If you think Andrew Wiggins is not acutely aware of his critics, you would be wrong.
If you think he lacks competitive fire, he wants to burn you with it.
And if you think he doesn’t care about his reputation for being less than the sum of his gifts, you have not been watching or listening.
After scoring a team-high 17 points and blocking a career-high four shots as the Warriors held off the Toronto Raptors for a 106-105 victory Sunday, Wiggins in a postgame interview with NBC Sports Bay Area voluntarily acknowledged what he’d like to do to the image that has clung to him for most of his six-year career.
“I’m just trying to make a statement, you know?” he said. “Just trying to change that narrative, come out here and work hard and do what I’ve got to do to win. And get after it defensively.”
“The narrative” of Wiggins is, and has been for several years, one of inefficiency on offense and indifference on defense. He brought it with him last February, when he was acquired by the Warriors in a trade that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“The statement” Wiggins is making is that he’s not an inefficient, empty-calories scorer. He’s shooting well, making smart decisions and making crucial shots -- all while playing defense so effectively that coaches and teammates are lining up to toss compliments his way.
“He’s been amazing,” Steph Curry said Sunday. “He’s taken the challenges in 1-on-1 defense, being able to be physical, use his length, just make guys work.”
After defending Clippers star forward Kawhi Leonard into 2-of-12 shooting over two games, Wiggins on Sunday was assigned to Toronto star forward Pascal Siakam, who scored 25 points, most of which came on switches or when Wiggins was off the floor.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr not only praised Wiggins’ defense but cited it as essential to the aspirations of the team this season.
“We now have someone we can put on the opposing team’s best player, whether it’s Pascal Siakam, LeBron, Kawhi, or Paul George,” Kerr said. “The ability to put Andrew on those types of players to use his size and athleticism, it’s really the key to our current roster construction.”
Andrew Wiggins as a defensive centerpiece? This is a revelation. He’s moving into that realm.
Wiggins’ 15 blocked shots ties 7-foot-1 center James Wiseman for the team lead, and his 110.8 defensive rating is superior to such defense-first players as Fred VanVleet of the Raptors and Luguentz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder -- the same Luguentz Dort that gave James Harden fits last postseason.
While coaches and teammates, including the hard-to-impress Draymond Green, are crediting Wiggins, the seventh-year Canadian cites the environment as having a positive impact on his entire game, most notably his defense.
“I feel like I always played good defense; I just feel like here the culture’s different,” he said. “Here, everything is different, especially with the guys I have behind me. It’s not just me out there on defense. We’ve got Draymond, we’ve got Steph, we’ve got Kelly [Oubre Jr.] doing a hell of a job. The guys behind me, I know they’ve got my back and it’s great here.”
Yet even as Wiggins is drawing raves for his defense, his offense through 10 games also is poking holes in “the narrative.” He’s averaging 17.5 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from the field and a 38.5 percent beyond the arc. The latter would be the best of his career.
“He is coming along, integrating himself into the offense and finding his way,” Damion Lee said. “Defensively -- not to say that I didn’t know he could guard like this, I didn’t watch much of Minnesota unless we were playing them -- but he definitely takes up the challenge every single night. For him that is huge. He is a two-way player.
“It will be fun looking forward with Andrew being a two-way player and when Klay [Thompson] gets back next year having another great two-way player out there as well.”
On the Warriors organizational chart, Lee is neither general manager nor CEO. But Bob Myers and Joe Lacob have to love what they’re seeing from a guy whose contract calls for almost $95 million over the next three years.
If Wiggins continues to ascend, he’ll be worth the money. His name might even fade from NBA trade gossip. And the new narrative will be that the Warriors were shrewd in acquiring him and visionaries in unlocking his potential.