For the better part of three seasons, Andrew Wiggins has been a one-way player. An incredibly offensively talented wing who has been bad on defense. How bad you might ask? Well, Wiggins’ Defensive Box Plus/Minus has been negative every season in the NBA. -2.9 for 2016-17, -2.5 for 2015-16, and his rookie year was -1.8. His Defensive Win Share has never broken one. According to synergy stats, the most widely used advanced stat metric system, Wiggins is statistically a below average defender. He gave up .975 points per possession during the 2016-17 season and that placed him in the 22nd percentile of all NBA players.

Wiggins runs into most of his troubles on defense by standing and watching, much like a certain 2015-16 James Harden. You’ll see in the first clip he allows DeMar DeRozan to get space to the corner and he easily gets picked off by Kyle Lowry. Wiggins has a problem of allowing his man to have ample mounts of free space that even a 256GB iPhone’s storage couldn’t handle.

Here Wiggins gives DeRozan space again, only this time it’s understandable. DeRozan isn’t a lethal threat from the perimeter, but the Wolves defense of Ricky Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns should handle this. There’s isn’t any reason for Wiggins to be helping this much.

Standing and watching is not the only issue, as Wiggins doesn’t seem to be ready on defense. In this clip you witness players he will be guarding use an offensive move he tends to utilise himself quite well, the backdoor cut. For a wing as athletically inclined as Wiggins he should not be crept past as easily as he is.

With many young defenders, you tend to spot that they don’t communicate very well with each other. Communication breakdowns lead to switching difficulties and makes navigating screens when guarding a primary ball handler like Gordon Hayward extremely difficult. Wiggins will seemly get picked off quite easily, or he won’t fight through screens to adequately defend his man. The Minnesota Timberwolves’ roster is one of the youngest in all of the NBA so communication breakdowns have been frequent for Wiggins’ first three seasons.

In the examples below, Wiggins does not get to his own man in transition which presents an issue between himself and teammates. The first possession the only explanation for the lacklustre defense seems to be Wiggins being lethargic. He slowly jogs down the court while Gorgui Dieng backpedals quickly and beats Marcin Gortat to his spot. Dieng gets off Gortat to defend the shot but it’s far too late as Otto Porter drains the open three. In the second clip, even though Porter misses the shot, Wiggins doesn’t recognize his teammates are already back. The paint is packed and even though John Wall is a dangerous driver there’s not any room to make a move while Porter, a 40+ percent shooter from beyond is left open.

One Steal a Game is Misleading

There’s been great debate recently over if steals are an over-hyped box score stat, or they have serious meaningful value. For Wiggins it is definitely an over-hyped average in his stat line. He managed to go 30 games without registering any steals at all and then went on to average one steal per game on the season last year. After reviewing much of the 82 steals of 2016-17, he manages to simply get this many steals by the ball just falling into his hands through bad passes or miscues by an opposing player. In the 52 games Wiggins got a steal, 21 of those games he picked up two or more steals, and eight of those 21 he managed three or more.


Wiggins’ career has been defined by potential, latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness. The wing’s long reach and athletic prowess set in motion the idea he’d be a fairly useful player on the defensive end of the court. So far, defensively he has looked like a lost puppy, but lost puppies can eventually find their way. Wiggins is still only 22-years-old and he does still have all the physical tools to be an average NBA defender at least.

On the ball, Wiggins has shown promise of fulfilling his potential as a defender. Making a play on the ball like this one, he utilizes his long arms and quickness to deflect LeBron James‘ pass. He collects the ball and races down the floor and finishes through contact over LeBron (Wiggins in transition generates 1.325 points per possession – 88th percentile).

When actively engaged when defending, Wiggins’ potential shines. In this clip he’s able to shred the screen and deflect a pass intended for the cutting Klay Thompson. Minnesota picks up the deflected ball and runs down on offense attempting for an early score. In the second clip, Wiggins takes it upon himself to switch off his man (correct help), and then using his natural capabilities to deflect the ball. Also note his footwork, setting his feet, and when he jumps he does not extend his arms towards the offensive player.


When Wiggins matches up with similar or smaller players he’s able to disrupt the player like in this example of him guarding Brandon Ingram. Ingram isn’t able to get closer to the rim and settles for an awful turnaround jumper in the lane.

Wiggins’ long seven-foot reach leaves you like a Saint Bernard needing a towel to dry the drool around your face and chin, that sort of length can wreak havoc if developed appropriately.  Many times he has very active hands and volley’s the basketball up into the air for himself or a teammate to collect. Sometimes, Wiggins will just have his hands in the passing lanes creating loose balls or he’ll use his quickness to slide in front of a pass to pick it off like Deion Sanders. Remember above how Wiggins is in the 88th percentile of scoring in transition? Getting better defensively could lead to Wiggins becoming a significantly more efficient offensive player by making plays defensively like these.

Tough Match-ups

Each and every single night in the NBA there aren’t many easy match-ups. When you are anointed the next something, or future everything like Andrew Wiggins you get tough match-ups night in, night out. When Minnesota and Golden State come together, Wiggins lands Kevin Durant. If the nightly contest is the Toronto Raptors, he’s picking up DeRozan for the majority of the game. If it’s Boston, he’s looking at an affair with Gordon Hayward. When Jimmy Butler was playing for Chicago, you got it, again Wiggins. Wiggins was even tasked with guarding Butler his third game of his young career. With the Wolves leading late Butler duped Wiggins with a shot fake and drew a foul leading the Bulls to victory. When Minnesota is faced with Greg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard, again for the majority of the game it’s Andrew Wiggins getting the nod. Take a few minutes to watch the videos below of Wiggins defending each of the top wing players in the NBA.


What’s next?

Being rated as a below average defender, Andrew Wiggins must improve. The lapses of focus seem to be the easiest fix but many coaches can give examples of players never getting it. Tom Thibodeau made a move in June that potentially could lock Wiggins in and rid the bad habits he’s exhibited through his first three seasons.

To clarify the aforementioned scenario, Minnesota shipped Zach LaVine to Chicago for an arguably top-10 player in Jimmy Butler in June. Pairing Butler and Wiggins together in the backcourt could significantly propel Wiggins’ potential on defense as Butler is a top tier perimeter defender himself.

The pairing in theory should be able to accelerate the learning curve of Coach Thibodeau’s defensive scheme for Wiggins, a scheme Butler perfected as a player under Thibs during his reign in the Windy City. While Butler has been in Chicago without the head coach for the last two years, he’s still excelled on the defensive side while also becoming a much more lethal scorer. Butler became a legitimate ball handler and playmaker that gives the Wolves options offensively and defensively that Wiggins has never experienced in his young career. Having another scorer should allow Wiggins to have energy on defense, and thus maximise his untapped potential.

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