller player (Ja Morant, no less?)? Coming right up:
Although not a ballhandler, Wiggins can break down slower players off the dribble with ease:
Wiggins can drain 3s (although he has been a little trigger-shy at times. Fire away, Aaron!) and is active in transition, using his speed and hops to get out on the break with gusto. He’s even a good screener, averaging 1.1 screen assists per game (more than any other Thunder non-big).
However, his biggest strength as an offensive player is as a cutter. Just over half of his shots come at the rim, a massive number for a small wing, and 64 percent of made close-range buckets are assisted. On a team with several plus passers, like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, the ability to improvise and find space will be rewarded:
Wiggins is also a good positional passer himself, and his specialty is the driving dump-off. It takes a cutter to feed a cutter, after all:
On the other end, Wiggins is an above-average defender, locking down the opposing team’s best guard and regularly providing clinics on screen navigation. His 6-foot-11 wingspan provides some leeway for positioning mistakes, and he’s significantly improved his rotations and help defense in his second year (if anything, he can be a little overzealous pinching in).
Wiggins is a strong positional rebounder (particularly on the offensive end) despite standing just 6-foot-5, thanks to his pogo-stick jumping and long arms:
All this said, Wiggins still has room for improvement. For one, there are times his aggression can wane. The Thunder are a team with little spacing as it is, and they would be better served at times with Wiggins taking the shot the defense gives him rather than resetting the offense yet again. He could also stand to tighten his handle, although that’s a longer-term project. But I’m picking nits: Wiggins is a well-rounded, efficient, two-way player who fits in nicely with any number of Thunder lineups.
OKC already has Shai and Josh Giddey as primary ballhandlers, and Aleksej Pokusevski (when healthy), rising rookie Jalen Williams, and Tre Mann as secondary ballhandlers. Shai and Josh, especially, need clever, complementary offensive pieces and frontline defensive help around them.
Add it all up, and Wiggins is the exact kind of fifth starter a team like the Thunder needs. I hate the term “glue guy,” but Wiggins’ winning qualities should help him stick in this league for a long time, starter or not.
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