Andrew Wiggins’ critics always focused on what they thought he wasn’t.
Not ridden enough to be the number 1 choice in design, they said. Just not good enough to be an All-Star starter, they claimed.
Another Golden State Warriors win and all that matters is who Wiggins is: an NBA champion.
“He shines on the brightest podiums in the playoffs. You can see how much he enjoys it,” fellow All-Star Stephen Curry said on Wednesday. “It’s just great to see things work in his favor in terms of dispelling all the stories around him and who he is as a basketball player right before your eyes.”
The Warriors have won two straight games to take a 3-2 lead in Game 6 on Thursday, and Wiggins is as big a reason as any. The Canadian forward had 17 points and 16 rebounds in his career in Game 4, followed by 26 points and 13 boards.
Wiggins had made only one consecutive double-double in his career before doing so in the two biggest games he ever played.
“It’s always great to be able to show what you can do, what you’ve worked for,” Wiggins said. “So I’m just happy to be here on the biggest podium and help my team win.”
Even those who wanted to fire Wiggins had to admit he could score. The No. 1 squad in the 2014 draft averaged 16.9 points when he won Rookie of the Year honors, never scoring less than 17 per game again. But that rarely translated into winning, as Minnesota only played once in the playoffs while there, and it was easy to wonder what else Wiggins’ game meant besides the points.
It turns out there is a lot.
Coach Steve Kerr is surprised by how well Wiggins bounces back. On defense, six-foot-tall Wiggins has taken on the tough assignments, doing his best to keep Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic in the Western Conference finals and now it’s turn for Celtics swingers Jayson Tatum and Jaylen brown.
It’s a versatility that the Warriors say they knew was there, as much as it went unnoticed by others.
“He’s taken on every challenge we’ve thrown for him, and it’s been huge,” said Draymond Green. “And we need him to do that for another win.”
Skepticism about Wiggins followed him to the NBA after scoring just four points in his final college game when Kansas was upset by Stanford in the 2014 NCAA tournament. He took just six shots, a lackluster effort that raised questions about how hard. he was willing to work if things were not easy.
But Green said Tom Thibodeau, the current Knicks coach who led the Timberwolves to their only postseason appearance with Wiggins, assured him that the Warriors would love how hard Wiggins defends and fights.
They had acquired Wiggins in February 2020 along with a first round pick when they split D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota. Wiggins played well enough to get voted to start his first All-Star Game this season, but even that didn’t earn him credit that he’d been missing out on. Wiggins was seen as a player misplaced as a number 1 option in Minnesota, and the reason he played well for Golden State was because he didn’t have that burden on a team led by Curry.
But when Curry struggled in Game 5 and missed all nine 3-point attempts, Wiggins looked just like the main man.
Curry will likely still be the NBA Finals MVP if the Warriors win the series. But Wiggins has at least made it a discussion rather than a foregone conclusion.
“It’s amazing what you do with opportunities,” Curry said. “Take away the comparisons, the stories around him being a number 1 pick, what everyone wanted him to be, his first six years in the competition looked like. There’s a reason we wanted him here. There’s a reason that trading made sense for us. There was high hopes that he could solve it at this level by taking his scoring ability, his athleticism and his defensive potential to the next level.”
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