August 9, 2022

The late Flip Saunders had a way of describing the worst of Andrew Wiggins – those times when a then-rookie Wiggins became insignificant, not to be seen or heard of for entire terms at a time. He called them “lost minutes”. And over the years, four different Timberwolves coaching administrations have tried to take them out, with no real success.

Wiggins would be dominant one night and out of place the next. A two-way force then a piece of furniture. Minnesota coaches and executives clung to how Wiggins would perform in big games — like matchups with superstar wings or against the Cavs, the team that drafted him first just to trade him. – and wondered how to get the young striker to summon that same effort and intensity for every opponent. This disparity came to define Wiggins during his first five seasons in the NBA, when he earned a reputation as a hollow scorer on a losing team.

Then he became a Warrior. It took time for Wiggins to find his way with Golden State and for the team around him to become whole again. Still, at this point, the fit is undeniable.

Wiggins was center frame Monday night as the Warriors beat the Celtics 104-94 to take a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals. He battled his way to a monster outing of 26 points and 13 rebounds while stalking Jayson Tatum for most of the game. Not a single minute was wasted. It was the second time in his career Wiggins had posted back-to-back double-doubles, and he did it on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes. Perhaps the secret to making Big Game Wiggins the standard issue was simply to make every game count.

“He doesn’t get any bigger than that,” Wiggins said with a smile.

The same player who was ranked as one of the worst rebounders of his size in his first five years in the NBA has been beefing up bigs to bring down essential boards in traffic. The fickle scorer who used to settle for empty calorie jumpers drove on the Celtics whenever he could, including for a dunk to punctuate the win in his final minutes. It’s an incredible development, beyond what the Warriors had hoped for when they acquired Wiggins via trade in 2020. “We had no idea he would make that kind of contribution,” said the head coach Steve Kerr. “But I think it’s a reminder that for almost every player in the NBA, circumstances are everything.”

At the time, trading Wiggins was big news, but not necessarily considered a move that could get the Warriors back to the Finals. Among other moving parts, the Warriors sent D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota for Wiggins and the lottery pick that would become Jonathan Kuminga. It was the most emblematic move of Golden State’s two-way philosophy: a bet for small forward Bob Myers and his staff believed could help the team in the near future and a lottery talent that could help the Warriors extend their notoriety all along the line. Wiggins alone justifies the deal. The move was a work of vision from an organization that saw something in him that other teams didn’t.

“If our environment can’t make someone better, then we’re doing something wrong,” Myers said after the exchange. “Then our environment, our coaching staff, me and all the support we provide isn’t worth much if we don’t believe we can make people better.”

In November, Warriors governor Joe Lacob bragged to Tim Kawakami that Athleticism that Wiggins’ move and the pick that became Kuminga was “perhaps the best deal we’ve ever made”. He might be right. With Golden State one win away from the title, the addition of Wiggins looks like a move with championship-altering implications.

“A lot of people looked at this trade like, ‘Oh, this is another coin they can move,'” Draymond Green said. “We looked at the trade from the start like, ‘He’s a guy who can fit in very well alongside a healthy group.'”

And it was all about the idea that Wiggins could be something more than he had ever been. Not in production, per se, but in scale. Golden State needed Wiggins to do things no other warrior can: protect high-flying scorers like an aging Andre Iguodala and long-injured Klay Thompson did, and blow up one of the most difficult offenses. most ballistic of the game. Wiggins averaged more than 18 points per game in Conference Finals and Finals, taking advantage of the space created by his teammates to cut straight through stifling defenses. The fact that he’s shooting 25% from beyond the arc in this championship series doesn’t even really matter because Wiggins isn’t standing in the corner, closing a gap. The young Warriors needed a forward like Harrison Barnes to be a tough piece. The current Warriors need Wiggins to be dynamic.

“These guys are challenging you,” Wiggins said. “Every day before the game, they will tell you: We need you. It’s important, and I like the fact that they do.

These words have a different meaning when they come from some of the most accomplished players of their generation. There’s a pressure that comes with working alongside someone like Stephen Curry, but with that comes the chance to compete for history. Wiggins rose to the occasion, fearlessly striving through the greatest moments of his life as a basketball player.

“He’s taken on the challenge of consistency and what he’s able to do on both ends of the court,” Curry said. “The fact that he has the ability to do what he does [is] because of the way we play and because of how we embraced it from day one. [We] try to paint a picture of what his skills can do for us to reach the highest level.

With that backing, the Warriors now take Wiggins’ effort and strength for granted. His coach praises him for his tireless rebounds and his teammates marvel at his sense of urgency. The promise of a career comes to fruition, as all of the qualifiers surrounding Wiggins melt away. Do not waste, do not want. A championship is within reach on Thursday, but winning it in Boston against an opponent of this caliber will require unrelenting energy and extraordinary focus. It’s remarkable in itself that the Warriors know Wiggins is in.