This NBA Draft’s #1 Pick Isn’t The Failure You Thought He Was

SAN FRANCISCO – Reputations tend to hold up if they ring true, and for a while, Andrew Wiggins’ reputation in the NBA was that he was a failure.

For years the word about Wiggins, a former #1 choice, was that he was inconsistent. That he was bad at defense. That he didn’t care.

The Cleveland Cavaliers had first drafted him in 2014 but traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves less than two months later. More than five seasons in Minnesota bore little fruit, and after the Timberwolves made the playoffs only once during that span, they sent Wiggins to Golden State.

His last stop, however, changed things for Wiggins. Wednesday night offered yet another example of his progression.

Golden State made a statement in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals, leading the Dallas Mavericks by 30 points in the fourth quarter and winning 112-87. Golden State’s point total was not exceptionally high, but their defense fueled their victory.

Wiggins was a big part of that. The Warriors asked Wiggins to be their main defender in All-Star Guard Luka Doncic, and Wiggins ensured that Doncic didn’t hurt Golden State the way he had hurt the Mavericks’ previous playoff opponents.

“That’s why he was the No. 1 pick,” Golden State’s Klay Thompson said of Wiggins. “You cannot teach this athletics. You can’t teach that length. You cannot teach his timing. I’m glad the world is seeing who he really is.”

Doncic finished the game with 20 points, just one more than Wiggins and just 2 of them after the first half. He also committed seven turnovers and had just four assists. Doncic suggested after the game that a sore shoulder had played a role in his performance, saying it was causing him pain when he kicked the ball, but added that he would be fine with some treatment.

But part of Golden State’s plan was to tire him out, and it was Wiggins’ job to do that.

“He took the challenge, and Luka is tough,” said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. “He still finds a way to control the possessions. You have to assume he’ll shoot a little better, but Wiggs was relentless. Every possession he was out there with him. That’s all we really want. Even if Luka has his numbers, you just want, at the end of the day, to feel like he had to work for everything he got.”

In most possessions, Wiggins would start marking Doncic in the backcourt, not allowing him to easily carry the ball into the court. Asked after the game if that whole court effort had worn him down, Wiggins shrugged and half-smiled.

“I feel like I’m still young,” said Wiggins, who is 27. “Actually, I don’t get very tired. I am stuck. I’m motivated. And when you see it works or I feel like it’s helping us play better, it motivates me to do more.”

Said Thompson: “He just doesn’t seem to get tired.”

Thompson has appreciated the effort more than most: the way Wiggins has been playing, he said, has taken some of the pressure off him.

“I don’t have to check out the top player every night again,” said Thompson, who was known for his defense before missing the last two seasons with leg injuries. “Especially after what I’ve been through, it’s a nice change of pace.”

The 87 points the Mavericks scored was the lowest total opponents have against Golden State this postseason. The Warriors kept opponents below 100 points three other times during this year’s playoffs; each time, they won.

The Mavericks had great success in the 3-point range in previous rounds, but they only made 3-of-19 3-pointers in the first quarter on Wednesday and finished the game 11-48 behind the arc. Those fouls came from his entire roster – it wasn’t just Doncic who struggled offensively. But Doncic is the player who runs the Mavericks, so his fights are bigger.

After the final bell, Doncic let out a long breath as he walked through the tunnel towards the Chase Center locker room. He wore a T-shirt over his uniform because he hadn’t played the final five minutes; by this point, the game was too out of control to play it to be worth the risk. His face was marred by an inadvertent red scratch from Wiggins, several inches long, from the right side of his nose to his cheek.

The Mavericks have a habit of losing a lot and recovering. They lost to the Phoenix Suns by 30 points in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, before beating them by 27 in Game 6 and 33 in Game 7. Several Mavericks players on Wednesday spoke after the game about expecting a Doncic’s much better performance during Game 2 on Friday.

“We’re not under any illusions that we’ve discovered anything,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr.

What they’ve discovered, and they’re glad others are seeing now, is that Wiggins tapped into a part of his potential that could have been dormant, or at least less obvious, in previous seasons.

Thompson said being at Golden State allowed Wiggins to be himself. Curry said he’s learning to win.

“Wiggs is understanding the nuances of what winning basketball is and how to understand the little things in terms of consistent defensive effort, tackling these individual challenges, being aggressive on the offensive end, using his athleticism. to get to the hoop if need be, confidence kicking the 3; be comfortable in our offense,” Curry said. “So there’s a lot of different things he’s understanding that this time around, in terms of playoffs, it requires winning games and the joy that comes with that.”

Wiggins passed credit for that back to Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, who won three championships and went to five consecutive NBA Finals together.

“It helps me see a different side of the game,” Wiggins said. “Being here, the culture, the people, the organization, most importantly, just being around winners.”

A winner wasn’t a label very attached to Wiggins early in his career, but during those playoffs he’s increasingly shown that he fits.

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