Andrew Wiggins has long been seen as a disappointment but now a change of scene has changed the perception of him as the Warriors battle for a championship
When Andrew Wiggins was named an all-star starter this year, which was a bit silly and not entirely deserved. At the same time, however, it was also a long-delayed coronation that most had given up hope for years ago. Perhaps it’s odd to call an all-star performance from a No. 1 overall winner unexpected, but other than some high-volume, inefficient scoring, there were few signs that he was the star in the first seven years of his career had long-awaited opportunities.
But his time at Golden State has allowed people to transform Wiggins from a disappointing young player into an underdog who had fought off early career disappointments to fulfill his early potential. While his success with the Warriors is a testament to his own evolution, much of the rhetoric surrounding him is testament to how the expectations placed on a player, along with their context, can affect perceptions of them.
Andrew Wiggins entered the NBA in 2014 as one of the most hyped prospects in years. He was hailed as Maple Jordan (a nod to his Canadian roots), and while that nickname was perhaps used a little ironically given the lavish praise it had already garnered, it still spoke of how much was expected of him.
Wiggins was named Rookie of the Year in 2015, but as is often the case, the award was given more on volume than actual performance. The raw numbers themselves looked good, but there were questions about his future that astute Timberwolves observers would have picked up immediately. Despite his much-vaunted athleticism and touted potential as a defender, he didn’t often show the inclination to be the player he could be on this end. Also, too often he was content to settle for contested jumps or attempts at middle distance instead of going to the hoop.
During his years in Minnesota, Wiggins was a uniquely frustrating player. Fans could see that he probably would never be the star promised and hoped for, but it was also clear that with a few shifts in emphasis, he could easily be more than he was. This all culminated in Wolves giving Wiggins a maximum contract extension which was rightly pilloried the moment it was offered. But team owner Glen Taylor was quick to make it clear he would not offer such a deal until he met Wiggins in person and made him promise to try hard to improve. It was all very silly, and if you’re looking for a single example of why the Wolves fought the way they did during the Taylor era, you could do worse than point this out.
Andrew Wiggins is really the same player working in a different role
When the Warriors traded for Wiggins in 2020, it felt more like the Timberwolves were trying to get out of Wiggins’ contract than it felt like the Warriors were actively trying to acquire the former number one. The consensus was that Wolves wanted D’Angelo Russell and the Warriors wanted a lottery pick and Wiggins was a throw-in to adjust salaries—a throw-in that allowed Wolves to comfortably get out of his contract.
And yet, Wiggins has become far more important to the Warriors’ present, if not necessarily their future, than that pick. It’s not like Wiggins suddenly morphed into a star when he arrived at the Golden State. He hasn’t developed into a player who can lead a team to glory on his own, but he has a very good addition when he is surrounded by stars and more dynamic players who can relieve him. Put simply, if Andrew Wiggins is your team’s best or second best player, they probably won’t be very good. But if he finishes third, fourth or fifth then things look a lot more promising.
While Wiggins hasn’t transformed into a new player on the bay, it’s disingenuous to say nothing has changed. He’s played both smarter and more aggressively since arriving at the Golden State. He’s a more consistent and thoughtful defender than he’s ever been in Minnesota, not to mention the tenacity he’s shown as a rebounder. The long 2’s are also mostly gone, being replaced by catch-and-shoot 3’s. The reduced role means the fat has been trimmed from his game, leaving only what he did well along the way.
For Wiggins, it’s a choice between getting yelled at by people online for scoring an inefficient 20 points a game on a losing team, or scoring less and being praised for scoring less on a competitor. I would imagine this would be an easy decision for most players. It’s not that he didn’t do any of that in Minnesota, but it was less significant in that context. Sometimes less is more.
Given his pre-draft hype, it’s not surprising that Wiggins is an integral part of being a championship contender. What is surprising is how. While he never quite became the player that many forecasters originally envisioned, he still has to be credited with being an important cog in a finals team. If the Warriors bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to bay, Andrew Wiggins will be a key reason behind it. His journey to becoming the player he is today has been much more arduous than initially expected, but sometimes when the goal is so good, the journey is not that important.
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