Andrew Wiggins is finally fulfilling his promise for the Warriors

DALLAS — It might be hard to remember now, but it wasn’t long ago that Andrew Wiggins emerged as one of the most hyped NBA prospects in recent memory. After two years of playing in his native Ontario, Wiggins came the U.S. by transferring to West Virginia’s Huntington Prep ahead of his junior season and quickly became a sensation. He dominated Julius Randle at Peach Jam and starred in one of the greatest high school mixtapes ever to stamp himself as the top recruit in the world.

Wiggins had the attributes pro scouts dream about as a 6’8 wing with a 7-foot wingspan who was blessed with nuclear athleticism. I followed him around the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago as he kept his recruitment under wraps. Eventually, Wiggins committed to Kansas and ultimately had a solid but unspectacular freshman year. It didn’t take long for most to realize the Jayhawks had an even better freshman prospect on their team in center Joel Embiid.

Wiggins still went No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft to the Cleveland Cavaliers in part because of Embiid’s injury concerns. He was famously traded before he ever played a game for the Cavs, sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves as the centerpiece of the Kevin Love trade. Wiggins was supposed to be the NBA’s next great wing, but the first six years of his career were defined by a hot-and-cold motor, inefficient scoring, and lots of losses. Wiggins wasn’t a bust, but he was still a disappointment.

It wasn’t until Jan. of 2020 that the Warriors pulled off the trade that would resuscitate his career, sending D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota for Wiggins and a 2021 first round draft pick.

The Warriors had a vision for how Wiggins could fit their team and help extend the primes of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. In Game 3 of the 2022 Western Conference Finals, that vision arrived in full with one of the best games of Wiggins’ career.

In the fourth quarter with Golden State clinging to an eight-point lead, Wiggins attacked the middle of the floor off a pass from Stephen Curry and exploded to the basket for a poster dunk over Luka Doncic. It was one of the greatest playoff dunks you will ever see. It was also Wiggins finally fulfilling the immense promise so many saw him in as a young player.

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Wiggins ended the night with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists on 11-of-20 shooting in 40 minutes. The Warriors won the game, 109-100, to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the conference finals. There’s a case to be made that Wiggins has been Golden State’s most valuable player in the series.

Wiggins always had the physical attributes of a superstar, but carrying a franchise never seemed to fit his personality. Wiggins once committed to Kansas at a barbecue with only one reporter in attendance. He was always soft-spoken and unassuming, the sort of player no one would consider a star until they saw his ridiculous hops and ideal frame.

On Golden State, Wiggins was never intended to be a leading man. The Warriors saw those physical attributes that once made him so coveted and daydreamed about how they could be leveraged into a smaller role. He’s making the Warriors brass look like geniuses right now.

Wiggins has become Golden State’s defensive ace, a wing stopper with the sort of length and speed and explosiveness that can only be found in a No. 1 overall pick. How many players in the league can really pull off the poster Wiggins authored on Sunday night?

He’s done a great job against Mavs megastar Luka Doncic since the series started, not just playing determined defense, but also crashing the glass, cutting into open space, and attacking the paint when he gets the chance. It really feels like the Warriors wouldn’t be here without him.

Eight years into his career, Wiggins is showing why scouts thought he’d be so special. The tools that were supposed to make him a star have instead been used to make him the sort of role player every championship team needs. Golden State sure looks like that right now, and Wiggins is a major part of it.

Here’s one more angle of Wiggins’ dunk:

A decade after his hype started to build, Wiggins is delivering in a big way in the NBA playoffs. This is always where he was supposed to be.