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Why Warriors should keep, not trade, Wiggins this offseason

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Hardly an hour passes without speculation that the Warriors are going to flip Andrew Wiggins, and this day will no different. Rampant trade talk is fundamental to the process of pumping intrigue into the longest offseason in franchise history.

But is a package involving Wiggins really the avenue to a superstar? The Warriors are not yet convinced. Nor should they be.

Keeping Wiggins, at least for now, makes sense, particularly with the NBA reiterating the value of quality wings.

Wiggins, 25, is a true wing. So is Klay Thompson. Stephen Curry is a chameleon point guard, comfortable shedding that skin and sliding to shooting guard. Wiggins and Thompson are practically interchangeable, Warriors coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area this week.

“If you look at our team last year, we lost all the wing defense from the year before,” Kerr said, referring to the departures of Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Thompson, who was rehabilitating a surgically repaired ACL. “So, getting Klay back -- he looks really good -- and having Andrew from the beginning, in theory, it should allow us to build a much more solid defense from the outset. I'm excited about that.”

Thompson and Wiggins are not exactly Durant and Thompson, for there is no real comp for the lengthiest wing in league history. Durant and Thompson were the best wing tandem in the NBA.

But a Thompson and Wiggins duo would rank among the top five in a league where wings who can shoot the 3 and also defend multiple positions are at a premium. Despite flaming out on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Clippers, with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, have the best duo in the NBA. After that comes Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, followed by Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Thompson and Wiggins can hang in such lofty company.

 

And, no, we’re not considering the Lakers, because neither Anthony Davis nor LeBron James is an actual wing. AD is a center/forward, LeBron is a jumbo point guard.

Wiggins is 6-foot-7, with a 7-foot wingspan. Thompson is 6-6, with a 6-9 wingspan. Klay can guard all three perimeter positions, as well as most small-ball power forwards. Wiggins might struggle with point guards, but he can hold his own with 2s, 3s and many 4s.

“I see him as a versatile defender, a wing with great size and speed and the ability to score,” Kerr said. “Putting him with Steph and Klay is really exciting. There's going to be a lot more open floor than he's had before, so we're really excited about what he can do on offense.”

Kerr remembers the night in Minnesota last November when Wiggins torched the Warriors for 40 points in a 125-119 Timberwolves overtime win. Such outbursts are not deceptive, as Wiggins has scored at least 40 points eight times over the last four seasons. For the sake of comparison, Thompson has nine such games over his last four active seasons.

Consider, too, how Wiggins started last season with the Timberwolves. His scoring totals for the first 15 games: 21-16-25-19-21-25-30-40-25-33-30-22-21-25-26.

It’s not unreasonable to expect a Curry-Thompson-Wiggins trio to produce a combined average north of 70 points per game next season. Again, for the sake of comparison, the combined scoring averages in three seasons of the Curry-Durant-Thompson trio were 72.7, 72.8 and 74.8.

The pressing issue regarding Wiggins is about intensity, one of the necessary components of effective defense. His austere persona clashes with the junkyard-dog profile. He doesn’t do chest-beating or primal screaming.

Rumor has it that Jrue Holiday and Robert Covington and Avery Bradley -- each of whom has an All-Defensive team background -- don’t do histrionics, either. Klay rarely does. So, it is possible to be effective on defense without barking and snarling.

“I thought Andrew was excellent last year, and he guarded his position well,” Kerr said. “That allowed us to put him on the bigger wings, like LeBron and Kawhi. We can just go ahead and put him on those guys. That's a big deal for us, just having the ability to match up. It allows you to manipulate your defense in other ways.”

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Wiggins, who will make $95 million over the final three seasons of his contract, played 12 games during his five weeks as a Warrior. He had impressive games and a couple of duds. He usually was puppy-frisky on defense, if not always successful.

 

Wiggins played with Draymond Green three times, with Curry once and with Thompson not at all. That’s why it’s worth further evaluation.

Wiggins’ talent and pedigree are not in question. There are many valid reasons for the Warriors to take a good, long look at him to determine if the franchise’s strong culture is right for a young player in search of his best.