Tom Thibodeau was one of Andrew Wiggins' head coaches during the former No. 1 overall pick's time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and unlike many in the Twin Cities, the now-New York Knicks head coach always has believed in Wiggins.
After New York beat the Warriors on Thursday night at Chase Center, Thibodeau told The Athletic's Ethan Strauss how impressed he has been by Wiggins' growth since joining Golden State last February.
“Huge difference. He’s grown. I think this environment is perfect for him. I think the job that Steve (Kerr) and his staff has done, they’ve challenged him to grow," Thibodeau told Strauss. "His defense is vastly improved. His all-around play, too, and it will get better and better. Playing with guys like Steph and Draymond (Green) and when Klay (Thompson)’s back, that’s going to be a big bonus for him. Andrew is a great guy. He’s very talented and gifted and that’s the thing you can’t lose sight of, what the Warriors have done. The obvious is Steph, Klay and Draymond, but adding these young pieces that are so talented. They’re going to be good for a long time.”
Wiggins came to the Warriors as part of the blockbuster D'Angelo Russell trade, and in 27 games with the organization, the 25-year-old has begun reversing his reputation in the league. He is engaged on the defensive end, often drawing the most difficult assignments and handling them well.
He also is shooting a career-best 39.7 percent from 3-point range on 5.2 attempts per game, which likely is helped by getting to play with Steph Curry night in and night out, something he only got the chance to do once during the 2019-20 season.
“He's more than capable as ‘Two-way Wiggs,” as we call him now, at just being able to make his presence felt,” Stephen Curry said earlier this week. “I think he really cares about the defensive end, and being with us, he's able to kind of show it night after night. There's an expectation of it now. He's proven that he can definitely make an impact on that end of the floor, guarding the ball, off the ball or whatever.”
Coach Steve Kerr has said he wants Wiggins to be a candidate for one of the NBA's All-Defensive teams by season's end, a goal the forward also has in his sights.
After scoring 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds in Wednesday's win over the San Antonio Spurs, Wiggins told NBC Sports Bay Area that his confidence in the team as a whole is rising.
"Everyone's buying into the system, and we're winning games," Wiggins told NBC Sports Bay Area's Bob Fitzgerald and Kelenna Azubuike following the wire-to-wire 121-99 win. "We're competing with everybody, and [on] the days that we play together, play aggressive and get after it on both ends of the floor, we can beat anybody."
Thibodeau coached Wiggins for two and a half seasons in Minnesota, so he'd recognize Wiggins' improvement more than most. Hopefully for the Warriors, the forward can continue to grow and showcase his true potential as the season wears on.