Amid trade rumors running rampant — reports of teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks and the Dallas Mavericks being interested in his services have permeated social media timelines — Andrew Wiggins might have saved himself from having to move to another city.
Against a depleted Philadelphia 76ers team — without Joel Embiid, Nicolas Batum, Danuel House, Marcus Morris Sr., and Robert Covington — Wiggins finished with a statline that harkens to a time where he was the third-best player on a championship team (with a valid argument that he was the second-best, just behind Steph Curry): 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting (7-of-11 on twos, 2-of-3 on threes), 10 rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. The Warriors outscored the Sixers by 17 points during his minutes on the floor.
This is a much-needed night for Wiggins, who — heading into the game against the Sixers — was averaging 12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on 49% on twos, 31.1% on threes, 71.7% on free throws, and 51.6% True Shooting. The Warriors were being outscored by 143 points in his minutes this season.
This has been a rough year for Wiggins, dating back to a couple of injuries last season and time spent away from the team due to family issues. A stretch of consistent rhythm has been difficult to capture, which has resulted in the team suffering during his minutes this season. It has led many to wonder if his time with the team — the high points being an All-Star selection and an NBA title — is close to its end.
That remains to be seen as the trade deadline approaches — but if this game against the Sixers is of any indication, Wiggins showed why he’s still an important piece for this team when playing at his best and up to standard.
The most obvious trait Wiggins has that isn’t replete on this Warriors roster: ball-pressure chops. It’s been an up-and-down season for him in terms of being able to perform defensive duties at the point of attack; it most certainly has been a cause-and-effect situation that has gone hand-in-hand with his decline in offensive production.
But it’s no coincidence that he happens to have one of his best offensive nights this season while also doing an excellent job as Tyrese Maxey’s primary defender:
Wiggins is at his best when doing his work early: top-locking, pressuring early, and navigating screens and staying in contact with his assignment — all of which he was able to accomplish against Maxey, while also being a board crasher with his 10 rebounds (four on the offensive end).
The struggles offensively have been due to an inability to pressure the rim, settling for jumpers in the mid-range that haven’t been going in (he’s shooting 34% on long mid-range jumpers on a high volume for his position), and not being able to be that third spacer in lineups with Curry and Klay Thompson — as evidenced by his 31% clip from beyond the arc, a far cry from his near-40% clip last season and the season before.
The coaching staff has moved him around quite plenty — from starting, to coming off the bench, and back to being a starter in a lineup with Draymond Green at the five and Jonathan Kuminga as his wing partner (a three-man pairing that is, by the way, a plus-78 in 139 minutes since Green returned from suspension). On the court, they’ve tried to simplify his shot-opportunities with post-ups (10.2% of his possessions have been on such play types, the highest in his four-and-a-half seasons in Golden State), which minimizes the use of his often-shaky handle and increases the chances of him getting favorable matchups through set-plays tailored for him.
They’ve also tried to set him up for easy looks at the rim through “rip” screens (backscreens) set by Curry, who has always made it tough for defenses to execute off-ball screening coverages:
To compensate for the inconsistency in Wiggins’ ability to create shots for himself with the ball in his hands, Steve Kerr has had teammates set double ballscreens for him — where one of the screeners is Curry to make it difficult for defenses to execute a switch — to get him easy looks at the rim:
But ultimately, being able to knock these shots from the outside — and increasing the overall room with which the likes of Curry, Thompson, and Kuminga have to work with — is what will increase Wiggins’ value on offense back to what it once was when the Warriors were at the top of the mountain:
Consistency still remains a point of contention. Wiggins can easily regress back to his season-long form during tomorrow’s game against the Indiana Pacers and no one would bat an eye — which is a testament to how par for the course a dud from him has been this year.
But if Wiggins does prove that this won’t be a one-time thing — it doesn’t have to be another 20-10 performance, but a consistent string of above-average defense and consistently finishing advantages created by his teammates on offense — a trade might not be necessary after all.