- Editor's note: This article originally was published on Jan. 12, and all stats are reflective of that date.
It was apparent the moment it happened, but it's becoming clearer with each passing NBA game. On Feb. 7, 2020, Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers might as well have put on a rubber Richard Nixon mask, marched into Gersson Rosas' office and robbed the Minnesota Timberwolves' general manager.
He simply left D'Angelo Russell behind to lighten the load in the getaway van.
Myers acquired Andrew Wiggins and a lightly-protected first-round draft pick from T-Wolves in exchange for Russell, who never fit in with the Warriors.
It was a heist that would have made Danny Ocean smile and been given the Neil McCauley stamp of approval.
To be fair, Russell was never part of the Warriors' long-term plans. It was a shrewd move by Myers to construct the sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets to land Russell, lest the Warriors see Kevin Durant walk for nothing. But, as much as coach Steve Kerr said they thought Russell was going to be part of the long-term future, he wasn't. Russell wasn't a positional fit, he's a huge defensive liability and his offensive game wasn't ideal in the Warriors' system alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
So, naturally, Myers jumped at the chance to offload Russell and acquire a 25-year-old wing with a superstar ceiling who had been stunted by his time spent in the Timberwolves' dysfunction junction. But, the Timberwolves were so desperate to acquire Russell (and get rid of Wiggins' contract) to pair him with childhood friend Karl-Anthony Towns, that Myers was able to squeeze them for a top-three protected first-round pick in the loaded 2021 NBA Draft.
Move over, D.B. Cooper. You've got company.
Initially, the deal was met with lukewarm reviews with many assuming the Warriors meant to flip Wiggins as part of a trade for another star. The Warriors remained adamant that they loved Wiggins' skills and believed him to be part of their core going forward.
Ten games into the 2020-21 NBA season, there's no doubt Myers mugged the T-Wolves.
Wiggins arrived in the Bay with a reputation as an inefficient offensive player and a disinterested defender. A top-tier talent that had not lived up to the sum of his gifts and would never be the star he was projected to be when taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft out of Kansas.
He's slowly taking a sledgehammer to that narrative as a member of the Warriors.
Wiggins opened the season with atrocious showings in blowout losses to the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. That, honestly, should have been expected. All offseason, Wiggins was planning on being the No. 3 weapon on offense, someone who could make a living with off-ball cuts and open 3-pointers as defenses focused on Curry and Thompson. When Thompson tore his Achilles a month before the season, the roles changed and Wiggins all of a sudden became the most critical piece to a successful Warriors season.
But after two duds to open the season, Wiggins has been stellar in the eight games since. So far, he's averaging 17.5 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from 3-point range.
The offense, however, isn't the best part of the story. Wiggins has become the Warriors' go-to wing stopper. A defensive centerpiece that Kerr perhaps didn't see coming. Wiggins is tied for the team lead with 17 blocks and held Kawhi Leonard to 2-for-12 shooting in back-to-back games this past week while forcing five turnovers.
Wiggins is realizing his potential in Golden State, just as Myers and Kerr believed he would. He's a perfect positional fit alongside Curry and Thompson (when he returns) and is now an integral part of the Warriors' quest to have a top-10 defense.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves have gotten off to an awful start. After winning their first two games, Minnesota lost seven straight games before beating the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. Some of their issues stem from Towns missing seven games with a thumb injury.
But the T-Wolves have the worst net rating in the NBA (minus-9.3 points per 100 possessions), the 25th ranked offense and the 28th-ranked defense. When Towns was out, Russell struggled, averaging just 14.5 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field.
The two stars only have played two games together this season, so the jury still is out on their long-term fit together. There is a chance that the childhood friends are the ideal pairing to take the Timberwolves from the NBA basement to the playoffs, but it's impossible to have a clear view of that this early on.
What is clear is that Wiggins, unlike Russell, is a great culture fit with the Warriors and a great complement to Curry. His talent never left him. Spending five-plus seasons with the weight of a losing franchise on your back would hamper anyone's ability to thrive and reach their peak.
He's now free of that burden and focused on changing the narrative that surrounds his career. He might never fully live up to the expectations that followed him as a prep star in Canada to Lawrence, Kan., and then to the NBA. But he is showing he's a lot more than empty stats on a losing team. He's a winning player who still is working to find his NBA ceiling, and will do so in the best culture in the NBA.
Add in what will be a high lottery pick in a draft loaded with talent and the Warriors turned Russell, a talented player who never was destined to stay in the Bay, into two long-term building blocks for the final years of Curry's prime and beyond.
Put Bob Myers in the heist Hall of Fame.