How bad does someone have to be where “minimum acceptable level of competence” is so much of an improvement that we celebrate it like a superstar making a leap into the elite?
Andrew Wiggins is posting .090 WS/48, 1.1 VORP/82, a 1.4 Offensive Box Plus/Minus, and (let’s roll with it) a 19.4 PER.
In other words, “not total crap.” Not good, not by any reasonable standard for a guy making a max post-rookie extension, and certainly not enough to elevate the woeful 10-16 Timberwolves, losers of eight in a row and none by even two possessions (the smallest margin of defeat in the streak has been seven points), to respectability, but there are a lot worse players in the NBA this year.
I suppose we could end it there and say that “basic competence” does not a Most Improved Player make, but let’s go a little deeper into the numbers and see if Wiggins has truly been the guy, even in flashes, that Timberwolves fans hope he’ll be, even if it’s only for long enough to up his trade value so the Wolves can build an actual contender around Karl-Anthony Towns before KAT starts demanding a trade of his own.
The Counting Stats
Let’s start with Wiggins’ famous ability to put up gaudy numbers in a box score.
He’s averaging a career-high 25.1 points per game and 25.6 per 36 minutes. His eFG% of .511 is over .500 for the first time in his career, while his .547 TS% is a small but small counts improvement over the .543 he posted in his second year in the league.
His 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per 36 minutes are career bests, and the assists haven’t come at the expense of more turnovers; his 2.2 per 36 is not the highest in his career (that would be the 2.3 he posted in his second season), and besides, that 1.47 A/TO ratio is the best in his life as well.
Throw in a career-high in blocks (1.1 per 36) and what you’ve got is an across-the-board improvement.
Well, except for the fact that he still can’t make a 3 consistently to save his life (.333 this year, .332 for his career) and he’s shooting 6.5 of them a game, the most of his career, but what does he look like, Steve Kerr out there?
The Advanced Stats
A team of nothing but guys with an .090 WS/48 would be expected to win 37 games, and not for nothing does Wiggins have a stat named after him to define bad contracts.
But he has a positive VORP for the first time in his career—which also means this is the first time you can say and mean “he’s better than whoever they could drag off the Iowa Wolves and give his minutes to.”
And that 1.4 OBPM is better by a mile than the 0.4 in his second year.
But he still can’t guard my dead grandmother (only 0.3 DWS and a -2.0 DBPM that is his worst since 2016-17) and seems to have no discernible clue how to stay engaged when he’s not trying to get his mitts on the ball to hoist up 20.5 shots a game.
But the advanced stats back up the counting stats to a degree. He’s setting career highs in PER, DRB%, TRB%, AST% (by a mile), BLK%, and lowest TOV%. He’s even doing it on his highest-ever usage rate.
To answer the question posed in the headline, no, Andrew Wiggins is not the NBA’s Most Improved Player, not by a country mile, not by any voter for such an award who isn’t stinking drunk when casting the ballot.
But Wiggins…well, he’s not complete garbage anymore. He’s not good either, but he doesn’t completely suck. That’s…something.