NBA players best discover their potential through absorbing lessons and moving on as quickly as possible. The “next” mentality is real and necessary. Next play. Next game. Next opportunity.
After studying video of the opening-night debacle in Brooklyn with his Warriors teammates, Andrew Wiggins seems particularly eager for the next game, as he should be.
His performance against the Nets is one he’d like to delete from his 2020-21 gallery, if not his memory.
“I had a couple plays in there,” Wiggins said Wednesday. “Couple silly turnovers, or just layups and I’m like, ‘How the hell I did I miss that.’
“But it happens. It’s the game of basketball. You know there’s going to be off-nights, there’s going to be times where you do stupid stuff, make the wrong decision. But the good thing about the NBA is there’s going to be another game in a couple days.”
That next game is Christmas Day against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Wiggins goes from seeing plenty of Kevin Durant to seeing just as much or more of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
If the languid defense and sloppy offense on display against the Nets shows up again, featuring Wiggins in a prominent role, the Warriors will leave Wisconsin with an 0-2 start in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009-10.
“We all could have competed a little bit more, get after it, make it tougher on some of the [Nets],” Wiggins said. “But I feel we had a lot of good looks. We missed a lot of easy shots, wide-open 3s, layups. A lot of stuff that’s fixable.”
Wiggins’ personal breakdown lacks the blunt truth of a Draymond Green, who is quick to blurt out “I sucked” after a poor individual performance. Wiggins brings a rich layer of stoicism, punctuated with an unsaid plea: Don’t judge me just yet.
The problem with that is his history. Wiggins is in his seventh NBA season, and the five since he was named Rookie of the Year (2013-14) have been characterized as empty-calorie seasons. He was in Minnesota, with the Timberwolves, who for most of their existence have been synonymous with struggle. Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins, No. 1 overall picks in consecutive drafts, weren’t able to change the fortunes of the franchise.
While Towns was becoming an All-Star, Wiggins was gaining the reputation of a gifted player standing on the sidewalk squinting blankly in the general direction of stardom.
This season is, with him proclaiming Stephen Curry as “the best player I’ve ever played with,” might be Wiggins’ greatest opportunity to take a step or two.
And he knows it. He really, really knows it.
“It's a great opportunity to open new doors, kind of like a fresh start because this is a totally different team than my other team, with the success [the Warriors] have had and the players we’ve got -- everything,” Wiggins said. “So, it’s totally different.”
It didn’t look much different for Wiggins on Tuesday. And the Warriors looked much the same as they did most of last season. It was a conspiracy of ineptitude.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who facilitated the extended video session on Wednesday, believes both the Warriors and Wiggins will recover, that they’ll both be better, though it might take a few weeks.
“It was a rough game for him last night, a rough game for everybody,” Kerr said of Wiggins, before suggesting Wiggins’ encouraging 12-game stint with the Warriors last season provides a more accurate assessment of him.
“The 12 games last year is a much better sample size,” Kerr said. “I think, over the course of this year, he's going to prove to be a very good wing player with length and defensive versatility. And that's a role that we need. He’s going to fit in fine and he'll play better, and he'll be the first to tell you that.”
Wiggins didn’t exactly say that. He rather hinted at it. The only way to know for sure if the lessons were absorbed and will result in corrections is to keep eyes on his performance, beginning with Christmas Day.