Whatever reputation Andrew Wiggins might have had before joining the Golden State Warriors, his new team isn’t interested in hearing about it.
Wiggins’s tenure with the Warriors since coming over in a trade-deadline deal with Minnesota seems to be off to a promising start, and his teammates and coaches are saying all the right things about their new acquisition.
Warriors star guard Steph Curry calls Wiggins “a walking 20 points.” Forward Draymond Green, the NBA’s defensive player of the year in 2017, says the Canadian has the talent to become an elite defender.
“He’s one of those guys people have said he’s overrated now for a couple years,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said recently. “He’s become underrated.”
While the Warriors have lost all six games since acquiring Wiggins, there have been reasons for cautious optimism over that small sample size. The forward from Vaughan, Ont., is averaging 19.2 points on just more than 50 per cent shooting since joining Golden State in a deal that sent guard D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota.
He has been an efficient scorer in every game save an eight-point clunker on 10-per-cent shooting in a 115-101 loss to New Orleans on Sunday, and even in that contest he contributed with 10 rebounds (tying a season high), four assists, two blocks and a steal.
Kerr has praised Wiggins’ defence on several occasions, and credited him for his coverage of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James in his Warriors debut on Feb. 8. Wiggins had 24 points and five steals in that game.
Whether these warm feelings extend past the requisite honeymoon period remains to be seen, as Wiggins has struggled in the past to live up to the lofty expectations that came with being selected first over all by Cleveland at the 2014 NBA draft.
After being dealt to the Timberwolves before his first season, Wiggins was named rookie of the year in 2015 and was considered a cornerstone of a Minnesota team looking to contend after a decade of futility that followed a Kevin Garnett-led run to the Western Conference final. Instead, the Timberwolves appeared in just one playoff series – a 4-1 first-round loss to the Rockets in 2018 – in Wiggins’s five full seasons with the team.
Nicknamed “Maple Jordan” during his stellar high-school career at Huntington prep in Virginia, Wiggins has been accused at times of not using his prodigious physical gifts to their full effect. Statistics website FiveThirtyEight claimed in 2017 that he was the NBA’s “least defensive player,” and former teammate Jimmy Butler reportedly called him “soft” during a practice.
His perceived shortcomings have only been amplified by his unwieldy contract. Wiggins is in the second year of a hefty five-year US$147.7-million deal.
Still, while Wiggins may not become the generational NBA talent some envisioned before he was drafted, Kerr might be on to something with his “underrated” comment. Wiggins is having arguably his best NBA season, with career-high averages in rebounds (5.0), assists (3.6). His 22 points a game is his second-highest average after he had 23.6 in 2016-17. He had his first career triple-double with 18 points, 11 assists (a career high) and 10 rebounds in the Timberwolves’ loss to Toronto last month.
“It’s not like we gotta take his hand and walk him through,” Green said in a recent scrum with reporters. “That guy has averaged 20 points in this league for three, four years – probably over a career he’s averaging 20 points [he’s averaging 19.7]. It’s not a [expletive] bum we’re talking about, so I’m not gonna sit here and act like we found some diamond in the rough. He’s the No. 1 pick. He’s a player.”
The Warriors won’t really know what they have in Wiggins until they see how he meshes with their superstar backcourt of Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry is expected to return from surgery on his broken left hand soon and says he is looking forward to getting some chemistry with Wiggins over the last games of Golden State’s lost season. Thompson won’t return from a knee injury suffered in Game 6 of last year’s NBA finals until the 2020-21 campaign.