Andrew Wiggins’ posterizing dunk on Luka Dončić was perhaps the biggest talker Monday morning as sports pundits recapped the Warriors’ 109-100 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, though, had the bigger picture in mind when speaking to reporters Monday in Dallas.
He named Wiggins as the button that pressed “resume” on the dynasty in the Bay after consecutive injury-riddled, playoff-absent seasons since the team’s last NBA Finals appearance in 2019.
“I think the Wiggins trade is the key to all of this,” Kerr said of Golden State’s success. “I’ve said it many times probably, but we lost so many wing defenders after the [2018-19] season. Andre [Iguodala], Shaun Livingston, Kevin [Durant], Klay [Thompson] with the injury. Our whole wing core was wiped out defensively.”
Livingston retired after the Warriors’ loss in six games to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals. Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency, and Iguodala departed for two seasons in South Beach with the Miami Heat. Thompson worked his way back from tearing a torn ACL in his left knee before suffering a ruptured right Achilles the following year.
At the 2019-20 trade deadline, the Warriors addressed their need on the wing by sending guard D’Angelo Russell and a pair of bench players, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman, to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Wiggins and two picks in the 2021 NBA Draft.
"The Wiggins trade allowed us to start to rebuild that wing defense," Kerr said. "Wiggs has just been so good, he’s gotten so much better over the last couple years. He’s a perfect fit next to our guys."
At the time of the trade, Wiggins was in the second season of a five-year max contract extension with the Timberwolves. Wiggins’ talent on the court was undisputed -- he was named the 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year and averaged 19.7 points per game over six seasons in Minnesota.
But doubts lingered about Wiggins’ effort on defense and passion for the game. He was viewed as overpaid as the Wolves' commitment to Wiggins didn't result in wins. Minnesota only had one winning season and one playoff appearance during Wiggins' tenure, both of which were credited by most to Jimmy Butler's arrival in Minneapolis.
Wiggins has found his sweet spot in his second full season in the Bay. With just five previous playoff games under his belt before the Warriors' current run, Wiggins is making an impact in just about every playoff game. His defensive efforts against Dončić have been lauded in the conference finals as much as his highlight-reel dunk.
"I don’t know where we’d be without him defensively with his work on Luka and every other top wing that we have to face," Kerr said. "He’s just been brilliant. I think that move was kind of the key move that Bob and the front office made to get us back to having a playoff-ready roster."
And Wiggins' playoff journey isn't done yet.