SAN FRANCISCO – The absence of Andrew Wiggins is almost over. After a month away, he could return to the Warriors as soon as Saturday or, if not, Tuesday. And when he does, general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr will have two reasons to start breakdancing.
The first is simply that Wiggins, an All-Star and Golden State’s top wing defender, will be back in the starting lineup at small forward.
The second is that Myers and Kerr will be able to find opportunities to spare the use of Anthony Lamb, the two-way forward who has become practically indispensable with Wiggins on the sideline.
Lamb has played in 30 consecutive games, and a total of 31. Two-way contracted players are allotted a maximum of 50 NBA games, so the 6-foot-6, 227-pound small forward is 19 away from the limit.
The Warriors have 43 games remaining on their regular-season schedule.
Thus, there is the desire for Kerr to occasionally deactivate Lamb, who was inactive for eight of the team’s first nine games. Using him sparingly, if at all, is more comfortably done if Wiggins is available and playing his typical 32-to-36 minutes.
With the Warriors diminished as they are – with Stephen Curry and four others joining Wiggins on the injured list – Lamb has become the temporary Sixth Man. He was the first Warrior off the bench in a 122-119 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, entering less than four minutes after tipoff. He didn’t take long to provide the latest example of his value.
While the Pistons were trying to bury the Warriors in the first half, with Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole shooting 7-of-20 from the field, Lamb was delivering 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He hit three 3-pointers in a 91-second span, each shot following a Pistons bucket.
When so many of Lamb’s teammates were scrambling to score, he kept the Warriors in the game.
Lamb finished by tying his season-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-5 from distance. Golden State’s other two-way player, Ty Jerome, had 11 in the first half and finished with 18. Jerome is 27 games short of 50, and he’s certain to see fewer games once Curry returns.
Asked after the game if he feels he and Lamb – both having spent more time in the G League than the NBA – are proving capable of being rotation players in the league, took a long and deliberate pause before answering.
“I mean, of course,” he said. “Yeah, I mean, when an opportunity presents itself, that's what you prepare for it. It’s what you work hard for. It felt a lot better the previous five games [all wins] than tonight, but it happens.”
Kerr, again indicating his faith in the two-way guys, had both on the floor during crucial minutes of a tight fourth quarter in a game that wasn’t decided until Pistons forward Saddiq Bey launched a 28-foot prayer to win it inside the final second.
Lamb, despite his offensive contributions, was quick to point out that he could have done more to help the Warriors, referring to having pulled only two rebounds in 28 minutes.
“Personally, I take a lot of responsibility for [not] coming back and helping rebound,” he said. “A lot of the times when they kept us off, breaking it open and taking the lead, was because we didn’t finish plays. There were a lot of plays where I can just go back and grab a couple more rebounds and that would have changed the whole game for us.”
In the 15 games since Wiggins went down with a groin strain on Dec. 3, Lamb is averaging 20.8 minutes. In the five games before Wiggins left the lineup, Lamb averaged 9.6 minutes. Yeah, there’s a direct relationship between his availability and that of Wiggins.
Lamb is aware of the numbers, and their significance. Same with Jerome. It’s the life of a two-way player. The clock ticks every time you’re active for a game.
“Right now, we’re just playing, especially when you have guys [out],” Lamb said. “You can’t really worry about your own situation.”
That’s for Kerr and Myers, whose worry meters bumped up with each day Wiggins missed. They’ll worry a lot less when he’s activated.