Once upon a time, Toronto Raptors fans donned Andrew Wiggins jerseys with hope the lifeless franchise would fall to the bottom of the standings and have a chance at the Thornhill, ON native. Nine years later, it’s almost incredible to think about the journey taken by the once consensus greatest Canadian prospect of all time.
After falling short of the complete bottom-of-the-barrel play needed to draft a guaranteed number one pick like Wiggins, in what feels like a miracle for longtime fans, the Raptors franchise turned it around. Since his draft year of 2014, the team has made the playoffs all but one year and turned into an NBA Champion.
For Wiggins, the story was not quite the same. Though not on the level of the previous year’s top pick, co-patriot Anthony Bennett, Wiggins failed to meet the hype of a key cog in the NBA machine. The once-standout fell into the mold that many players find themselves in; the “good-stats, bad team” persona, as coined by Bill Simmons. His scoring average hovered around 19 PPG on bad Timberwolves teams, and Wiggins found himself settling for many contested mid-rangers in nonsensical isolation opportunities. 44.6% of Wiggins’ possessions in the half-court came from mid-range, according to Synergy Sports. This type of high-volume, low-efficiency play was a strong role in Wiggins falling into the background of the league.
In Minnesota, it wasn’t just shot selection that left Wiggins in the dust- it was all the intangibles wrapped into one. As a defender, Wiggins was average, sitting at a 0.06 Defensive RPM that placed him in 52nd among 89 qualifiers at his position in his final full year with the Timberwolves. Though Karl-Anthony Towns tends to get the bulk of the blame, it wasn’t simply Towns who Jimmy Butler went after in his now-famous tirade at the Wolves’ lack of intensity. Per multiple reports, Butler and Tom Thibedou both had concerns about Wiggins’ work ethic and approach on the defensive end of the floor. Overall, though he provided an option for scoring, it was hard to be enamored with Wiggins as a pro.
During the 2020 trade deadline, Wiggins was shipped finally shipped out of Minnesota, and it was hard to expect anything for the struggling Warriors who took a chance on him. The team, at the time, was viewed as making the trade to get rid of D’Angelo Russell and add draft capital heading into a rebuild in the form of two firsts. The Warriors, on the other hand, disagreed with this sentiment. They framed the trade- loudly, at that- as believing in Andrew Wiggins. Revisiting press conferences from GM Bob Meyers and coach Steve Kerr show the exact same tune: If Wiggins was not burdened with expectations of carrying a team as a scorer, he would be an excellent contributor. And, most importantly, he would be a perfect fit with the Warriors core.
Though the Warriors failed to replicate their prior playoff success for the COVID-shortened end of 2020 and first full season with Wiggins, changes became easy to see. In 2020-21, 35% of Wiggins’ attempts were threes, and only 24% were midrange shots. Playing alongside Steph Curry for the first time given Steph’s broken hand in 2020, Wiggins posted his highest FG% since his sophomore season. Sill, to become a fit in the continuation of a dynasty, offensive strides weren’t enough. Wiggins’ defensive effort shot to the moon, guarding the opposing team’s primary scorer more than any other Warrior and seeing career-high metrics across the board. This past season, Wiggins skyrocketed to 5th in the league in DPM.
This is what great franchises do. It’s what the Raptors have done as they’ve built into a model franchise, and what the Warriors have done throughout their 6 trips to the NBA Finals in 8 years. Wiggins was a diamond in the rough, and the team capitalized on it.
In the NBA Finals, everything that had happened prior came to a head. Wiggins stuffed the stat sheet, with 18.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks as a workhorse with 39.2 MPG and a Game 5 masterpiece when Steph Curry failed to make a three for the first time in years. According to online sportsbooks, Wiggins was the 2nd favourite on the Warriors to take home Finals MVP. Jayson Tatum’s struggles in the series can also be attributed to Wiggins, who contested 26 more shots than any other player in the series.
As Raptors fans watch from afar, t’s hard not to sit back and admire what has changed since all those years ago. Andrew Wiggins becoming a key part in the chapter of an NBA Dynasty has been an exciting new chapter in a fascinating, unique, and Canadian career.