Andrew Wiggins & Shooting Off the Catch

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Andrew Wiggins has been playing good basketball. He started off slow, bothered by back problems for the season’s first few games, but has generally been the Timberwolves most consistent player. His 22.1 points per game ranks 10th in the NBA. He doesn’t turn 21 years old until February.

The exciting thing about Wiggins is that he is already so good — at such a young age — but also has so much room left to grow. There are many aspects of his game which will improve over the next few seasons as he blossoms into one of the game’s best all-around players.

One of Wiggins’ bad habits is passing up an open shot for a drive to the hoop. He will catch a kick-out pass with plenty of room to fire, and instead choose to dribble into traffic. This is most glaring on three-point shots, where taking the shot is extra wise, and passing it up for a long drive into traffic is comparatively more difficult. On certain teams, like the Spurs and Warriors, this can be a good decision. They have so much skill at every position, and spread the floor so wide, that they have the luxury of passing up good shots in order to generate great ones.

The Wolves are not the Spurs or the Warriors, and when Wiggins passes up a good shot to drive into traffic, there’s a good chance that there will be teammates clogging up the lane and drawing help defenders into the space that he’s trying to score from. It might be beneficial for Wiggins and the Wolves if he would fire more shots off the catch.

Just to confirm what I think my eyes are seeing, I checked out the nba.com tracking stats of Wiggins, and compared them to some other star wing players, to see how often they shoot without dribbling.

So far this season, only 28.6 percent of Andrew Wiggins field goal attempts come without a dribble. Only 10.0 percent of his shots — 1.8 per game — are three-pointers taken without a dribble. Both numbers seem low; the second one in particular.

To boost sample-size reliability, I used last season’s stats for the players to compare him to. In Kevin Durant’s case, I used his 2013-14 (MVP) season, since he was injured last year.

Klay Thompson shot 46.0 percent of his shots without a dribble. He shot 5.0 threes per game without a dribble, which constituted 30.0 percent of his shot attempts. Thompson is a pure catch-and-shoot player, so these high numbers come as no surprise.

Kawhi Leonard shot 39.7 percent of shots without a dribble. He shot 2.5 threes per game without a dribble, which amounted to 19.3 percent of his shots. This season, Leonard is having something of a breakout season — at least as a scorer — posting a career-high 21.7 points per game with outstanding efficiency. However, his distribution of total and three-point field goals taken without a dribble remain consistent, at 40.3 and 19.1 percent, respectively.

In his MVP season, Kevin Durant shot 37.2 percent of shots without a dribble. He shot 3.3 dribble-less threes per game, which amounted to 16.0 percent of all his shots. Durant is an excellent ball-handler, which probably explains his somewhat lower percentage of shots taken without one. Also, the Thunder’s offensive system under Scott Brooks prioritized isolation scoring more than most others in today’s NBA.

Carmelo Anthony took 45.1 percent of shots without a dribble. He shot 3.4 threes per game without a dribble, which amounted to 16.8 percent of all field goal attempts.

Paul George missed last season with his catastrophic leg injury suffered during the Olympics preparation. This year, he looks better than ever, and is a leading candidate for “MVP Runner Up” honors. (Steph Curry is already running away with it, so the battle for second place will have to suffice for this year’s discussion.) George is shooting 36.0 percent of shots without a dribble — slightly lower than the others listed — but he shoots 4.1 dribble-less threes per game, which amounts to 21.3 percent of all his shot attempts.

Off this sampling of star wing scorers, it seems like shooting between 35 and 45 percent of shots without a dribble is the norm. Shooting 3 to 5 threes off the catch, per game, seems to be about the range for these star players in today’s NBA.

If Wiggins shot 1 or (better yet) 2 more threes off the catch per game, he’d probably get himself in a better flow from that range (as of today, his 3PT% is just 30.4, but that will increase over time) and would commit fewer turnovers. Posing a threat from deep comes with secondary benefits too, like opening up room for teammates by pulling defenders out to the perimeter. On a team built around the passing instincts and abilities of Ricky Rubio, players need to be ready to shoot the ball.

Anyway, just one thing to keep an eye on. Wiggins is playing really well, and this is one way he might play even better.

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