Refreshed, Andrew Wiggins savors Finals trip with Warriors

Andrew Wiggins’ performance on both ends of the court has proven to be an integral part of Golden State.

San Francisco ——Andrew Wiggins was born in 1995 and reborn in 2022. His time was between riches and ridicule, between steep predictions and odd rejections, and of course winning and losing, and every point of his basketball career was polar opposites.

And now he’s here, on the doorstep of championship glory, where he seems destined to go, but not after taking a detour to a cold place — well, Minnesota. A week ago, the arrival was marked by moments of anger, revealing how the journey had left him frustrated and then back on his feet.

He grabs the ball, drives the fairway, stands on both feet, launches, soars, soars a little more, and slams into Luka Doncic’s skull. That’s when Wiggins did something completely out of the ordinary – he ranted to let you know.

Even so, Wiggins still doesn’t get all the respect he deserves after the slam he made for YouTube in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against Dallas became a snap. He was initially charged with pushing down, an offensive foul that was later overturned in a replay.

“They’re trying to take it from me,” Wiggins said with a half-smile, disbelief, and perhaps tired of being accused of years of basketball-related infractions that actually persisted.

Obviously, the biggest problem is that he doesn’t deserve to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. How the small forward found a home with the Golden State Warriors can’t be told without explaining that nearly six years with the Timberwolves weren’t quite right. That’s what the comeback is, and that’s what makes these stories endearing, it’s what makes this guy so easy to support, and what’s ahead — in this case, the upcoming 2022 NBA Finals — is so interesting.

“I’m grateful,” Wiggins said. “It’s a beautiful story. Lots of ups and downs.”

In 2014, he was the first prize of the draft. In this case, the chosen player is immediately saddled, or possibly cursed, with the general expectation of greatness. As far as Wiggins is concerned, those high hopes are not too far-fetched, just because they seem to be an organic fate.

He is a descendant of former Olympian Marita Payne (still one of the fastest sprinters in Canadian history) and Mitchell Wiggins, who reached the 1986 NBA Finals with the Rockets time to start. All the fast-twitch fibers went to Andrew, who became the most famous Canadian-born rookie of all time — “Maple Jordan” was an intriguing appointment — and he spent a year of college in blue-blooded Kansas, There he was considered more promising than his teammate, future Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid.

The Cavaliers took the No. 1 overall pick and selected Wiggins, but also took back LeBron James from his four-year stint in Miami. So they sent Wiggins to Minnesota in exchange for the soon-to-win Kevin Love. Wiggins got off to a good start, winning Kia Rookie of the Year, followed by two straight seasons with better numbers, averaging 20.7 points per game, then 23.6, while playing with another No. 1 overall pick, Karl. – Anthony Downs co.

Then his production and efficiency dropped after Wiggins signed a rookie max extension for $148 million, making him the highest-paid player in Minnesota after Kevin Garnett. Except he’s not at the level of a former MVP. The All-Star appointment never came. Heck, there wasn’t even a Player of the Week award. Wiggins is decent enough. He just wasn’t great, and that was his sin. For example, if he’s the 10th pick, no one cares. And, true to his easy-going nature, Wiggins isn’t hot or expressive on the court, which makes for an unfair assumption that he doesn’t care.

Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins thank each other after eliminating the Mavericks.

and also That The team trained Jimmy Butler and four backup players on one infamous day in 2018 to whip up other Minnesota starters, who Butler angrily claimed — including Wiggins, of course — were “weak.” ,” and implied that he couldn’t use them. Butler then took advantage of the trade to Philadelphia.

Speaking of which: The Timberwolves have been losing, going 174-285 with Wiggins. They didn’t make the playoffs in the 10 years before him, and only once in the 5 1/2 years with him. As a team, the Timberwolves have been going backwards, which is still an NBA afterthought.

So that’s the backstory. While the Warriors are right about Wiggins right now, when they traded him for D’Angelo Russell in February 2020, there was a little doubt. Otherwise why would the Warriors ask for a protected No. 1 pick? Smart negotiation, of course. But they also want insurance…just in case. The Wolves were so eager to dump Wiggins that they actually said “yes” to the draft pick (to be Jonathan Cuminga in 2021).

The Warriors then began to lose when Wiggins joined a team that had reached the Finals five straight years. It’s not Wiggins’ fault. This was during the two-year Klay Thompson recovery Odyssey, in which Stephen Curry was also lame.

