Andrew Wiggins won’t turn 25 years old until later this month and is having arguably the best statistical season of his career. That’s not saying a whole lot for the former No. 1 overall pick, who has never sniffed an all-star berth or even once been given a Player of the Week nod.
Wiggins has been in the league for over five years. That’s long enough to have a pretty good sense of what he is, and most importantly, what he is not. The best thing one can say about his career to date is that he rarely misses games. Other than that, it’s been a bunch of superficially gaudy scoring numbers and eye-popping athleticism that don’t look great under the microscope.
He’s too inefficient to be a viable leading scorer on a good team. He’s neither a good rebounder, nor a strong playmaker (although that area of his game has improved this season.) Most damningly, Wiggins’ reputation as a wing defender relies wholly on looking the part, and only occasionally performing like it.
In other words, there’s never really been a time during Wiggins’ career that one could plausibly say he’s the savior of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise. That doesn’t mean people haven’t tried to make the argument, it’s just never been very convincing.
As someone who has never inquired about the availability of real estate on Wiggins Island, I’m entirely skeptical he’ll ever realize the full expanse of his potential. There are too many similarities to other players, such as Jeff Green, for me to make that leap.
It’s a measure of just how mediocre Wiggins’ value actually is around the league, that the Wolves sent out a top-three protected first-rounder as well as a second-round pick to Golden State in exchange for D’Angelo Russell.
Yet, I’m intrigued by the trade and think it’s a good a chance as any for Wiggins to revitalize his career. This is a bet on culture, and recent bumps aside, the Warriors have one of the best in the league. Certainly better, at any rate, than what Wiggins had in Minnesota.
What the Warriors can offer, and what Wiggins has not had during his tenure in Minnesota, is stability and purpose. Steve Kerr will be his fifth coach in six seasons, and is operating under far more job security than Ryan Saunders or Sam Mitchell. While Wiggins chafed under Tom Thibodeau — and vice versa — Kerr and defensive guru Ron Adams offer a gentler, yet still firm approach that demands accountability.
Many others have noted the Warriors have long liked Wiggins’ potential more than most. I can testify to that notion, as well, having once gotten in a good-natured basketball argument with a Golden State person about that very idea. The true test of that case, however, lies in what the Warriors plan to do with him.
There is no need for Wiggins to be a high-usage scoring option on a team with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when the Splash Brothers are back to full health. Nor is there any need to continue furthering the absurd idea that he’s a wing stopper in training. (A little tough love from Draymond Green wouldn’t be the worst thing to get him to commit full-time on that end.)
Curry and Thompson aren’t going anywhere and neither is Green. With that core of players setting the tone on the court and in the locker room, Wiggins won’t have to shoulder the burden of leadership and the responsibility that comes with being the top pick of a perpetually woebegone franchise.
In other words, can the Warriors turn a player who is more hype than production and only two years into an absurd supermax deal into a willing contributor on a championship-caliber team? To put it another way, is Wiggins willing to make those kinds of sacrifices?
What that looks like on the court is an interesting thing, and frankly cause for pessimism. Wiggins still takes, and misses, far too many mid-range shots, and the Warriors’ offense revels in those. He is not nearly the equal of Harrison Barnes as a three-point shooter. His competitive motor and IQ have also been questioned during his time with the Wolves.
Against that backdrop, the familiar Wiggins refrain repeats itself: He is still young, still athletic, and still durable.
All of this, really, is up to him. It’s an opportunity not many players get during their career, to be well-paid on a team with championship aspirations without the pressure of delivering the goods night after night. It’s an opportunity he’d be foolish to squander.