Andrew Wiggins

Warriors prying out best version of Wiggs key to lengthy postseason stay

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SAN FRANCISCO – After four years with rhythms of Andrew Wiggins, his Warriors teammates have settled into their role. He is the bashful boxer, and they are his trainers, vigorously rubbing his back and shoulders, jawing into his ear, reminding him that he has champion blood.

“That message is for everybody,” Stephen Curry said Monday. “It's just a little louder when it's a guy like Wiggs, who has performed at the highest of levels and helped us tremendously win a championship, He’s fully capable.”

This form of therapeutic cheerleading is designed to get Wiggins to unleash the knockout power the veteran forward sometimes seems reluctant to release. It’s there. The world has seen it. Remember the 2022 NBA Finals? Sure, you do, because Wiggins’ star turn surprised more than a few longtime observers.

But his teammates are there for the cajoling. They know Wiggins’ value, particularly when the stakes are raised, as they are Tuesday night in Sacramento, where the Warriors face the Kings in a Western Conference Play-In Tournament game.

Wiggins, 29, has responded to the support. After a dreadful start to the 2023-24 NBA season, relative to his ability, he as been much more engaged and productive over the past couple months. What had been a forgettable regular season was salvaged.

“I just feel like I wasn’t really in a great rhythm at the beginning of the year,” Wiggins told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the court, I didn’t feel exactly like myself.

“But now, I’ve been in the gym, putting in the work, feeling good about myself, keeping my confidence high. Just telling myself, no matter what, to stay aggressive. If I stay aggressive, everything will work out fine.”

Coach Steve Kerr is taking some of Wiggins’ early season struggles off the player and putting it on himself.

“Early in the year we were playing him with the two bigs,” Kerr said, referring to Draymond Green and Jonathan Kuminga. “I think it did help him when we started playing smaller, with JK and Draymond on the front line with him because it opened up the floor a little bit.

“And maybe I didn't do a good enough job early in the season of getting him into spots to attack. I think we did a better job of that later.”

In the 43 games Wiggins has played since the calendar flipped to 2024, he has been solid, to good, to great. Wiggins after the mid-February All-Star break averaged 14.7 points per game, on 46 percent shooting from the field, including 38.4 percent from deep.

Wiggins’ most surprising leap has been in his free throw shooting. He made only 57.1 percent of his foul shots in his first 18 games. He then missed three games with sore right index finger sustained slamming a car door. In the 53 games since he returned, finger healed, he shot 82.1 percent from the line.

No longer is the sight of Wiggins dragging his 6-foot-7, 200-pound body to the line being met with anticipated groans at Chase Center.

“I just kept shooting until something felt right,” Wiggins said.

“I was never scared to get to the line, or anything like that. But free throws can definitely be mental, like when you miss a couple, especially if it’s late, crunch time. I feel like when you do that, when you doubt yourself at the line, that’s when bad things happen. I just started believing in myself. It’s a free shot.”

Wiggins offensive resurgence has not been at the cost of his defense. He averaged 4.9 rebounds per game after the All-Star break despite being Golden State’s primary perimeter defender.

“What he has to do is not easy,” Curry said. “I think that's something people miss, just in terms of he usually has the assignment to guard the best perimeter guy. We want him to be aggressive offensively as well, and create shot attempts, create a good offense, be aggressive attacking the rim and take shots that he knows he's supposed to take.

“What he has to do requires energy. It requires a physicality and a consistency – but he’s fully capable.”

Kerr’s belief in Wiggins as a designated wing defender was tested earlier this season. That, too, has been turned around. Two-way Wiggs has been crucial to Golden State’s recovery over the second half of the season.

“You can see his on-ball defense impacting the game,” Kerr said. “And then you can see him getting downhill to the rim and attacking and getting to the free throw line.”

Wiggins will walk onto the court Tuesday knowing he will be the primary defender on quicksilver Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, whose combines startling speed with solid efficiency and unwavering audacity in a 6-foot-3, 185-pound bundle of kinetic energy.

And, yes, this is the same Andrew Wiggins who, when Golden State plays Dallas, is given the task of defending 6-foot-7, 240-pound Luka Doncić.

Who wouldn’t, when asked of so much, need a few sprinkles of encouragement?

“It's like that parent-child relationship – not to say he's a child – where you only ask somebody to do what you know they're capable of doing,” Curry said of Wiggins, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

“And that's our energy towards Wiggs all the time. I think he understands how important he is to us reaching our full potential as a team. You've seen that over the last month or so. He’s answered the bell, so that helps.”

Wiggins welcomes the support. Nobody dislikes being called a champ when the compliment is sincere.

“It’s a great feeling, a great feeling, because it means they believe in me,” Wiggins said. “And that leads me into thinking they know I’m part of what we do. I help make us go, along with a lot of other people. Just got to stay with it.

“Just got to keep my foot on the gas, so we can just try to do something special as a team.”

The postseason journey for Wiggins and the Warriors begins Tuesday. It could end quickly, or it could go a few rounds. Like a boxing match.

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