Andrew Wiggins has fooled us before. His athletic gifts prodigious, he has, in tantalizing stretches over the course of his still-young career, validated the best of our expectations. But too often -- every single time in fact -- those glimpses have faded, and those expectations have returned to informing our frustration.
Right now, Wiggins is giving us another glimpse.
Are we fools to trust what has burned us before?
In that question might well lie the answer to the Golden State Warriors' capacity to, over the long haul, buck the early cynicism we attached to them collectively and make good on the expectations we're now reforming on the fly. If the playoffs started this minute, the Warriors would be in. Stephen Curry is a top-tier MVP candidate. Draymond Green has sharpened the defense into a just-dangerous-enough weapon.
Indeed, if the Warriors looked like a drowning team to start, Curry and Green have rescued them. But Wiggins has often been the buoy before those saviors arrived, keeping Golden State's head above water while Curry sits or finds himself frozen out of possessions inside an off-ball swarm.
In those moments, Wiggins has gone to work, creating one-on-one offense to the tune of 1.42 points per isolation possession with a 68.2 adjusted field goal percentage, per Synergy. The former puts Wiggins in the 92nd percentile league-wide. The latter reflects the five 3-pointers Wiggins is taking per game, which he is making at a career-high 40-percent clip, per Cleaning the Glass.
You're going to hear "career-high" a lot in this article, and even that designation doesn't do justice to just how significant an outlier this season, so far, has been for Wiggins as an isolation jump-shooter. Consider these efficiency numbers, per Synergy:
Those marks, if sustained, would not represent an improved player. They would represent an entirely different player, albeit one who is still attacking in similar fashion. Yes, Wiggins has cut into his long-mid-range attempts and increased his 3-point volume, but not dramatically.
Per Cleaning the Glass, 18 percent of his shots this season are coming from the long mid-range (classified as outside the free throw line but inside the 3-point arc), which is down from his early Minnesota years when he fired nearly 30 percent of his shots from the maligned mid-range, but up from last season. In other words, this isn't a case of a once-voluminous scorer upping his efficiency by meaningfully altering his shot profile. Instead, Wiggins is simply making more of the same tough shots he's always hoisted.
Entering Tuesday, Wiggins is shooting 44 percent from the long mid-range. Last season he shot 32 percent, and the highest he's shot in his career before this season is 38 percent. All told, he is scoring 1.11 points per possession on all off-the-dribble jumpers, another career-high mark that comes with a 54.4 adjusted field goal percentage. In his five full seasons with the Wolves, the highest PPP that Wiggins recorded as an off-the-dribble jump shooter was 0.75. The highest adjusted field-goal percentage he logged was 37.2.
So far, the Warriors' blueprint is working to perfection: Wiggins is scoring less at a much higher efficiency. In theory, this is a result of the additional space, and easier shots, that Curry's gravity provides, and some of that has proven true; 11 percent of Wiggins' shots are corner 3s, the highest mark of his career and a direct result of his positioning on the floor when Curry runs high pick and rolls.
But he's only making those corner 3s at a 35-percent clip. It's the above-the-break 3s, the significantly tougher shots, that Wiggins is hitting at a 42-percent clip. Also, you would think that Wiggins would be cashing a high volume of catch-and-shoots as Curry draws attention and kicks, but Wiggins is only shooting 31 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, per NBA.com. Meanwhile, he's shooting over 46 percent on pull-up 3-pointers. He's doing a lot of this on his own.
Ten games into the season, all of this begs the question of sustainability. Again, these are tough shots, and Wiggins is actually at a career-low when it comes to the shots that are supposed to be easier, making just 51 percent of his shot at the rim, per CTG. When the tough, contested jumpers dry out, will his penetration game eventually bear more fruit as compensation? Or will Wiggins, on top of suddenly turning into an upper-class defender, just keep shooting like this?
If he does, the Warriors have the No. 2 scorer they need to remain competitive, and the two-way No. 3 scorer that could once again make them a title contender upon Klay Thompson's return next season. But again, this is a big if. Wiggins has fooled us before. Has the culture change really unlocked something different, or are the Warriors being set up for the inevitable disappointment of Wiggins eventually returning to his frustrating ways?