Wiggins hype continues, even if he was a ‘risk’ to Ryan Saunders’ health

Stories out of Golden State for the last two-plus years touting the change in Andrew Wiggins’ game have always felt like a strange blend of fact and fiction.

You can objectively look at Wiggins’ numbers since the seismic February 2020 trade from the Wolves to Golden State — more on that in a moment, with Zach Lowe’s excellent look back at how that came together serving as the catalyst — and see that he’s become a better version of himself. No longer asked to be a star, Wiggins stopped being an inefficient volume scorer and at least became a league-average wing offensively with the athleticism and size to have defensive upside.

You could also cynically look at any “Wiggins has changed!” story as one planted by the Warriors in hopes of boosting his value in another eventual trade.

This much is true: Whether they were simply laundering his image in hopes of dealing him again or they genuinely believed he was a better player who could help them, there was upside either way in hyping up Wiggins.

And this season — particularly Wiggins’ moments in the playoffs as Golden State has reached the finals and now sits 1-1 against Boston — is a good example of how it can be both at the same time.

For at least another week, as Lowe’s piece hints at, Wiggins is a great fit for Golden State.

His contract is on the same timeline and for roughly the same amount as Russell, with one year and $30 million-plus left after this season. It’s the time when players are either extended or traded.

Once these finals are over, Golden State will have to ask itself the same question the Wolves are asking about Russell, albeit on a different winning scale: Is it wise it to keep a useful player that is important (not vital) to your success but who makes more than he is worth?

Backing up just a bit, though, Lowe has some interesting details on Wiggins and how the trade got done.

Apparently former Wolves coach Ryan Saunders screamed at Wiggins so much at halftime of a Jan. 22, 2020 loss to the Bulls — the Wolves’ seventh in a row on the way to 13 in a row that led to the Wiggins trade finally happening before the deadline — that there was concern he might be having cardiac issues, Lowe wrote. Instead, it was determined that Saunders had pulled a muscle in his chest.

Speaking of chest pains, Wolves fans also might be feeling daggers in their hearts when they read that “Some within Golden State’s brain trust would have done the deal straight up,” just Russell for Wiggins.

Instead, months of intense haggling led the Wolves to include a top-three protected first round pick and a second-round pick.

The protected pick turned into No. 7 overall in 2021, which the Warriors used on Jonathan Kuminga — still just 19 but promising enough and similar enough to Wiggins in size, skill and shape that he could be Wiggins’ low-cost heir apparent should the Warriors decide to move on.

That said, a lot of us were thrilled the Wolves moved off of Wiggins’ contract and snagged Russell at the same time, even with the picks included. This is less a re-litigation of the past than it is a look at the present and near-future for Wiggins.

He has at least three games left in his Warriors career. After that, we’ll find out just how much Golden State really likes him.

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