Andrew Wiggins’ redemption is all about expectations

For a long time, Andrew Wiggins had been considered a letdown, but a change of location has changed everything as the Warriors battle for a title.

It seemed a little foolish and undeserved for Andrew Wiggins to be named an All-Star starter this year. At the same time, it was a long-awaited coronation that most people had given up on for years.

Aside from some high-volume, low-efficiency scoring, there were few signs during the first seven years of his career that he had the star potential that had long been predicted.

Yet, because of his time in Golden State, Wiggins has been transformed from a disappointing young player into an underdog who overcame early career setbacks to realize his full potential.

His success with the Warriors is a sign of how far he has come as a player, but a lot of the hype around it shows how expectations and the setting in which a player plays can shape how people see them.

Andrew Wiggins was one of the most highly touted prospects in the NBA when he debuted in 2014. He was dubbed the Maple Jordan (a reference to his Canadian heritage), and while the moniker was perhaps a little ironic in light of the previous acclaim bestowed upon him, it nonetheless conveyed the enormity of the task ahead of him.

Wiggins was named Rookie of the Year in 2015, although the award was chosen based on his volume rather than his actual production, as is typically the case. The raw numbers looked fantastic, but there were several concerns about his future that astute Timberwolves observers would have noticed right away.

Despite his much-touted athleticism and defensive ability, he did not always demonstrate the will to be the player he could be on the defensive end. Also, rather than driving to the hoop, he was too content to settle for contested jumpers or mid-range efforts.

Wiggins was a particularly vexing player during his time in Minnesota. Fans could see that, while he was unlikely to ever be the star that had been predicted and hoped for, he might easily be more than he was with a few modifications in emphasis.

All of this resulted in the Wolves offering Wiggins a maximum contract extension, which was widely panned the instant it was announced. However, team owner Glen Taylor was quick to explain that such a deal would not be offered unless Wiggins met with him personally and promised to work hard to improve.

It was all ridiculous, and if you’re searching for a single illustration of why the Wolves have failed so badly under Taylor, you couldn’t do much better than this.

Andrew Wiggins is the same player who has taken on a new job

When the Warriors acquired Wiggins in 2020, it appeared like the Timberwolves were seeking to get out of Wiggins’ deal rather than the Warriors were actively pursuing the former No. 1 pick.

The general consensus was that the Wolves wanted D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors wanted a lottery pick, and Wiggins was just a throw-in to make the wages match—a throw-in that also allowed the Wolves to get out from under his deal.

Wiggins, on the other hand, has become far more crucial to the Warriors’ present, though not necessarily their future, than that pick. When Wiggins arrived in Golden State, he wasn’t instantly converted into a superstar.

He has not emerged as a player capable of leading a team to victory on his own, but he has developed into a valuable auxiliary piece when surrounded by stars and more dynamic players who can relieve him of pressure. Simply said, if Andrew Wiggins is your best or second-best player, your team is unlikely to be very good. However, if he’s third, fourth, or fifth, things look a lot brighter.

Although Wiggins has not evolved into a new player in the Bay, it would be deceptive to claim that nothing has changed. He has become smarter and more aggressive in his play since joining Golden State.

He’s a more consistent and cerebral defender than he was in Minnesota, not to mention the rebounding ferocity he’s exhibited. In addition, long 2s have largely disappeared, replaced with catch-and-shoot 3s. Because of his diminished role, the fat has been removed from his game, leaving only what he did well before.

It’s a choice for Wiggins between being chastised on the internet for scoring an inefficient 20 points per game on a losing team or scoring fewer and being praised for doing less on a contender. Most players, I’m sure, will have no trouble making that decision. It’s not that he didn’t do any of this in Minnesota; it’s just that it had a different meaning there. When it comes to design, sometimes less is more.

Wiggins is a crucial element of a championship contender, which comes as no surprise given his pre-draft hoopla. What’s unexpected is how it happened. Even if he never quite developed into the player that many pundits predicted, being a key piece in a finals team has to be regarded as a success.

Andrew Wiggins will be a big reason why the Warriors bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Bay. His path to becoming the player he is today was far more circuitous than anticipated, but when the destination is this amazing, the journey isn’t as important.