Finally, after over seven years, Andrew Wiggins is an All-Star.
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. He hasn’t been officially named yet, but he is third among the West’s frontcourt players in the third All-Star fan voting returns, which accounts for 50 percent of the total vote to determine the starters for the NBA All-Star Game.
Wiggins will still need to get enough votes from current players and media members to actually start the game. But as the last man on Wiggins Island, just hearing those four words together—Andrew, Wiggins, All, Star—feels so good.
Even if he doesn’t start, his two-way play has directly contributed to Golden State’s reemergence as a serious contender this season, which should merit him serious consideration by the coaches for one of the reserve slots.
Wiggins’ scoring average of 18.3 points per game isn’t eye-popping—it’s only the fifth-best of his career—but he’s getting those points at a very efficient rate. He’s averaging career-highs in both field goal (48.7%, 5th among small forwards) and three-point shooting (41.6%, 19th in the league) percentages. He is one of only two players averaging at least 18 points on 48% shooting from the field and 41% from deep (the other two are Zach Lavine and Jonas Valanciunas, who is also quietly having a career year).
He is only taking 14 shots per game, the lowest since his rookie season, but is averaging a career-best 2.2 made three-pointers per game. Sometimes an improved three-point shooting percentage is a product of decreased volume, but that’s certainly not the case here. He has hit the same number of three-pointers on the season as the Sixers’ Seth Curry and has 30 more than the Suns’ Mikal Bridges despite playing three fewer games.
To appreciate how much Wiggins’ offensive game has evolved, compare his current shot chart with the one from 2017 (when he averaged a career-high 23.6 points):
More corner threes—the left side is his favorite—and less midrange attempts. Those midrange shots, mostly contested, basically defined his stint at Minnesota and would have driven Steve Kerr crazy if he continued to play that way. So credit to Wiggins for adapting his game to suit the Warriors’ needs.
Side note: Perhaps one of the most underrated aspects of Wiggins as a basketball player is his coachability. Kerr fawns over coaching Wiggins, “He’s so coachable, whatever you ask of him, he does it.” And it’s not just Kerr. Even Tom Thibodeau, the man who I would have forever blamed for stunting Wiggins’ development if he never became an All-Star, has been very complimentary of Wiggins and said that he does what is asked of him. Everybody is now saying that Golden State is the perfect team for Wiggins, but it sure looks like San Antonio whiffed on perhaps the ideal Kawhi replacement in 2018.
In terms of what the Warriors do offensively, Wiggins is either the poor man’s Kevin Durant or the rich man’s Harrison Barnes. He doesn’t possess KD’s otherworldly scoring prowess—I mean, who does?—but unlike Barnes, he’s very comfortable having the ball in his hands when the team needs to manufacture points. Draymond Green perfectly sums up what Wiggins brings, “He is someone that you can go to as an escape valve to get you a bucket, to get to the line and get fouled, to get downhill and get something in the paint or at the rim. And he’s also someone you can leave on the floor and run the offense around.”
He has excelled in that role, particularly in a season where Steph Curry is on pace for the worst shooting year of his career and Klay Thompson just returned to action two weeks ago. I still feel that Kerr is not maximizing Wiggins’ offensive utility, but he is the only Warrior who have scored in double-digits in every game he’s played this season.
He’s also had three games with at least 20 points in the first half. Just to give you an idea how impressive that is, KD, Steph, and Giannis Antetokounmpo each has four such games; Ja Morant and Donovan Mitchell also have three like Wiggins,; while Doncic and Nikola Jokic have two apiece.
Wiggins always had the physical tools to be an elite defender, but it never really translated on the court. That defensive potential never lost its luster in the eyes of the Warriors front office and is the main reason why they traded for him two years ago. “He’s 6’8” and he can guard all the guys that we can no longer guard,” Kerr recounted after the team lost Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Thompson in 2019.
The Warriors have challenged him to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player on a nightly basis, and he’s been up to the task. Wiggins ranks fourth among forwards in defended field goal percentage per NBA.com, holding his opponents to 42.0% shooting with him as the defender (minimum of 500 DFGA), and even ranks ahead of the 2020 DPOY Antetokounmpo (42.3%).
Speaking of the Greek Freak, how many guys have you seen defend him like this?
In two games against the league-leading Suns (Wiggins missed the Christmas game due to the league’s health and safety protocols), he spent 8:22 of game time guarding Chris Paul per NBA.com. He limited the Point God to a single point and forced two turnovers. I mention this because Wiggins’ defense has reached such a level that it can potentially swing the playoff series between the two Western Conference juggernauts come May.
He has formed a beautiful synergy with Draymond Green, the team’s defensive anchor, and this has resulted in the Warriors owning the NBA’s best defense, almost two points per 100 possessions better than the second-place Suns. Green and Wiggins rank 4th and 12th in the league in terms of defensive win shares.
