Editor’s note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.
Just for a second, imagine Andrew Wiggins was an unknown player coming up from the G League. His monster contract did not exist, and the years of underwhelming defense and inefficient scoring were unknown. With the slate wiped clean, how would an unbiased analysis of Wiggins’ first three games as a Warrior look? Simply fantastic.
But the reality is that three games is a very small sample size, and his history and contract do exist. There is reason to have skepticism and doubt about his early Warriors returns. But president of basketball operations Bob Myers, head coach Steve Kerr and the whole organization also must be thrilled by what they have seen from Wiggins, so far.
Keep in mind that Wiggins has had many flashes of brilliance throughout his career. Take, for example, November of this season. He was sensational in that month, scoring 27.1 points per game, while shooting a highly efficient 48.3 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from 3-point range. He also added 5.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 blocks per game during that stretch. Those impressive numbers were over an 11-game period in which many thought Wiggins finally had turned a corner and was becoming the player who once was destined to be the NBA’s next great superstar.
But the next 11 games were much different. His shooting became inefficient, and his percentages plummeted to 41.7 from the field and 28.9 from long-range. respectively. Defensively he was unimpressive and the skeptics rightfully returned to their preconceived notions about his game. Unfortunately for Wiggins, this pattern has defined his six-season career and made many vocally question the Warriors’ risky move to acquire him and his large contract for D’Angelo Russell.
But Golden State has faith that their culture, system, coaching staff and star players can help mold Wiggins into their ideal starting wing, and the last three games have, at the very least, given a glimpse of their greatest hopes.
In his first week as a Warrior, Wiggins is averaging 23 points per game on an incredibly efficient 57.5 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from deep. His 23 points have come on 13.3 field goal attempts per game, rather than the 22.4 points on 18.8 field goal attempts he put up in the first 42 games this season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He has shown an impressive ability to make quick moves off the dribble to attack the hoop, and slash through the lane off the ball. Unlike his days with the Timberwolves, Wiggins is buying into Kerr’s free-flowing, ball movement offense, and avoiding unnecessary dribbling and stagnant iso-ball. Per Kerr’s wishes, he also is sprinting in transition and using his athleticism and size to beat his defender down the court.
But perhaps more important than his offensive numbers, Wiggins is buying in on defense and showing his real potential to be a piece of a title-contending team next season when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson return. In his first game with the Warriors, Wiggins racked up five steals, the second-highest total of his career, and then against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, he set a career-high with four blocked shots. His hands have been active in passing lanes and he has used his strength and long physique to hound opponents in man-on-man situations.
There have been a few examples of Wiggins appearing confused in the defensive sets and getting beat backdoor for easy buckets, but that is partly because he is learning a completely new defensive system with brand new teammates who he must create chemistry with.
It is important to yet again caution Warriors fans. It only has been three games thus far. The team will get to see Wiggins play alongside Curry sometime in March, which will be a highly scrutinized and examined stretch of games. Myers and Kerr are using these last few months of the season to integrate Wiggins into the system and have him learn their style and culture, while at the same time, learning Wiggins’ strengths and weaknesses up close.
This whole project will be a work in progress. But the very early, too-soon-to-really-tell results are in, and they are glowing.