Warriors' Andrew Wiggins benefiting from change of scenery
The former No. 1 overall pick is thriving in Golden State as he faces his former team twice this week.
Andrew Wiggins disappointed the Timberwolves and their fans Monday night, and he fully intends to do it again Wednesday.
At this point, though, it’s right there in his job description.
Wiggins did to Minnesota what an actual opponent is supposed to do, playing well — 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting, six rebounds, three steals, three blocks – in Golden State’s 130-108 victory Monday at the Chase Center. The No. 1 pick in the 2014 Draft, who is facing his former team this week for the first time after spending his first seven seasons with the Wolves, will try to do as well or better Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).
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His performance might be cast as some sort of a “Take that!” to the organization that traded him last February to Golden State for point guard D’Angelo Russell and a top-three protected 2021 first-round pick (it becomes unprotected in 2022 if it doesn’t convey this year). Except for two things:
1. Wiggins has been having these types of games for a month now.
2. The Wolves rightfully should have as much of a beef with Wiggins as he might have with them.
After his work Monday, Wiggins pointed to differences between the Warriors’ and the Wolves’ basketball operations as the primary reason for his more fully realized potential. Through 17 games, the 6-foot-7 wing is averaging 17.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and a career-best 1.6 blocks. He is scoring more efficiently, with a 55.5 true-shooting percentage built off his 40.7 percent 3-point accuracy.
He’s been lauded, too, by Warriors coach Steve Kerr and teammates for his defensive work, an area of some neglect during his time in Minnesota.
“It’s very positive over here, very positive, everyone’s getting along,” Wiggins said after his fourth 20-point performance this season. “No egos, nothing like that. Everyone just wants to win. It’s just a winning attitude, winning culture, everything is about winning. And we all want to get better, everyone is lifting each other up, cheering for each other, so it’s all love over here.”
Golden State acquired Wiggins into the void left by free agency, retirement, injuries and other trades. He had only 12 games to adjust before the NBA’s virus shutdown in March. An extended layoff followed as the Warriors were not invited into the Orlando bubble restart. So with a training camp and preseason, quick as they were, the 25 year old finally is in sync with his new team.
“He just fit what we needed desperately after the departures of Kevin [Durant], Shawn Livingston, Andre Iguodala, the injury to Klay [Thompson],” Kerr told reporters before Monday’s game. “We just had no size and athleticism on the wing.
“Totally different role than what Minnesota was asking of him. I always say, there’s maybe 10 or 15 players in the league who determine the circumstances on a team. The other 450 are … people who excel based on their circumstances. With Andrew, our circumstances are perfect.”
One of Wiggins’ four coaches in Minnesota, Tom Thibodeau, saw him up close last week when Thibodeau’s Knicks team beat Golden State. Afterward, he talked with The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss about Wiggins’ improvements.
“Huge difference. He’s grown,” Thibodeau said. “I think this environment is perfect for him. I think the job that Steve and his staff has done, they’ve challenged him to grow.
“His defense is vastly improved. His all-around play, too, and it will get better and better. Playing with guys like Steph and Draymond [Green] and when Klay’s back, that’s going to be a big bonus for him.”
It already has been. With Curry, Wiggins doesn’t have to be Golden State’s first offensive option the way he often was in Minnesota, and when Thompson gets back, he won’t even need to be No. 2.
With Green as Golden State’s captain defensively, barking alignments and demanding effort, and with rookie James Wiseman as a rim protector allowing others to gamble or lock in on their men, Wiggins can focus on his specific matchups.
As he sees it, though, it’s a culture thing. The woebegone franchise in Minneapolis has had one winning season in 16 years. The one by the Bay went to five Finals every year from 2015 to 2019, won three titles and rapidly is picking itself up from last season’s 15-50 record. Many of the pieces from the floor to the front office remain in place.
“For sure it’s different because everything here is organized,” Wiggins said. “You know what you’re doing every night, you know what you’re getting yourself into, you know the minutes you’re going to play, you know your rotation.”
Wiggins did carve out an exception Monday for Thibodeau with a little mutual admiration. “There was a couple years like that in Minnesota where you know everything,” he said. “Thibs was very organized. And Thibs was very clear. He was very straightforward.
“That’s one thing they do here. They’re very straightforward. They’re not going to sugarcoat nothing. There’s no trick questions. So it’s good.”
Here, however, is where Wiggins and those telling his story get into the weeds a bit on his resurgence. Thibodeau was his coach in Minnesota for 204 of the player’s 442 games there. He came in as a rookie in 2014 under Flip Saunders, who took the Wolves to eight consecutive playoff appearances in his first (1995-2005) stint with them. In 2015-16, when Saunders died from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Wiggins worked with one-time Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell.
Then it was Thibodeau, who – despite Wiggins’ praise – got the same “empty calorie” scoring and indifferent defense from him. The most familiar image of Wiggins, hands on hips during stoppages in play, says Mick Jagger more than Mike Jordan or even an NBA All-Star.
No doubt, Wiggins’ placid demeanor on the court has hurt him with fans and critics eager to see intensity to go along with his obvious skills. It’s the same demeanor he shows off the court, too, never seeming to scowl at the guy in the mirror as Minnesota’s losses mounted. Showing and saying more might have convinced people he cared as much as they did.
“Andrew’s not an emotional guy,” Kerr said. “He just sort of methodically does his job. He’s done that in a really consistent manner for us. … Andrew is Andrew. He’s going to go out there and do his job, and nothing much is going to bother him.”
Part of it, too, is that Wiggins wasn’t the one who drafted him No. 1 (that was Cleveland) or traded for him that summer with the expectations he would be a franchise cornerstone. Had that 2014 Draft gone according to current NBA value, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Marcus Smart, Clint Capela and a few more would have bumped Wiggins and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker down to deep lottery status.
Viewed that way, Wiggins shapes up as a fine Harrison Barnes surrogate for Golden State. He just happens to be getting paid like he’s an all-NBA max guy (about $90 million for this season and two more on the five-year, $147 million extension he signed in October 2017). As it is, Wiggins has scored 2,267 more points and logged 4,157 more minutes than anyone else in the Class of ’14.
Ryan Saunders, Flip’s son and Minnesota’s coach who was on the bench through Wiggins’ whole stay here, said: “They’ve done a nice job, what they’ve been able to do with him and with the guys they have surrounding him. It allows Andrew to play a role and expend maybe more energy on the defensive end. … Offensively, I think he’s able to get action more in the flow of the offense, when teams are so keyed in on a guy like Steph.
“And hey, sometimes a change of scenery is good. Good for anybody.”
The Wolves saw Wiggins as the star they needed and were disappointed. The Warriors needed him as the complementary piece they saw and are delighted.
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