PHOENIX — For much of his career, Andrew Wiggins has simultaneously fought and triggered the criticisms of poor effort and sub-par defense, triggering a label of «bust» for the former first-round pick.
In his first five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was among the worst defenders in the league, drawing the ire of former teammates, wearing out his welcome in the Midwest.
The reputation followed him to Golden State, where even a change of address couldn’t erase his mistakes. At his new gig, he’s betting a new environment will unlock his game. Twenty-seven points, five assists and four rebounds later, he momentarily silenced those pundits in a 112-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
«Any time you enter a new chapter in life, you want to do better,» Wiggins said following the defeat. «You never want to go back to how stuff was before. This is a blessing.»
At the moment, Wiggins is taking advantage of the opportunity. Against the Suns, he showed potential. Six minutes into the game, he hit a 3-pointer in front of Golden State’s bench, giving the Warriors a two-point lead. A minute later, he found Marquese Chriss on an alley-oop pass. More vital, he finished with a career-high four blocks, hounding Devin Booker much of night, impressing coaches along the way.
«He’s a great weapon to have,» Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. «And we’re still learning how to use him and what he’s comfortable with and how to use him and experiment.»
«It’s a great challenge and it’s only going to make me better,» Wiggins added. «Guarding the best guys in the league and seeing their tendencies. It’s only going to make me better so I love it.
Over his last three games, he has been tasked with guarding the opposition’s best player, showing his two-way potential. In Saturday’s loss to the Lakers, he scored 24 points, helping limit All-Star forward LeBron James to just 7-of-17 shooting from the field. Two nights later, he scored 14 of his 18 points in the third quarter, helping the Warriors cut a 21-point deficit to five.
Wiggins’ activity was only seen in spurts during his Minnesota tenure. Picked No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, he was expected to lead the Timberwolves back to contention. However, his calm demeanor and propensity to disappear in games all but erased his annual average of nearly 20 points per game. Paired with fellow No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns, the duo was known more for unfulfilled potential than wins. All the while, Wiggins was one of the worst defenders in the league.
The trade to Golden State has also provided a welcomed change for Wiggins on the offensive end. No longer subjected to heavy isolation offense, he’s now asked to cut in the Warriors’ motion offense — a change the 24-year old has enjoyed.
«It’s been great,» Wiggins said. «I feel like I’ve been adapting pretty well and guys have been helping me. But you get easier baskets like this. Basketball is fun, everyone is looking out for each other, unselfishly and everyone is trying to get each other open. So it’s a great feeling.»
Wiggins’ arrival comes as Golden State is in a period of transition. Hours before Wiggins’ on-court outburst, Kerr reiterated that Stephen Curry‘s return from a broken hand is coming, and he’s excited about pairing them together.
«Once we are fully healthy and we’ve got a lot of different weapons on the floor, it becomes easier to create space for him and once he gets in space,» Kerr said, «he’s really explosive getting to the rim and obviously can knock down perimeter shots as well.»
For five years, Wiggins has tried to bare the responsibility of carrying a franchise with mixed results. Now, in the midst of his current circumstances, he and his coaches believe he’s in the right spot to fulfill his potential.
«He has been a perfect fit,» Kerr said. «And he’s playing well, but he has got to keep getting better and we’ve got to keep pushing him.»
Andrew Wiggins has been silencing critics ever since trade to Warriors originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area