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No time for Wiggs to lose edge as Klay re-enters rotation

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The Warriors know what they have in Andrew Wiggins. He comes to work, always amenable if not always agreeable. He accepts the tough defensive assignment, walks out for the opening tip, goes to work and gets dapped up after the final horn.

No flowers needed, for Wiggins isn’t the type to seek praise or favors, or even moral support.

“He’s selfless,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters after practice Wednesday in Milwaukee. “He just wants to be part of a good team. He doesn’t ever get upset if he’s not getting enough shots or that kind of thing.

If anything, I have to remind him to stay aggressive now that Klay (Thompson) is here, because Klay is going to get his shots up. Andrew has got to coexist within all of that. But that’ll come.”

That is precisely what Wiggins needs to hear from his coach and his teammates, that the return of Klay need not beget the retreat of Wiggs.

Thompson has been back for two games, long enough to see that Wiggins is – whether purposely or subconsciously – making concessions for the five-time All-Star. Laying back so Klay can be Klay. And, at this time, it’s hurting the team.

If Wiggins can’t find a way to at least partially offset the impact of Giannis Antetokounmpo when the Warriors face the Bucks on Thursday, there is little chance of success, unless either Stephen Curry or Klay goes nuclear. Maybe both.

Understand, now, Klay’s comeback is wonderful for the Warriors, a heartwarming tale for their fans and a profoundly gratifying accomplishment for a man who lives to play basketball. The NBA is a happier place when he is active and firing. Though he has missed 19 of his first 33 shots, know that he’ll get buckets. His shot might stray, but it always comes back.

 

Curry’s shot, like Thompson’s, will be fine. The Warriors have little chance of maintaining a top-two seed in the Western Conference unless both have typical seasons. The belief is that Jordan Poole’s consistency will get better, too. That accounts for three of the four designated “shooters” projected to play the most minutes.

Wiggins is the fourth. And lately, even with the Warriors having a hard time scoring, there have been too many possessions during which he seems comfortable on the outskirts of the offense. A passive Wiggins diminishes Golden State’s offense.

An aggressive Wiggins, the way he has played this season, can generate scoring at a level somewhere between 2014-15 Harrison Barnes and 2016-17 Kevin Durant.

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Klay scored 17 points on 18 shots in 19 adrenaline-rich minutes on Sunday, and totaled 14 on 13 shots in 20 on Tuesday. He hunted shots, as the Warriors want him to – up to a point.

Wiggins over those two games played 68 minutes, scoring a total of 23 points, taking 21 shots. He tied season lows in points (10) and field-goal attempts (nine) on Sunday. His train to the All-Star Game, rolling and roaring a week ago, can barely push out a chug.

It’s conceivable that Wiggins, Golden State’s No. 2 scorer, behind Steph Curry, is buying into the outside chatter, which is that he is now the third option on the offense. Insofar as Klay has more accolades, it’s a logical position.

It is less logical when one considers that Wiggins, for most of the season, has been the most efficient long-distance shooter in the starting lineup. 

The Warriors’ 3-point shooting, such an asset in the first quarter of the season, has declined in recent weeks, and it’s not only Curry. They ranked fourth in accuracy (37.3 percent) through the first 25 games, but are 22nd (33.5) over the last 15.

Wiggins over those 15 games has stayed on target, shooting 43.3 percent from distance. He’s shooting a career-best 42.1 from deep this season.

After spending his career wearing the “passive underachiever” straitjacket, Wiggins has wriggled free and is finding his place among the league’s stars. He has been adding believers at a steady rate, though some still need more “sample size” data to buy in.

Wiggins is at his best when playing with conviction, whether banging into the paint and attacking the rim or scorching the nets in catch-and-shoot opportunities.

There is something else the Warriors have learned about Wiggins. He listens. When his coaches and teammates saw his star turn in a 35-point performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 10 at Chase Center, they urged him to stay forceful. He did.

 

Kerr reinforced that message on Wednesday. Expect that his teammates, knowing it’s for the best, will follow.