On the day of the NBA draft, with the Warriors’ front office excited by the possibility of selecting their center of the future, Andrew Wiggins received a job promotion he had no reason to expect and honestly would rather have avoided.
Joining the Warriors nine months ago, Wiggins was preparing to be the team’s third scoring option, behind two-time MVP Stephen Curry and five-time All-Star Klay Thompson. All of that changed Wednesday afternoon.
Thompson, in a grievous instant, went from preparing for a comeback season to sustaining an Achilles’ tendon injury that will require surgery and force him into a second consecutive year of recovery and rehabilitation.
And it forces the Warriors, already prowling for established wings, to take an even deeper dive into that market. General manager Bob Myers conceded late Wednesday night that CEO Joe Lacob is ready to use the team’s traded-player exception, worth $17.2 million, to add talent.
“We have the green light to do that,” he said through visible gloom. “We had it. We have it. Klay or no Klay, depending on what we hear. So, it's there. Got to find a way to make it work for us. Certainly, once we hear more tomorrow, that might affect it. It might not. We'll see.
“Certainly, it may allow us to be more aggressive. But something has to make sense. If we feel like we need to add to that position, we'll do our best to do it. Still have free agency and you know, we'll see.”
Myers’ solemn uncertainty mirrored the moment. Many of the questions that likely would have been answered with Thompson’s return were now back in the lap of the front office. Can this roster make a deep playoff run? Are there enough offensive threats to keep defenses out of Curry’s jersey? Can Jordan Poole, after a disappointing rookie season, be counted on to fill the unforeseen offensive void?
It’s no longer a matter of who might be the team’s fourth scorer but, rather, who will be the third.
It’s no longer the presumption of getting 20 or more points a night from Thompson but whether they expect at least that much from Wiggins.
Suddenly, what was anticipated as a season of transition for Wiggins, with him learning how to play with teammates accustomed to winning, becomes one in which he’ll need to deliver at a high-impact level for the Warriors to have a chance to earn a prime playoff seed.
Little did coach Steve Kerr know that when he told NBC Sports Bay Area over the summer that he considered Thompson and Wiggins “interchangeable” players, two wings that could play in the backcourt with Curry or slide over to small forward, that there would be no interchanging.
When the Warriors are healthy, there is very little distinction between the roles played by Thompson and Wiggins. Big guard or small forward, pretty much the same.
For now, it’s only Wiggins. He inherits an expanded list of production responsibilities, beginning with spending considerable time defending the opponent’s most dangerous perimeter player while also finding his way to a lot of nights with at least 25 points.
Every whisper and rumor I’ve heard over the past seven months indicated Wiggins was practically living in the gym, making a full commitment to sharpening his game. The Warriors were encouraged by this, as well as his showing in their minicamp last month. This is significant insofar as Andrew has a history of being painted as less than devoted to maximizing his prodigious gifts.
If Wiggins is to shed his reputation as an occasionally mystifying talent, following a 40-point night with a seven-point night, playing inspired ball on Sunday and cruising through Tuesday, this is the year to do it.
Many more eyes are destined to turn his way, and there is nowhere to hide. Wiggins may or may not care to reshape his image, but there is no doubt the Warriors need him to perform in a way that does exactly that.