NBA All-Star Game starter Andrew Wiggins … that might take some time to get used to.
Wiggins was among the 10 starters unveiled during the NBA on TNT pregame show on Thursday. The Golden State Warriors forward is a first-time All-Star, joining teammate Stephen Curry in the opening lineup along with other NBA superstars like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
While Wiggins’ selection as a starter might be a surprise to some, his All-Star case is fairly solid. And it certainly wasn’t a surprise to TNT analyst Kenny Smith, who brilliantly called the youngster’s All-Star rise two years ago.
Andrew Wiggins was a one-dimensional scorer on the Minnesota Timberwolves
Wiggins never lacked hype when he entered the league. The Canadian was the top pick of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers but was promptly flipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Kevin Love trade.
Through his first five seasons with Minnesota, Wiggins displayed a knack for scoring. The 6-foot-7 wing averaged 16.9 points or better every year, including a career-high 23.6 points as a 22-year-old in 2016-17. But beyond that, Wiggins displayed several deficiencies.
First off, the former Kansas Jayhawk was a major defensive liability. His total defensive rating with Minnesota was an abysmal 114. Additionally, his low 104 offensive rating was due to his general inefficiency. While Wiggins was able to score 20 a night, he never shot better than 45.9% from the field or 35.6% from three.
On Feb. 6, 2020, Minnesota traded Wiggins and a pair of draft picks to Golden State for a package centered around D’Angelo Russell. The T-Wolves were desperate to get rid of Wiggins, who signed a five-year, $147.7 million extension just over two years prior.
Kenny Smith made a perfect prediction about Wiggins after his trade to the Golden State Warriors
Wiggins went from a losing team in Minnesota to another losing team in Golden State. The Warriors, fresh off a five-year run of five Finals appearances and three titles, were downright awful in 2019-20. With Stephen Curry out for most of the season, Klay Thompson actually out for the year, and Kevin Durant no longer with the team, the Warriors were a woeful 12-40 just before acquiring Wiggins.
However, Smith was confident that Golden State would be able to unlock the best of their newest star.
The Jet was a guest on Sportsnet’s Tim & Sid just after Wiggins’ trade to the Warriors. Smith went on to explain why he loved the deal before firing off one of the greatest predictions you’re ever going to hear.
“All of a sudden he’s around Steph, he’s around Klay, he’s around Draymond [Green] … all of these champions. You start walking and talking like a champion. He will be an NBA All-Star in two years. Next year he’ll be close, but he’ll be an NBA All-Star playing with the Golden State Warriors.”Kenny Smith
Smith, a two-time champion with the Houston Rockets, started his career with a lousy Sacramento Kings squad. So he knew exactly what Wiggins would be in for. Nevertheless, what a prognosis from the esteemed analyst.
Wiggins delivered on Smith’s prediction
In an era where “experts” will make inflammatory statements left and right, Smith’s take on Wiggins was as good as it gets. Right on cue, Wiggins secured his first All-Star nod right when The Jet said he would.
Following 12 brief games with Golden State after the trade, Wiggins enjoyed a solid first season in the Bay. In 71 starts in 2020-21, the athletic forward scored 18.6 points on a career-best 47.7% from the field. Additionally, he also hit 38.0% of his threes and had a personal-best 111 defensive rating.
This year, Wiggins has been even better. Just after his All-Star announcement, the 6-7 wing is registering a 111 offensive rating and 106 defensive rating, the first time his o-rating was the higher of the two numbers. Furthermore, he’s hitting a career-best 48.3% of his shots and 41.2% of his threes to average 18.1 points. For context, Wiggins averaged 18.1 points in 2018-19 but did so taking 2.6 more attempts a night.
Suddenly, Wiggins has become a strong two-way player for the 36-13 Warriors. They’re all but guaranteed a playoff spot, giving the 26-year-old his second taste of postseason action. Considering how much he’s adjusted his game over the last couple of years, he should be ready for the challenge.