Andrew Wiggins is neither running from prying eyes nor hiding behind a wall of tired platitudes. He realizes he’s entering his prime, knows what the Warriors want from him and has spent most of this year training to meet that standard.
Wiggins, 25, understands that after spending six years taunting his teammates and teasing the NBA with his prodigious gifts, he needs to show the Warriors and everyone else -- including himself -- that his untapped potential is about to be tapped.
“I was coming into the season with the mentality that I’ve got to go,” Wiggins said Thursday, expressing an attitude that existed before Klay Thompson was ruled out for the season.
It’s Wiggins Time, which is not to suggest he’s looking to join the race for the NBA MVP award.
Becoming the player so many believe he can be would be enough. Wiggins was the No. 1 overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2014 and voted Rookie of the Year. His career scoring average is 19.7 points per game. His eight games with 40 or more points over the last four seasons is one fewer than Thompson over his last four active seasons.
Even as he was putting up numbers and occasionally electrifying crowds, there always has been the suspicion that he’s fighting to reach his ceiling. The general perception around the league is that he’s good but capable of being appreciably better.
“It’s motivation,” Wiggins said. “When you hear people talk good about you and saying you have another level, you just want to reach that level, reach that potential that you have within. And I’m going to keep working toward it.
“I always feel like I can get better. I always feel like I can do more.”
That feeling is particularly prevalent as the 2020-21 season approaches. Wiggins’ desire to make a statement was intensified when Thompson was ruled out for the season. They have different skills but are similar physically, both built to be NBA wings, with the ability to defend up to four positions.
“Just gotta do more, do as much as I can to fill in his spot,” Wiggins said.
In the nine months since the Warriors last played, Wiggins has spent time with family in the Los Angeles area and worked on his game, mostly in local gyms, focusing on ball-handling and “a lotta, lotta shooting.” His stated goals are to improve his 3-point shooting (33.2 percent career, one season above 35.0), his free-throw shooting (73.2 percent career, 70.9 last season) and “really lock in defensively.”
Wiggins already has achieved a goal in another area. His 6-foot-7 physique is broader and more defined. He’s ripped, all the better for those spells when he moves over the power forward.
“I put on a couple pounds of muscle. A couple pounds,” he understated. “I definitely feel stronger. I feel fast, stronger. I feel good.
"Coming into the season, I feel the best I’ve ever felt. Ever.”
Wiggins won’t shoot like Klay; only a dozen or so players in NBA history have drained long-distance jumpers with such proficiency. Where Wiggins can surpass Thompson, though, is in ripping through defenses and soaring for the kind of dunks that can rock an arena.
This is what coach Steve Kerr, who is stressing a fast pace, has in mind for Wiggins. If he can defend at a level close to Thompson, it’ll boost turnovers that can unleash Steph Curry for transition 3-balls or new addition Kelly Oubre Jr. and Wiggins for transition buckets.
Wiggins believes he is built for this style. He is not wrong.
“I feel like one of my strengths is that [I’m] long, athletic, fast and I can get in transition,” he said. “I feel like transition and running the floor is where I'm at my best. I feel like it's going to work out perfectly.”
Those who noted Wiggins’ inconsistencies in Minnesota will be paying closer attention now that he is a Warrior. There will be more national TV games. More nightly scrutiny, more social media reaction, more prying eyes and fewer walls.
Wiggins seems to be ready for the brighter spotlight. For the sake of the Warriors, as well as his image, he’d better be.