Last week, my colleague Neil Paine wrote about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, who is probably the favorite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year but who has so far been among the least efficient players in the league according to a variety of advanced statistics. The article triggered a lot of objections on Twitter and in the comments section. Many readers thought it was ridiculous to assess any player, especially a 19-year-old rookie, after just a couple dozen NBA games. Others were skeptical of the array of advanced statistics that Neil cited.
So let’s look at Wiggins’s case through the lens of traditional statistics instead. And let’s measure him directly against his peers. Wiggins played in his 30th NBA game on Tuesday night; we can compare his performance so far against other 19-year-old rookies through their first 30 games. I ran a search on Basketball-Reference.com for players who:
- Were age 19 or younger in their rookie season (based on their age as of Feb. 1 of their rookie year);
- And who averaged at least 24 minutes per game (i.e. played at least half their teams’ minutes) during their first 30 NBA games.
Since 1985-86 there have been only 15 such players (counting Wiggins). The list puts Wiggins in pretty good company. It includes a number of superstars and All-Stars, among them LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Tony Parker and Chris Bosh. There are only one or two total busts, most notably Dajuan Wagner. The rest of the list includes players, such as Luol Deng, who turned into good NBA regulars, and others like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist about whom it’s too early to make an assessment.
But in other respects the data is less favorable for Wiggins. When comparing his first 30 games against the first 30 games of those other players, he’s been among the least effective. In the chart below, I’ve listed each player’s statistics per 36 minutes played in the 10 categories that are most commonly used in rotisserie basketball leagues: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, turnovers, personal fouls, 3-pointers made, field goal percentage and free-throw percentage. (For personal fouls and turnovers, fewer is better.) Then, again in the fashion of a rotisserie basketball league, I’ve ranked the players from No. 1 to 15 in each category and added up the rankings to produce an overall score.
As a reminder, these stats reflect each player’s performance through the first 30 games of his rookie season only. On this basis, Wiggins ranks about average in points scored, steals, 3-pointers made, turnovers and fouls committed. He’s been somewhat below average in rebounds and blocks — two categories where his athleticism has not yet translated into good numbers. He’s also been a below-average shooter, and his assist rate — 1.6 assists per 36 minutes — has been poor.
By the fantasy basketball scoring method, Wiggins ranks 13th out of the 15 players. It’s tough to be a rookie in the NBA, but some of the rookies who came before Wiggins showed more early on. James ranks ahead of him in nine of 10 categories; Durant and Davis rank ahead of him in eight. Even Luol Deng, a player with whom Wiggins is sometimes compared, ranks ahead of him in eight of 10.
On the other hand, some rookies who weren’t much better than Wiggins in their first 30 games turned out to have nice NBA careers. Parker and Bosh, in particular, weren’t very productive early on. Overall, a player’s performance through his first 30 games does seem to tell us something — you’d rather take the players from the top half of the rotisserie-style rankings than those from the bottom. But it’s a fairly noisy list.
So Wiggins might have lost some value based on his performance so far this year, but he hasn’t crashed. (This conclusion is pretty similar to Neil’s.)
What about those advanced stats showing Wiggins to be awful (instead of just mediocre)? They’re probably not the thing for him to worry about right now. Most of those stats will punish players who shoot relatively often but relatively poorly, as Wiggins has so far. But the 5-25 Timberwolves don’t have a lot of better options, and Wiggins has shown some development this year, like shooting well from 3-point range. (And keep in mind that James shot just .417 through his first 30 games.) The bigger concerns are Wiggins’s low rates of rebounds, assists and blocks, deficits that show up in advanced and traditional statistics alike.