SAN FRANCISCO — On February 6, 2020, in the midst of a what would become a 15-50 season, the Golden State Warriors traded for Andrew Wiggins. As the super-talented former lottery pick headed to San Francisco to play in a brand spanking new arena, yet in the unmistakable shadow of the core that engendered an unassailable culture leading three championships in the previous decade, the doubts about Wiggins’ fit with the club cast down immediately, like a rolling fog descends upon San Francisco Bay.
Was he made for primetime? Was he too passive of a player despite his limitless skills and potential? Did Jimmy Butler, one of the most well-respected players in the league, really run him out of Minnesota for questioning his toughness? Is Wiggins really an All-Star?
In the form of the 2022 NBA Finals, Wiggins has picked the best time to experience his star turn, leaving little doubts as to his importance in moving the Warriors one win away from another NBA championship.
Wiggins’ two-way masterclass produced 26 points and 13 rebounds, his performance chiefly responsible for the Warriors making up for the rarest of off-nights from Stephen Curry as Golden State powered to a 104-94 victory over the Boston Celtics at the Chase Center on Monday night. This comes off the heels of going for 17 points and 16 rebounds in the Warriors’ crucial Game 4 victory in Boston to even the series and avoiding a 3-1 deficit to the Eastern Conference champions.
Along with those gaudy numbers, he and Draymond Green have been drawing the task of slowing down “the Jays,” Boston’s superstar wing duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and their smothering defense on the pair was instrumental in holding the Celtics to just 35 percent shooting (8-for-23) in the first quarter when the Warriors opened a lead as much as 14 to set the perfect tone to start the pivotal swing game.
“I think it’s just a sense of what’s needed and being on this team, where [Andrew’s] got veteran guys who are helping him to understand what we need from him, and he’s just using his athleticism in a lot of different ways,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s just been fantastic, not just in this series but throughout the playoffs.”
Wiggins now has six double-doubles in the 2022 postseason, a third of those coming in Games 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals. Two more of those double-doubles came in the Western Conference Finals against the Mavericks, including in the clinching Game 5.
“It’s something I dreamt about for sure, being in the league, and this is the ultimate stage,” Wiggins said. “It doesn’t get bigger than this. I was out there being aggressive. It was a good game.”
Whether Wiggins possessed enough of that aggressive streak to make a championship-level impact was thrown into question during his five and a half years in Minnesota, where the underachieving Timberwolves, coached by current New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, made just one playoff appearance, in 2018, and were best known for internal strife between Butler and the young players on the team, namely Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Given what Butler has done recently for the Miami Heat since his time in the Twin Cities — a run to the 2020 NBA Finals and a near-miss in 2022 despite playing most of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston on one good knee — any effort less than one’s maximum was going to be spotlighted by one of the league’s toughest dudes.
As it turned out, Wiggins earned the seal of approval from Butler, something Wiggins’ contemporaries took notice of as they welcomed him in as their new teammate.
When [Andrew] first came here, and I’ll never forget, it was when Thibs [Tom Thibodeau] wasn’t with the Knicks, and Thibs was like, you’re going to love him. He competes. He defends,” said Green after the game. “And he was telling us Jimmy loved him. And we all know how Jimmy Butler is. If you have any softness to you, Jimmy don’t like you. That’s how Jimmy is cut.
“He’s continued to show that. He’s continued to get better. He’s taken on every challenge that we have thrown in front of him. And that’s been huge. And we need him to do that for one more win.”
In his second full season with the Dubs, Wiggins became an All-Star and was named an NBA All-Star starter.
Ummm, there’s a story to that, too.
Wiggins’ candidacy was buoyed by the K-Pop singing star BamBam, who sent a message to his 15 million Instagram followers and 10 million Twitter followers in support of Wiggins to be voted in to the All-Star Game. Given that the fan vote currently makes up 50 percent of the entire vote total toward nomination to become a starter, and that the NBA counts all retweets toward the vote, Wiggins became the All-Star that many pundits soured on when creating their list of more deserving players who got snubbed.
It’s the best time to begin 2022! He is one of the best two-way players!
Wiggs deserves to be an All-Star, vote Andrew Wiggins into the 2022 NBA All-Star Game..and I can’t wait to meet you all very soon#AndrewWiggins #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/bpOXKAJ920
— BamBam (@BamBam1A) January 8, 2022
Another observation many observers have lobbed as a slight to Wiggins is that the emergence of Jordan Poole in the playoffs as the third “Splash Brother” might have relegated Wiggins to being the fourth or fifth-most valuable on the team. On Monday, Poole arguably has his most important splashdown of his young career, a 38-foot heave just beating the third-quarter buzzer that game the Warriors a 75-74 lead to end a quarter that the Celtics otherwise dominated. The Warriors never trailed again after Poole’s answered prayer.
Poole’s shot, like Wiggins’ candidacy for All-Star Starter, has been tweeted the world over. However, if you pressed the rewind button a few seconds on that play, what would you see?
Wiggins, grabbing a rebounds in traffic off a miss, then weaving through three Celtics defenders with a behind-the-back dribble before unloading the pass to Poole that led to the three-pointer before the buzzer.
Debate whether he should have been an All-Star all you want, but only after having the debate of whether Wiggins should be the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, which is well within his reach.
We knew we needed his athleticism and defense and his versatility. We had no idea that he would make this kind of contribution,” Kerr also said of Wiggins. “But I think it’s a reminder that for every, almost every player in the NBA, circumstances are everything. You kind of need to find the right place, the right teammates, that kind of stuff. Wiggs has been a great fit.”