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Why Warriors' Wiggins deserves to make NBA All-Star Game

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The excellence of the recent-vintage Warriors has fostered infinite ambition, as it should, but also an internal self-assurance that their environment is a corrective attribute. Sort of a therapeutic boarding school for NBA players.

Taking risks can be as deflating as it is rewarding, but the Warriors trust their culture enough to try.

Credit them, then, for reforming Andrew Wiggins to such a polished degree that he deserves a place on the roster of the 2022 NBA All-Star Game, scheduled for Feb. 20 in Cleveland.

The Wiggins-as-an-All-Star chatter is heating up, as it should be.

“Yeah, you hear it and you see it,” Wiggins said Monday evening, freshly cleared from NBA-mandated health and safety protocols. “But it’s still a long way from it. I’ve just gotta keep working. We just gotta keep winning, I gotta keep working and keep playing hard.”

When the Warriors acquired Wiggins in February 2020 -- for the failed experiment that was D’Angelo Russell -- they were getting a gifted, athletic 24-year-old small forward with a reputation for inconsistency on offense, indifference on defense and general basketball nonchalance. Although these assessments were not always fair, they stuck.

The Warriors believed their culture would do whatever was necessary to get the best Wiggins had to offer. Now in his 23rd month with the franchise, Wiggins is an assertive scorer and effective defender whose enjoyment of the game is visible.

Moreover, his dedication to the game and the team is officially beyond question.

 

“Wiggins doesn’t miss games,” Draymond Green said last week, when Wiggins was in protocols. “Obviously, we understand the situation and why he’s missing games. But Wiggs will walk out there dead. He’s going to play.”

Now 26, Wiggins is a risk the Warriors took that is paying off, perhaps beyond their expectations. He has endured relentless trade talk to become a pillar of the squad, right alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Green.

When I asked Wiggins to evaluate his season, he responded in character.

“Umm, I think I’ve been solid,” he understated. “Ahh, I think I’ve been taking good shots. Umm, making a difference on both sides of the floor to help the team win. So, I think I’ve been solid.”

Wiggins’ scoring average of 18.7 points per game ranks third among Western Conference small forwards, behind Paul George (24.1) of the LA Clippers and Brandon Ingram (22.1) of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Wiggins has much higher shooting percentages -- overall and from distance -- than both, and plays defense comparable to that of George but superior to that of Ingram. 

George will miss the next month or more with a torn ligament in his right (shooting) elbow. Ingram has missed 20 percent of his team’s games and limped off the court Sunday after experiencing soreness in his left Achilles’ tendon.

What about LeBron James, you ask? He’s not a wing. He’s a ballhandling forward-guard who has missed 35 percent of the games for a sub.-500 team. No doubt he will be in Cleveland because he’s LeBron and All-Star Weekend is taking place a short drive from his hometown. Call it a “classic” choice, if you will.

Wiggins is, by contrast, the No. 2 scorer and top perimeter defender for a team with the best record in the league. He would be an objective choice -- and would happily accept a spot among the 24 players selected for the game.

“I feel as an NBA player, that’s a goal for everybody,” he said. “And that comes, obviously, with winning. You win, you get recognized more. So, I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and hopefully I put myself in position to be in the conversation.”

Too late. He’s in the conversation.

The Warriors can take a bow for putting Wiggins there. He justified their faith, and they’re reaping the benefits of coaxing him closer to his potential.

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This is the franchise that thought its culture could salvage Nick Young, cultivate a future star in Alen Smailagic and get the most out of Kelly Oubre Jr. Three swings, three misses. Russell might be considered a fourth. Some risks backfire.

Others hit the bullseye. The Warriors five years ago invited JaVale McGee, a free agent out of a job, two weeks before training camp. It worked. He was a hit, providing ample support for back-to-back championship teams. His career was resurrected.

Wiggins didn’t have to come quite as far. His career was in a good place before, but it’s in a much better place now.

 

He belongs among the NBA’s best players.

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