Twelve seconds into the Warriors' game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Paycom Center on Monday night, Andrew Wiggins gave Steve Kerr and the rest of the coaching staff a welcome sight. In stride and without hesitation, Wiggins took a Klay Thompson pass and turned it into three points.
Wiggins took three more 3-pointers the rest of the night and missed all three. And yet, the Warriors' 128-120 win over the Thunder is the best Kerr and everybody else has felt about Wiggins in weeks.
"Yeah, I thought Andrew looked great," Kerr said to reporters after the win when asked if this was the best Wiggins has looked since his right adductor injury. "Athletically, energy wise -- he just looked like himself."
Though he only scored three points on that lone long ball, Wiggins still was a plus-9 in plus/minus after the first 12 minutes. He had one rebound and one block. But most importantly he was locked in on making this a night to forget for an All-Star on the other side.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 31 points on 10 made baskets and 10 made free throws. His start wasn't so impressive. The 24-year-old guard missed his first seven shots and finished the quarter 1-for-8 with two points. Wiggins was one of the main reasons why, and eventually Jonathan Kuminga as well.
Focusing more on defense and slowing down the Thunder's top scorer out of the gate, Wiggins scored 10 of his 15 points on the night in the second half. He made five of his seven shots in the second half, was 7 for 13 on the night and also had four rebounds, two blocks, one assist and one steal.
In the previous seven games he had played since missing 15 straight, Wiggins had made seven or more shots once. That same game also was the one time he had a positive plus/minus. He was averaging a minus-6.6.
Wiggins in OKC was a plus-10.
"He's had a rough go just between the injury and then being sick a couple of times," Kerr said. "He lost some conditioning, lost some rhythm and had a great practice yesterday. You could see this coming just from the way he was moving and how aggressive he was.
"I loved the way he played tonight."
The aggressiveness was evident and is encouraging. Wiggins recently admitted he had a bit of a mental block with driving to the basket since returning from injury. After missing the past two games to a non-COVID illness, Wiggins played with intent for all four quarters.
With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson making 14 3-pointers combined and the Warriors making 20 total, lanes were there for the taking. Wiggins took advantage. He was 6 for 9 on 2-point shots and went 4 for 6 in the paint. As he did throughout the playoffs last season, Wiggins scored in a variety of ways around the basket with size, strength and athleticism.
There were times where he bodied smaller players, and then Wiggins would drain a fadeaway jumper or use footwork around the hoop. Maybe his most impressive shot of the night was a turnaround hook shot to give the Warriors a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
Draymond Green took notice, too. This was the version of Wiggins the Warriors saw at the start of the season, even with an off night from deep. This is who the Warriors have been waiting to see.
"I think it was good to just see him back, aggressive," Green said. "When he first came back he seemed a little timid, which usually is the case when people come back from a long layoff. I don't know if timid is the right word, but you're just trying to find your legs and trying to find your rhythm and trying to find your footing and find your spots.
"It was good to see him aggressive tonight, and he was that way on both sides of the ball."
Playing with intent and aggressiveness in all the right ways, as well as being determined to be a defensive force were key to the Warriors' small-ball lineup. Kevon Looney started in the Warriors' win Friday night against the Toronto Raptors. Jonathan Kuminga started the game before, a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Wiggins was a starter in his return, as was Jordan Poole.
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The Warriors' small-ball lineup of Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins and Green all played their part. The results are in the numbers. That group of five players spent 16 minutes and 57 seconds on the floors together in an eight-point win.
They were a plus-17 and outscored the Thunder 52-35 together. They also shot 12 for 16 on 2-pointers, 7 for 15 on 3s and 19 for 31 overall -- a 61.3-percent clip. They had a 72.2 true shooting percentage, and held the Thunder to a 47.3 true shooting percentage.
A big scoring night very well could be around the corner for Wiggins. Through his first 22 games of the season, he scored over 30 points twice and 20 or more 12 times. It's not a necessity, though. Not when the offense is clicking like it was for long stretches Monday.
Kerr had a feeling following Sunday's practice that the best version of Wiggins we've seen in quite some time is back. Monday night's win was validation, and could take the Warriors to new heights that have been far out of their reach this season.