Andrew Wiggins played one of his best games of the season trade deadline eve.
The Golden State Warriors managed a season-low 15 first quarter points against the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. Stephen Curry had a potential four-point play overturned to an offensive foul after video review, failing to score until hitting a free throw with 2:51 left in the first half. He finished the game with nine points, seven shots and four turnovers, a surefire death-knell for a team that recently lost despite Curry dropping 61 points, right? Wrong.
Behind a spirited top-to-bottom effort on both sides of the ball, the Warriors shook off those dire early offensive struggles and Curry’s lowest scoring game of the season for an impressive 127-104 blowout over the Joel Embiid-less Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.
Andrew Wiggins set the the tone early and often for Golden State, making a convincing and perfectly timed case to remain with the Dubs past Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline. He finished with team-highs of 21 points and 10 boards, including four on the offensive glass, and shot an efficient 9-of-14 overall and 2-of-3 from deep in just 23 minutes of action. After scoring 10 points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting in the Warriors’ game-changing third quarter, Wiggins didn’t play in the final stanza, earning his rest on the bench next to Curry and Draymond Green ahead of a back-to-back against the Indiana Pacers.
Steve Kerr lauded Wiggins’ performance on the postgame podium, noting his positive “energy” and “spirit” in Philadelphia was shared by the Dubs at large.
“He was great,” Kerr said of Wiggins. “Obviously shot the ball well, rebounded—10 boards, four offensive—played defense on [Tyrese] Maxey. We put him on the toughest guy. Just played with the right energy, the right spirit—the whole group did.”
Andrew Wiggins shows off peak two-way form in Warriors’ win over Sixers
Kerr has remained adamant leading up to the trade deadline: He doesn’t want Andrew Wiggins to be moved, and is optimistic about his team’s chances to turn its tumultuous season around for good going forward. He’s taken a lot of flak from Dub Nation as a result, fans imploring Golden State’s Hall-of-Fame head coach to leave the past behind and come to grips with reality. Both sentiments were easy to understand during Wednesday’s game, though, even amid the palpable absence of Embiid and Curry basically getting erased from the box score by Jaden Springer’s dogged individual defense.
Wiggins wasn’t quite as airtight defending Maxey. Even without Embiid to run constant, varied two-man actions, his blend of burst and shot-making prowess makes Maxey impossible to stick to for a full 48 minutes. The Warriors’ committed, multi-effort team defense deserves the lion’s share of credit for limiting Maxey to 12 points on 14 shots.
But Wiggins was Maxey’s primary defender on Wednesday, hounding his handle, fighting through screens and trying to blow up dribble hand-offs to keep the first-time All-Star uncomfortable at the point of attack. Look how Wiggins gets skinny to battle over the top of this “get” action on Philly’s second possession, barely allowing Maxey the airspace to launch on the other side of Paul Reed’s screen.
That’s a microcosm of the intensity and physicality Wiggins played with from the opening tip. He clearly embraced the test of serving as the de facto “stopper” on Maxey, a confident mindset that extended all across the floor.
Is that Wiggins or Andre Iguodala breaking up this 3-on-1?
Wiggins has always been at his best when challenged by specific matchups or stakes of the moment. He casually dismissed trade rumors in the postgame locker room, insisting he “just hoops” and focuses on what he can control. But facing even the longshot specter of his last game with the Warriors while guarding one of basketball’s brightest young stars, Wiggins left no doubt he still has the high-impact two-way chops that helped drive Golden State to a title barely a year-and-a-half ago.
This is the player who seemed a fixture of the Dubs’ present and future when 2023-24 tipped off.
So is this.
When was the last time Wiggins so smoothly and surely stepped into a pull-up transition triple?
Wednesday night laid bare why moving Wiggins by Thursday afternoon is such a risky proposition for the Warriors.
There’s no way the player they’d get in return for him could do what Wiggins did against the Sixers, his widespread, head-scratching struggles over the first two months of the season ensuring he harbors negative value league-wide. Even getting off the three years and approximately $86 million left on his contract is fraught with potential missed opportunities.
What if Wiggins scrapes his peak regularly over the season’s remainder, not just re-establishing himself as a winning player on the wing but vastly improving his market value? That seems like a guy the Dubs would want to retain for what seems bound to be a transformative offseason, and the possibility of Wiggins reaching that ceiling when it matters most is one of many reasons why Kerr remains so optimistic about his team’s 23-25 record.
“You can always tell as a coach if your team is connected, if they have the right energy, if they’re supporting each other, if they care about each other,” Kerr said after the game. “I love this group. I love this team. They’re staying with it. They’ve been through so much both individually and as a team, and they’re just connected and forging ahead. I really feel great about the path we’re on.”
It’s one from which Andrew Wiggins has no hopes of straying, either.
“For sure. I love it here,” he told The Athletic’s Anthony Slater when asked if he wants to remain with the Warriors. “I love the fans, the organization, the culture, my teammates…I feel like we’ve been finding something good; it’s been working for us. As long as everyone buys into what we’ve got going on and always makes it about the team, I think we’ll be good.”