Andrew Wiggins has been with the Warriors for 26 games, 14 of them this season, and with each passing performance, the full deck of caution cards that accompanied him when he arrived in the Bay Area look more misleading.
One card said he couldn’t shoot. He can.
Another card said Wiggins was an “empty-calories” scorer, filling it up when it didn’t matter and disappearing when it did. Not so this season.
A third said he might be able to play defense, if only he wanted to. He can and he does.
A fourth card, the most damning of all, said he didn’t care. Don’t know if it was true during his six-plus seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the pertinent means of measurements this season -- statistics, eye test and the trust of his teammates -- say it’s false with the Warriors.
Wiggins’ latest display came Wednesday night, when he contributed 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and terrific defense in a 121-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs. He says he wants to “change the narrative” that followed him to the Bay Area, and all indications are he is serious about it. It is being noticed, even earning him a nickname.
“He's more than capable as ‘Two-way Wiggs,” as we call him now, at just being able to make his presence felt,” Stephen Curry said. “I think he really cares about the defensive end, and being with us, he's able to kind of show it night after night. There's an expectation of it now. He's proven that he can definitely make an impact on that end of the floor, guarding the ball, off the ball or whatever.”
Wiggins’ on-ball defense has opponents shooting 40.0 percent, better than such respected defenders as Oklahoma City’s Luguentz Dort (43.3), Boston’s Jaylen Brown (43.5) and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam (44.0).
On shots from 15 feet or further, where many wings thrive, the failure rate against Wiggins is 67.4 percent, roughly the same as Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis (67.5) and better than Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard (61.4) and Portland’s 3-and-D wing Robert Covington (59.3). The failure rate against Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith, considered a “defensive specialist,” is 63.9.
“The defense is the most important thing,” coach Steve Kerr said. “You know the drill in this league: You’ve got to be able to guard all those wings, whether it's (DeMar) DeRozan or LeBron (James) or Paul George or Kawhi or whoever. There’s just so many super talented 6-8 guys out there. Andrew’s built to handle them. That was the focus for us before the season started and he's responded really well.”
Defense is, first and foremost, about effort. About caring. Wiggins leads the Warriors on contesting shots (13.5 per game) and ranks ahead of such dogged on-ball defenders as Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (8.8) and Toronto’s Fred VanVleet (10.9).
“It’s definitely a priority,” Wiggins said of defense. “Every night, you don’t know if your jumper is going to fall or if you are going to score the basketball. But the No. 1 thing you can make sure you do is to play hard and play defense. Try and impact the game in that way.”
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-8 Toronto native quietly is silencing those who often cited his shooting efficiency as a reason he was overpaid in Minnesota. He’s in the third year of a five-year contract worth $148 million.
Wiggins is averaging 17.8 points per game, shooting 45.1 percent from distance and 40.0 percent beyond the arc. Subtract the first two games, when he was as atrocious as the rest of the Warriors (10-of-34 from the field, 2-of-10 from deep), and Wiggins is shooting 48.3 percent overall, 43.1 percent from deep.
“I feel like I missed shots early,” Wiggins said. “And we just needed to figure out, I needed to figure myself out on how I could help the team in many ways and then just building on that every game.”
He has had enormous fourth quarters, most notably in Detroit, when he scored 17 of his 27 points in the fourth. Wiggins drained a 3-ball over George to give the Warriors at nine-point lead over the Clippers with 90 seconds remaining.
“He's shown that he's ready for those type of moments,” Curry said. “His confidence is only getting better in terms of what he's asked to do and how he can help us win games.”
There was a fifth card that came with Wiggins. Said he was inconsistent. His response this season? Two forgettable games at the start, 12 in a row in which he has scored between 15 and 27 points.
At this rate, those cards will be obsolete before the end of this season.