Steph Curry was the feel-good story of the NBA Finals, breaking down in tears post-game on Friday, back on top as the Warriors completed their rise from “rock bottom”.
But as much as this championship is about Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson being back together again, it is also about redemption.
It is about Andrew Wiggins proving the doubters wrong, proving he was not a ‘bust’ like so many claimed and that perhaps it was the environment he was drafted into that was busted.
Fri, 17 Jun
Friday June 17th
While Curry rightly took home Finals MVP honours for the first time in his career, 27-year-old Wiggins was firmly in consideration for the award right until Game 6.
That in itself speaks to the value he added to a Warriors team that could no longer always rely on Green and Thompson, requiring their role players to also step up when needed.
Wiggins did just that, averaging 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in the Finals and crucially putting up 26 points as Curry struggled to find his shot in a Game 5 victory.
CHAMPS RISE AGAIN: Tears as Steph, Warriors complete return from ‘rock bottom’
It has been far from a straight-forward road to this point for Wiggins, who was the unfortunate victim of unrealistic expectations early in his career.
Forget the night when he was drafted with the first overall pick in 2014, the Wiggins hype train first caught steam 12 years ago with a viral YouTube clip.
That video — titled ‘Best 13 year old In The Nation 6’6 Andrew Wiggins! — has racked up 4.9 million views, burdening Wiggins before his career had even kicked off.
Wiggins went on to enter the NCAA a year early, declaring in 2012 that he wanted to “score like Kevin Durant and get to the basket like LeBron James.”
He was just a kid with a dream — one that became a reality when he was drafted with the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But in the first of many early speedbumps in his career, a preseason trade saw Wiggins sent to Minnesota where he would earn NBA Rookie of the Year honours, averaging 19.7 points a game.
Wiggins never went on to take that ‘leap’ that so many young players do — a leap he was expected to take if he was to be the franchise saviour Minnesota fans hoped he would be.
The Timberwolves had missed the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons before eventually making it 2018 and patience was wearing thin.
With it, questions were asked of whether Wiggins was that guy, whether he could live up to his billing as the “most god-gifted player on the team” by teammate Jimmy Butler.
“You can’t force him to be the next Jordan, the next Kobe. Maybe he’s just not wired that way,” one scout told ESPN.
“There are talents and geniuses. – maybe he’s just a talent. He can’t be your first guy. He can’t be your second guy. He can’t be your third guy. Maybe he’s your fourth guy, that’s pretty good.”
But the Timberwolves did not need a fourth guy, they needed more.
In February 2020 sent Wiggins, a protected 2021 first-round pick (which turned into Jonathan Kuminga) and a 2021 second-round pick to Golden State in exchange for D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman.
Kuminga was supposed to be the most prized asset on that trade but instead Wiggins has emerged as a genuine difference-maker for the Warriors and proved it in the road to the championship.
“It put fire in my eyes,” Wiggins said of the ‘bust’ labels and criticism during his time at Minnesota.
“I just wanted to prove everyone wrong. Now I’m a world champion. Everyone’s going to have something to say regardless. But they have to say I’m a world champion too.”
The key to Wiggins’ turnaround is the fact that he no longer needs to fill a role he was never comfortable in, that he is not relied upon to be the number one option.
Curry is that guy for Golden State and the Warriors still have Green, Thompson and even Jordan Poole off the bench to make an impact on the offensive end if their main man is struggling.
In Game 5 against the Celtics though, it was Wiggins who came up big when the Warriors needed it most, erupting for a team-high 26 points and game-high 13 rebounds.
“Andrew Wiggins is proof that NBA players can change, adapt and evolve,” The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor said on ‘The Mismatch’ podcast.
“The Golden State Warriors are proof you can take in one of those players, as long as they have the qualities and open-mindedness to change, that they can flourish playing in a new environment.
“You’ve got to credit the Warriors for taking a chance on him and seeing the vision and more than anybody, you’ve got to credit Andrew Wiggins for embracing everything that is asked of him with the understanding this is for the greater good of the team.”
Even before the playoffs, Wiggins averaged 17.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists while cementing himself as Golden State’s most go-to wing defender.
And when the Warriors needed someone to guard Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic in the Conference Finals, they knew who to turn to.
“He’s embracing the challenge of consistency and we know he what he’s capable of doing on both ends of the floor,” Curry said of Wiggins.
“All the talk about him as a number one guy, number two guy, number one pick, all that type of stuff. I’m sure he’s enjoying this more than anything else he’s experienced in this league.”
And now Wiggins, who made his first All-Star appearance this season, is expected to be rewarded for his role in the Warriors’ championship success.
Wiggins has a year left on his contract before he can potentially become a free agent but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Friday that the Warriors certainly want Wiggins to stay put.
“ I’m told both Andrew Wiggins and his representatives, and Bob Myers, the president of the Warriors, they plan to talk about a contract extension this summer, see if they can hammer that out,” Wojnarowski said.
“They could extend off of that year another four years, three years, but certainly there’s a motivation this summer to see if they can keep Andrew Wiggins long-term.”
If anyone understands just how to get the best out of their role players, it is Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Wiggins is one of his greatest success stories.
But Kerr is never going to put the spotlight on his own role in Wiggins’ resurgence.
“He’s found such a crucial role on this team,” the Warriors coach said of Wiggins.
“I think that empowers him. He knows how much we need him. I think it’s just a sense of what’s needed and being on this team where he’s got veteran guys who are helping him to understand what we need from him.
“It’s a reminder that for almost every player in the NBA, circumstances are everything. You kind of need to find the right place, the right teammates, that kind of stuff and Wiggins has been a great fit.”
That point is not lost on Green either, who took the opportunity during the Mavericks series to expose one of the biggest misconceptions in the NBA.
“That’s a guy who has been criticised for being lackadaisical, the beat goes on,” he said.
“We’ve heard it all. Yet on the biggest stage he’s come through.
“I’ve always said no-one talks about teams that guys are on or organisations that guys are in. No-one ever talks about, it’s always the player fault. He’s showing that I’m not far off when I say that.”
Now Wiggins is an NBA champion.