The excellent author Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a resonant expression in which he warns against walking across a river that is, on average, 4 feet deep.
I'll probably bungle the deepest logic behind the phrase, but the takeaway is that we shouldn't mistake averages for consistent results. Try to walk across a river that's, on average, 4 feet deep and it might be up to your ankles in some spots. In others, it might be over your head.
As a devout reader of Taleb's books and a longtime watcher of Timberwolves basketball, I'd like to try out this metaphor: Andrew Wiggins is a river that is, on average, 4 feet deep.
Every NBA player has some variance in his scoring output, but Wiggins' seems more disparate than most. Most notably this season: Wiggins had a 40-point game and a zero-point game, both in which he was seemingly the same person with the same skill set. That's a 20-point average, but a tough way to get there.
With Wiggins, though, it's not just a matter of output. It's a question of input, and it has been for a long time. Interim head coach Ryan Saunders was the latest to tackle the question of getting more from Wiggins after he had only 10 points in almost 35 minutes of a one-point loss to Denver on Saturday.
"We'd love to have more from him … than what we had tonight," Saunders said after the game. "We'll look forward to that next time."
The quote spread through Twitter, as these things do. I had a chance to ask Saunders and Wiggins more about that Monday after practice, and Saunders said he wasn't issuing a rebuke of Wiggins but was just answering a question. But the quote in and of itself speaks to Wiggins' inconsistency — and the knowledge that Wiggins could look and produce like an entirely different player Tuesday at Memphis.
It also makes Saunders the latest in a long line of coaches to address the question of getting more from Wiggins.
Even as far back as his one season in college at Kansas, Wiggins was gaining a reputation — fair or not — for being too passive. He has had four head coaches with the Wolves, all of whom have seemingly tried different tactics to unlock his potential more consistently.
It started with Ryan's dad, the late Flip Saunders. After Wiggins won Rookie of the Year in 2015, Flip recalled a game in December 2014 in which he got after Wiggins postgame in the locker room in front of the whole team because "we needed more from him."
Tom Thibodeau's approach in his 2½ seasons with Wiggins was one of general praise in media sessions, to the point that it almost felt like a man insisting a house wasn't on fire when we could all see flames. In a postseason interview after 2017-18, Thibs said he had high hopes for getting more from Wiggins this season. "The big thing with this summer, it won't be clouded," Thibodeau said in April. "Last summer, he had his contract that probably took something away from him."
Wiggins averaged 17.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists last season. At the time Thibodeau was fired this year, Wiggins was averaging 17.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
And that brings us to Ryan Saunders, a holdover from several staffs close enough with Wiggins that the player was at the coach's wedding.
Wiggins' overall numbers (19.3 points, 6.6 rebounds per game) and effort have trended upward in 12 games under Saunders, but they have still veered into that 4 feet of water territory. There was the 40-point game, the 35-point game … and four games of 12 points or less.
"I want him to have 40 points a night. That would be great. But it's not always going to happen," Saunders said Tuesday. "So I'm always going to want more. But I think the biggest thing for anybody in the NBA, especially young players, is just being consistent every night and doing the little things even when you're not able to score."
I mentioned that a lot of coaches have had similar messages for Wiggins and wondered if Ryan Saunders' message might carry extra weight because of their relationship.
"I don't know," he said. That's probably a question for him."
"For sure, for sure," he said. "Because I value his opinion and what he has to say."
So what's the key to being more consistent?
"Just staying with it through the ups and downs," Wiggins said. "Simple as that."