Aided by Green’s defensive quarterbacking, Wiggins has developed a better understanding of angles, of leading opposing ballhandlers to defensive pockets without necessarily making a steal or a block. Watch how he shuts off Trae Young’s options at 0:29 and 0:55 below:
Green is a defensive savant and once again a DPOY frontrunner this season, but he doesn’t quite have the athleticism to be the team’s lockdown defender. In Wiggins, he has found his Winter Soldier, someone who can do his bidding and disrupt the opponent’s primary creator.
What ties Wiggins’ offensive and defensive improvements into a cohesive All-Star case is the fact that the Warriors are winning.
Golden State’s 32-13 record is second in the NBA and ten wins better compared to their record at the same point last season. They have the league’s second-best point differential and net rating. More impressively, they’ve done it with largely the same roster as last season—and Wiggins has been an integral part of the team’s turnaround.
Simply put, he is the second-best scorer and best perimeter defender on one of the two best teams in the NBA. He has a positive rating on both offense and defense per FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR. His RAPTOR wins above replacement rating of 3.2 is just behind the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Morant.
Kerr makes the best case why Wiggins deserves to be an All-Star:
“He’s one of the best two-way players in the league. Night in and night out he gives us 18 or 20 points. He’s shooting 42 percent from the three, he’s guarding the most difficult player on the court every single night at the other end. He’s taken on the role defensively that is just crucial to our team…
“Just an incredibly valuable player. I also believe the All-Star Game should be about wins. You know, anytime there’s players that are close together in the balloting, the voting, I think being on winning teams should count for something. And obviously, we’ve had a great start to the season so I think Wiggs deserves to be an All-Star.”
Teams with a winning percentage north of 0.700 are basically guaranteed two All-Star spots. Curry is a lock and so is Green, probably. But Green is nursing a calf injury and is out for at least the next two weeks. The All-Star Game is still a month away but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Dubs play it conservatively and use the All-Star break to get Green more time to recover. On the other hand, Wiggins has played in 90% of the team’s games this season and was only out due to the health and safety protocols. (Curiously, Wiggins is almost 800,000 votes ahead of Green in the All-Star fan voting, which means that some Dubs fans are voting for Wiggs but not Dray.)
Wiggins vs. the field
Ultimately, the question is whether Wiggins is among the 12 best players in the Western Conference this season. I doubt that he actually gets to start notwithstanding the fan votes because it’s unlikely that he’ll garner enough support from media members and other players.
Surveying the West, the only other team that have won 70% of their games is Phoenix, so they should get Chris Paul and Devin Booker in.
Nikola Jokic, Morant, Rudy Gobert, and LeBron James are shoo-ins along with Curry and Green. Doncic, Mitchell, and Karl-Anthony Towns are too good to be left off.
Those are 11 names already, which leaves us with the last spot (or two, if Green sits out).
Paul George was playing at an All-Star level but he hasn’t played since Dec. 6 and is out indefinitely. Anthony Davis has the stats, but he’s missed the last month and a 0.500 team really has no business having two All-Stars.
Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges have been solid for the league-best Suns, but neither is objectively having a better season than Wiggins. Dejounte Murray is having a career year for the Spurs, but his team sits outside the play-in picture.
Among players who made the All-Star team last year, Mike Conley Jr.’s numbers have dipped and the Jazz aren’t running away with the league’s best record. Damian Lillard is having a subpar season and just recently underwent an abdominal surgery that would sideline him for at least six weeks.
All things considered, Wiggins is a pretty solid choice for one of the last two reserve spots in the West. Some might look at his rebounding (4.2) and assists (2.0) and say, ‘well, he’s not a 20-5-5 guy.’ He isn’t, and that’s because he plays a different role for the Warriors than, say, Brandon Ingram for the Pelicans. But that doesn’t mean he’s not deserving of an All-Star nod.
The best comp for Wiggins among recent All-Star selections is perhaps 2018 Thompson (20.0 points/3.8 rebounds/2.5 assists/.488 FG%/.440 3P%). Wiggins is averaging 1.5 fewer points on 3.1 fewer minutes and 2.9 fewer attempts per game. If you look at their per-36 minutes, it’s basically a wash:
2018 Thompson: 21.0 points/4.0 rebounds/2.7 assists
2022 Wiggins: 21.0 points/4.8 rebounds/2.3 assists
The present team is not far off the 2018 Warriors’ win-loss record through 45 games, so the case for Thompson in 2018 very much applies to Wiggins now.
There’s no two ways about it, Wiggins should be headed to Cleveland next month.
And I’m sure glad I didn’t sell my real estate at Wiggins Island. It’s been perfectly sunny these days.