New Warrior forward Andrew Wiggins earning praise from teammates, coaches

The Canadian Press

Whatever reputation Andrew Wiggins might have had before joining the Golden State Warriors, his new team isn't interested in hearing about it.

Wiggins' tenure with the Warriors since coming over in a trade-deadline deal with Minnesota seems to be off to a promising start, and his teammates and coaches are saying all the right things about their new acquisition.

Warriors star guard Steph Curry calls Wiggins "a walking 20 points." Forward Draymond Green, the NBA's defensive player of the year in 2017, says the Canadian has the talent to become an elite defender.

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"He's one of those guys people have said he's overrated now for a couple years," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said recently. "He's become underrated."

While the Warriors have lost all six games since acquiring Wiggins, there have been reasons for cautious optimism over that small sample size. The forward from Vaughan, Ont., is averaging 19.2 points on just over 50 per cent shooting since joining Golden State in a deal that sent guard D'Angelo Russell to Minnesota.

He has been an efficient scorer in every game save an eight-point clunker on 10 per cent shooting in a 115-101 loss to New Orleans on Sunday, and even in that contest he contributed with 10 rebounds (tying a season high), four assists, two blocks and a steal.

Kerr has praised Wiggins' defence on several occasions, and credited him for his coverage of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James in his Warriors debut on Feb. 8. Wiggins had 24 points and five steals in that game.

Whether these warm feelings extend past the requisite honeymoon period remains to be seen, as Wiggins has struggled in the past to live up to the lofty expectations that came with being selected first overall by Cleveland at the 2014 NBA draft.

After being dealt to the Timberwolves before his first season, Wiggins was named rookie of the year in 2015 and was considered a cornerstone of a Minnesota team looking to contend after a decade of futility that followed a Kevin Garnett-led run to the Western Conference final. Instead, the Timberwolves appeared in just one playoff series — a 4-1 first-round loss to the Rockets in 2018 — in Wiggins' five full seasons with the team.

Nicknamed "Maple Jordan" during his stellar high-school career at Huntington prep in Virginia, Wiggins has been accused at times of not using his prodigious physical gifts to their full effect. Statistics website FiveThirtyEight claimed in 2017 that he was the NBA's "least defensive player," and former teammate Jimmy Butler reportedly called him "soft" during a practice.

His perceived shortcomings have only been amplified by his unwieldy contract. Wiggins is in the second year of a hefty five-year, US$147.7-million deal.

Still, while Wiggins may not become the generational NBA talent some envisioned before he was drafted, Kerr might be on to something with his "underrated" comment. Wiggins is having arguably his best NBA season, with career-high averages in rebounds (5.0), assists (3.6). His 22 points per game is his second-highest average after he had 23.6 in 2016-17. He had his first career triple-double with 18 points, 11 assists (a career high) and 10 rebounds in the Timberwolves' loss to Toronto last month.

"It's not like we gotta take his hand and walk him through," Green said in a recent scrum with reporters. "That guy has averaged 20 points in this league for three, four years — probably over a career he’s averaging 20 points (he's averaging 19.7). It's not a (expletive) bum we're talking about, so I'm not gonna sit here and act like we found some diamond in the rough. He’s the No. 1 pick. He's a player."

The Warriors won't really know what they have in Wiggins until they see how he meshes with their superstar back court of Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry is expected to return from surgery on his broken left hand soon and says he is looking forward to getting some chemistry with Wiggins over the last games of Golden State's lost season. Thompson won't return from a knee injury suffered in Game 6 of last year's NBA Finals until the 2020-21 campaign.

 

GOLDEN NUGGET — Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has been a force since coming back from an ankle injury, averaging 25.1 points on 55 per cent shooting — 41.1 per cent from three-point range — over his last seven games. Denver's 128-116 win over Minnesota on Sunday marked the first time Murray failed to reach the 20-point mark since returning to Denver's lineup on Feb. 4, but the native of Kitchener, Ont., still had a big impact in the win with 19 points and six assists. He followed with 16 points, eight assists, five rebounds a block and a steal in a 115-98 win over Detroit on Tuesday.

 

BARRETT'S BACK — New York Knicks guard R.J. Barrett had a slower return to form from his ankle ailment than Murray did, but the rookie from Mississauga, Ont., seems to be in fine form once again. He came off the bench after missing nine games with an ankle sprain but has started the Knicks' last five games, averaging 12.4 points over those contests. He had 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal in the Knicks' 123-112 loss at Houston on Monday. He also impressed at the recent Rising Stars Challenge over the NBA's all-star weekend, scoring a team-high 27 points in Team World's 151-131 loss to Team USA.

 

OPPORTUNITY LOST —With an injury to Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis rookie forward Brandon Clarke was inserted into the starting lineup for just the third time this season in the Grizzlies' game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday. The Vancouver native, who had 22 points for Team World at the Rising Stars Challenge, didn't get his chance to shine, however, suffering a leg injury after just four minutes of action.

 

CHECKING IN — Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Hamilton is averaging 21.5 points and 12 rebounds over his last two games. Cleveland centre Tristan Thompson has been relegated to the bench since the Cavaliers' acquisition of Andre Drummond. The big man from Brampton, Ont., still managed to post double figures in scoring in each of his last four games entering Wednesday night, including a career-high three three-pointers in a 127-105 win over Atlanta on Feb. 12 ... Ottawa's Marial Shayok had a monster game for the Philadelphia 76ers' G League affiliate on Tuesday with 33 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in the Delaware Blue Coats' 133-128 loss to the Wisconsin Herd.

 

KEEP AN EYE ON — Murray faces his home province team Sunday when the Raptors visit the Nuggets. Denver swept the season series with Toronto last season, with Murray averaging 20 points, six assists and six rebounds over the two games.

CanaDunks, a notebook on Canadians in the NBA, is published every week. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2020.

Curtis Withers, The Canadian Press

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