Why are the Thunder unbeaten with Aaron Wiggins in the starting five?

Aaron Wiggins #21 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Aaron Wiggins #21 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder sit at 14-19, 4-6 in the last ten games, and are just two games out of the NBA Play-in tournament. But perhaps the most interesting stat of the season, besides contextualizing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s amazing campaign, is Aaron Wiggins’s numbers when he starts.

The 55th overall pick from the 2021 NBA Draft has played in 75 career NBA games, 25 of which have come in this season. Of those 25 games, Aaron Wiggins has started in six of those contests. In those six contests, the Oklahoma City Thunder own a 6-0 record.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are unbeaten when Aaron Wiggins is in the starting lineup, accounting for six of the 19 wins for the Bricktown boys, why do the Thunder win with Wiggins?

6-0 with Aaron Wiggins in the starting lineup, a stat that Oklahoma City Thunder radio play-by-play broadcaster Matt Pinto pointed out to OKC Thunder bench boss Mark Daigneault before Wiggins’s most recent start, which OKC went on to win.

Of the stat, Mark Daigneault was pretty dismissive of the idea that there is any correlation to the wins and inserting Wiggins into the starting five pointing out that this is a small sample and if Wiggins starts forever, it is not as though they will never lose again. That is a lot to put on one player, and Wiggins plays his role very well no matter if it is off the bench or in the first half.

But why is it that the Oklahoma City Thunder sit at 6-0 when one of the first five players on the floor is Aaron Wiggins? I think it is as simple, and obvious, as minutes and production.

Six of the top eight minutes in a single game Aaron Wiggins registered this season were starts, when you start him he naturally gets more playing time, and thus impacts the outcome. But why is Wiggins so key to winning?

One of the best things Aaron Wiggins does is create possessions. No matter if it is rebounding, diving for loose balls, saving a deflection from going out of bounds, taking charges, or swiping steals as he has recorded three games this season with three steals so far, he just finds ways to get OKC the ball back.

That is important for a roster that is dependent on a team-rebounding effort given their lack of size and has to get creative for put-backs, second-chance looks, and ending defensive possessions.

Aside from that, Wiggins is a key wing defender for the OKC Thunder who rank in the top ten defensively as a team, and on the offensive end, the Maryland product can score at all three levels.

According to cleaning the glass, Aaron Wiggins is a +2.2 efficiency differential, +1.7 in points per possession, and ranks in the 89th percentile for his possession in offensive rebounding percentage. On non-corner three-pointers, Wiggins is shooting 39 percent, and on long-mid-range attempts Wiggins scores at a 50 percent clip.

Per Synergy, Aaron Wiggins ranks in the 66th percentile of half-court offense, 81st percentile in cutting offense, and 71st percentile of spot-up shots. Wiggins is shooting 40 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities which ranks him in the 89th percentile and provides a great spray-out option for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even on long threes, Aaron Wiggins is shooting 42 percent.

While Mark Daigneault is right, the secret to winning is not inserting Wiggins into the starting five every night, but it does include finding him minutes. It is a difficult balance that I do not envy to try, but the numbers speak for themselves as to why the Thunder should find more run for Wiggins.

When Aaron Wiggins and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander share the floor, the Thunder are up to 115.9 points per possession, with a +2.7 differential, and a 55.8 eFG%. Compared to the Thunder’s overall stats it is a six-point per possession improvement, and a three percent uptick in eFG%, in general, OKC is at a -2.6 differential according to Cleaning the Glass.

Even with just Wiggins alone without including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder are still up to a -1.1 differential, 112 points per possession, and protect the ball at a better clip while forcing more turnovers. Though, you can see how valuable the duo of Wiggins and SGA are together hence the 6-0 record in the starting lineup.

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