Much like an offensive lineman, the laidback yet sometimes polarizing Andrew Wiggins often gets overlooked in the midst of his team’s success. There are shinier, more fun things to talk about. You have the quarterback and the star skill players, but none of their success comes to fruition without the help of their offensive line.
Now, Wiggins isn’t the engine that the Warriors run on – that would be Stephen Curry – but like a good offensive lineman, Wiggins is an essential part of his team yet his contributions border being taken for granted. All the glory goes to Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, and hell, even spark plug off the bench Gary Payton II gets his name mentioned more often than Wiggins.
You don’t always hear Wiggins or even really notice him, but he’s there. Quietly with 20 points, 5 rebounds, and a triple or two while matching up with the opposing team’s best wing. He’s been so easy to count on since arriving to the Bay Area that he’s so easy to forget. He blends in so well that you almost forget he’s one of the main ingredients to the recipe.
Let’s take last Friday night, for example, the Warriors without Curry, Green, Iguodala, and Porter Jr., go into Detroit and beat the Pistons in a game that ended up much closer than it should have been. Wiggins scored 27 points on 19 shots and grabbed 5 rebounds to go along with 2 steals and a block, but the talk after the game is about Jordan Poole’s 32 points and Nemanja Bjelica’s 14 points and 8 rebounds off the bench.
All Wiggins gets is a footnote at the end of the broadcast and from somebody on the outside looking in, he seems perfectly fine with that. As a laidback guy myself, sometimes it is nice to just blend in with everyone else, but Wiggins deserves more than that. And sure, he’s getting paid millions and millions of dollars to put a ball in a basket, and you’re probably asking yourself, “isn’t that enough?!”, and in the sense that Wiggins is compensated for the excellent work he does on the basketball floor, yes his contract is MORE than enough. But that’s not the point.
Wiggins deserves his flowers and then some.
It’s Been a LONG Time Coming
The former #1 overall pick didn’t exactly have a hot start to his career. Minnesota won a whopping 47 games combined in his first two seasons and Wiggins’ reputation around the league was that he was a one-dimensional scorer who wasn’t particularly efficient nor did he do anything else to impact the game. He was regarded as one of the top prep players in recent history but all that noise came crashing down on him seemingly the minute he stepped on an NBA court.
Wiggins won rookie of the year in 2015 but that was mostly by default. #2 overall pick Jabari Parker played just 25 games that season and #3 overall pick Joel Embiid sat out the entire season. Wiggins was racing himself for that award. Not to take the significance of the award away from him, it’s just the reality. Aside from winning ROY honors, his early career wasn’t pretty, to say the least.
The Wolves landed Karl-Anthony Towns with the #1 overall pick in 2015 but they still couldn’t turn things around and things started to get ugly in Minnesota. Going into Wiggins’s 3rd season, the Wolves were on their third coach in three years.
In his third season Minnesota scraped and clawed their way to 31 wins, and that summer, FiveThirtyEight, released an article that declared Wiggins was the worst defender in the entire league. That’s never a great thing to have said about anyone, let alone a former #1 overall pick with the fate of the franchise in his hands.
In Wiggins’ 4th season the TWolves, led by Jimmy Butler, would go on to win 47 games and at last Minnesota’s 13 season playoff drought would come to an end. But things would get worse before they got better.
In Jimmy Butler’s infamous practice where he more or less created one of the most chaotic scenarios imaginable to help force his way out of Minnesota, it was reportedly partially due to Butler’s disliking of Wiggins and Towns. He reportedly even disparaged the two during the anarchic practice. (Although, Wiggins’ and Butler’s rift would later prove to be false)
Ultimately, Butler got his way but not without completely damaging Wiggins’ (and Towns’) reputation. To most outsiders, Butler simply confirmed what the masses had thought to be true – that Wiggins didn’t care enough, didn’t work hard enough, and that he was soft. And you know, maybe all of that was true but I certainly don’t believe that is the case any longer. And looking at the player Wiggins is now, I have a difficult time believing it was true then.
A New Chapter
During the 2019-20 NBA season, Wiggins was traded to Golden State along with multiple draft picks for a package centered around D’Angelo Russell. This was the beginning of something special for Wiggins and although the Warriors were struggling mightily at the time, it was a chance for him to start fresh. Coming to the Bay Area at the time he did allowed Wiggins to arrive with very little pressure as the Warriors would finish the season 15-50.
Since his arrival in Golden State, Wiggins has become one of my favorite non-stars in the league to watch. He’s a lanky wing with a smooth handle and the quiet confidence of a bonafide ‘killa. A guy who once relied a lot on shooting jumpers over opposing defenders has now become fairly unpredictable as a scorer.
Wiggins now settles for much less in the midrange and focuses more on getting to the basket with an array of simple yet effective dribble combos or slashing to the rim off the ball or capitalizing on catch and shoot opportunities from the beyond the arc.
He’s not perfect, but don’t get it twisted – he still has a BAG. He can still stick a mid-range jumper in your eye, even if he does still settle for that a little too often for some people’s liking (mine included). But he’s come such a long way. Watching him gracefully spin to the hoop for a finger roll is one of the prettiest things you’ll see on a basketball court. And so is watching him glide through the air in the open court for a dunk, or watching him jump off two feet in the half-court for dunks like he’s got pogo sticks on his feet – everything he does out there is with grace. And don’t even get me STARTED on his Penny Hardaway-like half-spin into a step-back jumper. It’s truly one of the best moves in all of basketball.
But not only have the Warriors opened up Wiggins’ game and allowed him to be who Andrew Wiggins is as a basketball player but it’s also contributed to winning. And for alllllllll of that, Wiggins deserves proper recognition.
Although he still isn’t getting that type of recognition, with the Warriors winning as much as they are, it will come in due time. When that time comes Wiggins will more than likely handle it with grace, just like his game. Not only does he deserve his flowers – he deserves a victory lap to go along with it.
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