SAN FRANCISCO – As the Warriors went through their only scrimmage of the week Thursday, all eyes were on Stephen Curry, who had been away from his teammates for a month. Though he was the center of attention, Curry was not the boss of the court.
That distinction belonged to Andrew Wiggins, the team’s most enigmatic performer, by turns highlight-reel All-Star and shrinking sidekick. Curry conceded as much.
“He was assertive and aggressive, and he looked fresh,” he said of Wiggins. “That’s what we want to see. Whether we gotta wear our practice jerseys and remind him of what he did today and how he played, whatever we can do to motivate him in that respect, we’re going to do.”
Coach Steve Kerr raised the Wiggins praise to another level.
“He had great practice. I mean, he dominated,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I loved what I saw, just in terms of his looking for his shot, attacking the rim, being aggressive defensively. Andrew was great.”
With the postseason looming, great scrimmages are not what the Warriors need from Wiggins. Nor are they what Wiggins, 27, with one season remaining on a hefty contract, needs for the good of his future earnings.
What the Warriors and Wiggins need are exploits that make an impressive statement when it matters most.
Golden State Warriors
This, then, is the kind of career opportunity any competitor craves. And Wiggins says he welcomes it.
“For sure,” he told NBC Sports Bay Area. “There’s no better way to do it than in the playoffs. I want to help this team go far and win it all. I feel like it would be a perfect story for all of us.
“I want to show people what I can do. I want it bad. And there is no bigger stage out there.”
The reputation of an NBA star almost always is built by his postseason accomplishments. Michael Jordan’s unblemished record (6-0) in The Finals is the trump card played in any greatest-of-all-time conversation. Bill Russell’s 11 championship rings are why there is no debating the greatest-winner-of-all-time. LeBron James’ startling longevity and his eight consecutive trips to The Finals, with two different franchises, are why his name can enter the conversation.
Wiggins’ reputation is of maddening inconsistency, with varying levels of engagement, resulting in being what an old football coach once referred as a “rainbow guy.” The explanation: It’s beautiful when you see it, but you don’t see it every day and you never know when it will appear.
Wiggins during the season went from two-way impact player to first-time starter in the All-Star Game to a man who rarely made a peep of a positive effect over most of the second half. The Wiggins watchers pounced.
“You’re always going to have haters,” Wiggins said. “Look at LeBron. LeBron’s got haters. Steph’s got haters. If you’re hating on those guys, what are you doing? You’re always going to have people hate on you.
“I’m going to go out there and give it my best. I’m going to leave it all on the floor. Whatever happens after that, happens.”
Wiggins acknowledged that his mediocre performance opened the door to criticism.
“I wasn’t in a great rhythm, and I wasn’t really making many shots,” he said. “I feel like I was in a funk and maybe it affected both sides.
“But the last couple games, I was in a better place. Percentage wise, I was shooting better. I feel like I got better at a great time. It’s playoff time now, so I’m ready for it.”
Wiggins over his final four games seems to have regained some of his early-season energy, shooting 52.9 percent from the field, including 52.2 percent from beyond the arc. He was more consistently assertive. His defense was tighter, more focused.
It was enough to give the Warriors hope.
Asked what the Warriors would like to get from Wiggins in the postseason, Kerr spoke in pointed generalities.
“The playoffs always come down to how are your best players playing,” he said. “That’s just the way it is. Whether you’re talking about The Finals, or the first round, it doesn’t matter. Your best players have to play well. The other team has great talent, too. Everybody else has to do their jobs and follow a game plan and you can’t have breakdowns in all these different areas.
“But the guys who are paid the most and make All-Star teams, the guys who have their own shoe and have their commercials, that’s why they have all of that. Because they’re the best players. The best players generally determine outcomes in the playoffs.”
Wiggins has his own shoe deal, with Peak. He appeared in commercials for Adidas when he wore that brand. And he’s an All-Star in the fourth year of a five-year contract signed when he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves, making $31.6 million. He’ll make $33.6 mil next season.
His play this postseason -- not his bravura performances in scrimmages -- might determine whether the Warriors or another NBA franchise will be responsible for paying it out.