SAN FRANCISCO – Andrew Wiggins is not Kevin Durant. Never will be KD. The former has spent more than a year proving to be a fantastic basketball player, and the other is a certified legend.
From a Warriors perspective, though, Wiggins is now bringing a scoring magnificence to this team that parallels that which Durant provided during his three seasons with the franchise.
Which is to say Wiggins is getting buckets with astonishing efficiency.
Wiggins put on a shooting show Saturday evening in a 120-101 win over the young and stubborn Houston Rockets had the sellout crowd (18,064) at Chase Center rocking, swooning and holding its collective breath every time he rose up to launch.
“His shooting was amazing to watch,” said coach Steve Kerr, who has observed Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for eight years.
Wiggins finished with a game- and season-high 36 points on 14-of-19 shooting from the field, including 8-of-10 from distance. He was team-best plus-34 over 34 minutes.
Wiggs’ free throws remain a rim-beating mess – he missed his only two – so rather than driving into the paint against a frisky defense, he spent most of the game blistering Houston’s defense from the far side of the bay. The eight triples tie his single-game career high.
“I didn’t feel like I had done very good job the last two or three games getting him involved,” Kerr said. “Sometimes, he can be left out a little bit offensively when we’re flying up the court taking quick shots. He’s such a good player and attacker.
“Tonight, we made a little more of a concerted effort to try and get him the ball early. More than anything, he was just super aggressive.”
Wiggins over the previous three games scored a total of 39 points, on 16-of-33 shooting (6-of-18 from deep). So, it wasn’t he who cooled off but his team’s desire to ride him.
And why not? Wiggins is coming off the most efficient month of his career, averaging 19.2 points per game in November while shooting 53 percent from the field, including 46.2 percent beyond the arc.
He’s shooting above 50 percent for the season, and on this night moved in front of Curry as the team’s most accurate 3-point shooter.
“He’s been rock-solid for us all year,” Kevon Looney said. “He’s been really consistent. We can count him in for 20 points every night and guarding the other team’s best perimeter player.
“To see him grow and get better as a player is great to see. He’s always been a pretty good shooter, but this year he’s taken another leap shooting the ball. He’s a lot more confident in everything he is doing.”
Wiggins made his first All-Star team last season. He then waded into the postseason and performed spectacularly enough to bury the old “underachiever” label and open eyes around the globe. He was, by any reasonable measure, second only to Curry among the Warriors in The Finals.
And now this, Wiggins proving he is a legitimate NBA star.
These Warriors are not the teams of yore, featuring Curry and Durant – Hall of Fame locks that provided the firepower for a team that once opened the postseason with 15 consecutive victories.
No, the 2022-23 group lacks such a deep reservoir of elite talent and intellect and has a much smaller margin for error. They have to grind harder, and Wiggins is grinding at an exceedingly high level.
He has become for this team that reliable scorer Durant was for teams not so long ago. The trade that brought Wiggins to the Bay Area looks better every time the Warriors look back at it.