Andrew Wiggins embraces 'winning culture,' impresses in Warriors debut

Andrew Wiggins embraces 'winning culture,' impresses in Warriors debut

SAN FRANCISCO -- From defensively challenging LeBron James to drilling open jumpers to turning the corner at the elbow and driving for a dunk out of a half-court set, Andrew Wiggins did a variety of things Saturday sure to endear him to the crowds at Chase Center.

Moreover, the latest Warriors’ impact acquisition gave a degree of effort -- an element of his game that has been questioned -- his teammates and coaches are bound to appreciate.

Such as moving his feet and keeping his hands up on defense, and then, on the other end, cutting and darting off the ball with a determination just short of the Klay Thompson/Stephen Curry ideal.

Though the Warriors took a 125-120 loss to the Lakers, it is much more germane that Wiggins played hard enough and performed well enough to encourage all pertinent parties.

“He’s long, athletic and he’s been in the league,” coach Steve Kerr said. “So, he understands the NBA game and made some really good plays that we try to teach in terms of how to guard pick-and-roll and getting back into the passing lane and fighting back to the basket when somebody breaks free and is blocking shots from behind.

“The extra effort really was helpful. And because of that athleticism, it allows him to make some plays that other guys just can’t.”

Inserted into the starting lineup 20 hours after arriving in the Bay Area from Minnesota, Wiggins finished with 24 points, on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from distance and 5-of-9 from the line. The 6-foot-8 small forward also had five steals, four turnovers, three assists, two rebounds and one block. He played 31 minutes and finished minus-2.

After nearly six seasons with a Timberwolves franchise that has won just two playoff series in its 30-year history and last reached the postseason in 2018, Wiggins appeared revived and eager to embrace a new start, with surroundings.

“We lost a lot, you know, in Minnesota,” Wiggins said. “So, coming here and being part of a winning team and a winning culture, is different. Losing is never fun. Just being here, you can tell by everyone’s attitude, everyone is a coach, everything here, everywhere, they’re winners.

“That’s something I’ve wanted to be my whole career. I’m here. So, I’m happy.”

It showed. Wiggins got the primary assignment on LeBron and made him work for everything. James totaled 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting, adding 11 assists and eight rebounds.

“It was great to have a player that we could put on LeBron and at least matchup physically,” Kerr said.

It’s significant to note that Wiggins’ offensive numbers came without the benefit of playing alongside Draymond Green, who was a late scratch (low back discomfort) and joined Curry and Thompson on the unavailable list. With his passing and dissecting of a defense, Draymond excels at finding scorers and should smooth things out for Wiggins.

Then, too, Wiggins’ offense should become more efficient simply by sharing the court with Curry, Green and Thompson. It’s a matter of maintaining consistent off-the-ball movement and being able make open 3-balls, particularly from the corners.

Insofar as he profiles as having potential to be a good defender -- terrific athleticism and a 6-10 wingspan -- it’s up to the Warriors and their culture, which demands trust, to help him plumb it.

Mostly, Wiggins has to play as if winning matters. As if losing is misery. As if chasing rings are the first, second and third priorities. He has been criticized for lacking desire and, in some quarters, being without passion for the game of basketball.

“I feel like everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Wiggins said. “It is what it is. I feel like when you’re losing, there’s going to be a dark shadow over you.

“But I’m here now. This is a winning culture. A winning team. So, hopefully, people can take a different view and just watch us ball.”

[RELATED: Why Draymond likes Wiggins trade]

With the Warriors at 12-41, the real balling will have to wait. Curry should be back next month. It’s looking as if Thompson won’t return until next season. That’s when the Warriors should look a bit more as they did in recent seasons rather than the current one.

It was only one night, but Wiggins passed any reasonable test. Playing with strangers, nearly half of them summoned from the G League, he earned nothing less an A-minus and was a couple rebounds from a solid A.

Why Warriors are in third place in ESPN's NBA Future Power Rankings

Why Warriors are in third place in ESPN's NBA Future Power Rankings

Before the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Warriors had the worst record in the league.

Is it really possible that they immediately become a title contender in 2020-21 and 2021-22? Is the championship window still open?

ESPN recently published its "NBA Future Power Rankings," and the answer to the two aforementioned questions is "yes."

So here's how it works:

The Future Power Rankings are ESPN Insider's projection of the on-court success expected for each team over the next three seasons, including 2019-20 if the NBA returns to action.

We asked ESPN analysts Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks to rate teams in five categories and rank them relative to the rest of the league.

Simple enough, right?

Well, the Warriors currently sit in third place behind the LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.

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Here's how Golden State ranked in the five categories:

1) Players (58.3 percent of the score) = 6th 

2) Management (16.7 percent of the score) = 4th 

3) Money (8.3 percent of the score) = tied for 26th

4) Market (8.3 percent of the score) = 2nd

5) Draft (8.3 percent of the score) = 3rd 

[RELATED: One thing Kerr, Dubs always looking for when building roster]

As Marks writes:

Golden State's two projected lottery picks in 2020 and 2021 -- their own this year and Minnesota's (top-three protected) in 2021 -- are largely responsible for the top-five ranking. In addition to their draft assets, the Warriors have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins under contract for at least the next three seasons, which should put them in contention with both Los Angeles teams.

Eventually, we will find out if the Warriors keep the prized draft picks or package them together in a trade for another star player.

Assuming things return to normal in the not-so-distant future, it truly will be fascinating to see how the front office constructs the roster.

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One thing Steve Kerr, Warriors always looking for when building roster

One thing Steve Kerr, Warriors always looking for when building roster

Everything with the NBA is up in the air right now.

But for the sake of this exercise, let's assume that at some point this summer or fall we have the NBA draft and free agency opens.

The Warriors have a lot of tools at their disposal to improve the roster and will be aggressive in doing so.

"The one thing we're always focused on is two-way players regardless of position," coach Steve Kerr told Warriors TV play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald. "The league largely has become position-less. You've got point guards and centers and then a whole bunch of guys like Andre Iguodala or Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard -- whoever you want to say.

"Somebody who can shoot 3s, who can guard multiple spots, can handle the ball, make decisions -- the more of those guys on your roster, the better. Multi-skilled, versatile players with size."

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So if you're a Warriors fan and you're thinking about which draft prospects and/or free agents the franchise will target, keep Kerr's comments in mind.

[RELATED: Dubs' Paschall explains his great chemistry with Draymond]

He and general manager Bob Myers repeatedly over the years have discussed their desire to add guys who value both ends of the floor.

"You got to take the best guys available with an eye towards versatility because that's where the game is headed," Kerr added.

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