If you’ve tuned in to any of the games featuring the Golden State Warriors so far this season, then one word immediately comes to mind when watching them play. Fun. Stephen Curry has a ton of swagger to go with a game that might yet see him make a serious run at the MVP award. Jordan Poole is a breakout candidate, having cleared learned a lot from Curry to this point.
Draymond Green is more engaged now that the games suddenly really matter again, and Klay Thompson isn’t even back yet. Even if he’s remaining in the media focus (and the butt of his own teammate’s jokes) with some of his recent comments. Factor in the unknown quantities that are the injured James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, and it is all happening in The Bay Area.
Yet in among the franchise’s 3-0 start, there is another surprising development, and that is that Andrew Wiggins has quietly become crucial to them.
The Golden State Warriors look like a legitimate contender to start the season, which could really help Andrew Wiggins win the Most Improved Player award.
You don’t need to lie. You haven’t tuned in to the nationally televised games against the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers to see Wiggins ball. Warriors fans themselves would be lying if they said that was the case. Three games is also a tiny sample size, plus the 15.3 points per game Wiggins is averaging is down on the sleepy 18.6 of a year ago.
But if you’ve been paying attention, then you know that something is different. Yes, Wiggins still looks quite disinterested out there. His expression rarely changes whether he’s following bigger forwards around the floor, knocking down shots himself, or reacting to the regular heroics of teammate Steph Curry.
But this quietness is slowly transitioning into a much more effective effortlessness. The points are down so far, but they are coming much more within the flow of the offensive game of the Warriors. This isn’t a former first overall pick taking too much out of the ball to prove that he belongs. No, this is a mature 26-year-old helping his side in subtle and vital ways.
The most important development here is just how fluid and crisp the 3-point shooting of Wiggins has looked so far. Coming into the league it was bad, and for his first five years, it was in the low 30 percent range constantly. We saw signs last season when it crept up to a more respectable 38 percent.
Hitting shots from deep isn’t the be-all and end-all, but when you consider the more old-school offensive game that Wiggins possesses, it was an encouraging step forward. So far this year that number has been at a red hot 43.8 percent from deep, as Wiggins benefits from playing next to Curry and Poole (and soon to be Thompson).
The Wiggins of old would have taken that for granted. Slid in next to these shooters and not punished defenders for leaving him open as a result. But what we’re seeing now is much more modern and team-oriented from Wiggins, with the fit that had at one stage looked clunky looking so much better.
Being named the Most Improved Player this year though, that’s running too far with this idea, right? Perhaps not. Although the personal numbers might dip offensively as they have so far, Wiggins has two key pieces of information going for him here. The first is that this improved 3-point shooting is suddenly making him a menacing 3-and-D player.
Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns looks to be making this role his own as the best version of that type of player that exists in the league. Yet Wiggins is doing a more than reputable impression, guarding both LeBron James and Paul George in the two aforementioned games, and still get plenty of points in the flow of the game on the other end.
Wiggins has always been a better defender than people were willing to give him credit for, and that was because as a first overall pick he had largely underwhelmed. But all of a sudden the two-way game and the skills that he has would appear to fit perfectly with what the Warriors are trying to build as they eye an improbable return to the NBA Finals.
Narrative can win out for Andrew Wiggins and the Golden State Warriors
This brings us to the second thing Wiggins has going for him: That all-important narrative. He is playing on a team that is going to get plenty of national exposure. He is also going through somewhat of a redemption story in how he is suddenly contributing in very real and meaningful ways to what looks like a genuine contender early on.
That redemptive arc with plenty of eyes watching is ideal to scoop the award, and could really stand in the favor of Wiggins. The last three players to win the award (Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Pascal Siakam) have all been forwards, with Wiggins now looking like he has the ability to have an impact on both ends like all of those guys.
Randle certainly deserved the award last year, although it likely didn’t hurt that he plays for the New York Knicks, one of the biggest market teams in the league. Siakam was part of a Toronto Raptors outfit that won the championship when he scooped the award in 2019. He had plenty of people watching him and the narrative of helping a contender to boot.
So really it is all there for Wiggins to make a real run at this award. The Warriors looks capable of getting to 50 wins, and you would not bet against him having some scorching nights from deep while admirably defender an opposing team’s superstar. In a league that always has many talking points, Wiggins for MIP is an improbable, but by no means impossible, development.