During this stretch, Wiggins has been a bit better than the Golden State Warriors expected. His three-point shooting has improved. He engages with the system. Nothing fancy, but still. Wiggins averaged 18.6 points per game in his first full season with the Warriors while shooting a career-best 47.7 percent from the field.

“Wiggs understands the nuances of winning basketball and how to make a big difference in the little things,” Curry said. “Keep going on defense, take one-on-one challenges, be aggressive on offense, use his athleticism to get to the rim when needed, shoot 3s with confidence. That’s what helps you win.”

All that goodwill and promise was all but shattered when Wiggins hesitated before the season to take a coronavirus shoot, and then at the last minute he realized he would only be playing a fraction of the games in California. Then, pay off: Wiggins was named an All-Star starter this year, heavily fueled by fan votes.

“I thought I was dreaming,” he said. “I was like, what’s wrong?”

Relive some of the Warriors’ great moments from the 2021-22 season, from Stephen Curry’s magic moment at MSG to the playoffs.

With the Warriors back in full swing, Wiggins became the sometimes better secondary option. Unlike Minnesota, he doesn’t have to save the team, be an Alpha Dog, or meet anyone’s lofty expectations. As Draymond Green said: “We want Wiggs to be Wiggs.”

And then in these playoffs, Wiggs is something else: He goes to work. All the stifling athleticism, bounce and reflexes come together, especially in the Dallas series where Wiggins was the first line of defense against Doncic and had insane scoring, including pull-ups Jump shots and dribble breakthroughs. He plays smart, rarely pushes shots, finds his comfort zone, and takes the opportunity to attack.

“On the biggest stage,” Green said, “he made it through.”

With his two-way ability, the 6-foot-7 and only 27-year-old Wiggins is the new (though not quite as mature) Andre Iguodala, a man capable of defending a major scorer and playing when necessary The wing defender who gets the bucket.

“If they need me to score, I’ll score,” he said. “If they need me to defend, I’m going to defend, rebound, etc.”

Thompson is still trying to regain his defense after his injury, which will only increase the importance of Wiggins, who will be tasked with Jayson Tatum in the Finals, which would normally go to Klay.

“I told him, wow, you made my job easier,” Thompson said. “I don’t have to chase these guys like I used to. We have guards like you.”

The Warriors did due diligence before acquiring Wiggins on how to trigger some of his stuff. There is no harsh love; instead, the conversations between the coaching staff and his teammates are a constant stream of encouragement to understand that his mistakes will not be magnified and that his great performances will be praised.

The atmosphere created by the Warriors and the win has worked, especially in the playoffs where Wiggins has only been there once before, and never this deep. Being part of a winning team makes players more confident. Green recently lashed out at Wolves when assessing the transformation of Wiggins’ image.

“This is someone who has been criticized for being lazy,” Green said. “No one talks about the team they’re in or the organization they’re in. No one talks about that. It’s always the player’s fault.”

Which stars stand out and who controls the paint are two factors that could play a big role in the NBA Finals.

Well, Wiggins’ evolution is almost complete. In Minnesota, he’s never been as terrifying on a team with a rich history of suffering as the murmurs and local fan base suggest. Again, he’s not the main reason the Warriors are back in the Finals after a two-year absence.

But his acquisition and subsequent adaptation made the Warriors more athletic and complete, allowing head coach Steve Kerr to use a smaller and faster lineup that rivaled the “death” lineups of past championship teams. So when it comes to Wiggins, they rave about him whenever they ask. He cost them almost nothing in the Minnesota trade, which in hindsight was lopsided.

“It’s been fun to see Wiggs play at this level and get what he deserves,” Kerr said.

The Finals will explain a lot about Wiggins. This is the ultimate testing ground for a man to cement his legacy…or step on a banana peel. If nothing else, he’s in a better place, both performance and team-wise, which is the tonic he’s been craving. Coincidentally, he could be the first player in the draft class to win a ring. In a sense, the former No. 1 overall pick has a chance to get No. 1 again.

“Being here and being with these people, I learned a lot,” Wiggins said. “These are the winning players, it’s a winning system. I won. In the end.”

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Sean Powell has covered the NBA for over 25 years.You can email him here, find his profile and follow him here Twitter.

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