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‘Culture is different’: Andrew Wiggins shows his Warriors role — for now and later

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps poignantly for Andrew Wiggins, who has spent a few nights tirelessly hounding Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and now Pascal Siakam, Wiggins seemed to be in two places at once.

He was enjoying the now — yes, he said, this is the happiest he’s been in his NBA career — and craving the future.

“We have so much room to grow,” the Warriors’ defensive stopper said. “… We’re going to be great. Right now we don’t have Klay [Thompson]. With Klay, when he comes back, it’s going to be a scary sight.”

Stephen Curry as the world’s greatest shooter. Thompson, off both ACL and Achilles surgeries, as (at worst) one of the best spot-up shooters in the league. Draymond Green doing it all. James Wiseman growing into a force. And Wiggins contributing more defensively than offensively, a role player who has finally found his role.

For now, the Warriors have returned to relevance. But the vision for the Warriors to return to power is forming, isn’t it?

A key piece of that vision displayed nicely how he fits that mold, Wiggins becoming the unlikely star of the Warriors’ 106-105 victory over the Raptors at Chase Center on Sunday by shutting down Siakam in the game’s final possession. The Toronto All-Star had 4.3 seconds to gain separation, to gain an angle, to lose Wiggins, to make the Warriors into losers.

He did none of that. He looked hesitant in crossing over to go right. Wiggins was still in front. He spun back for a long faint-away. The long, 6-foot-7 Wiggins was able to extend his arm and contest the shot well. It went in and out.

The Warriors improved to 6-4, beginning the early Western Conference posturing. Wiggins, a Canadian, helped prove himself as a defender against a team from Toronto. A player long viewed as a disappointment because of a game that does not contain enough offensive dominance to make him a true No. 1 and not enough defensive effort to make him a two-way star has begun changing that narrative.

“Here the culture is different,” Wiggins said over Zoom 11 months after the trade that dealt the former No. 1 pick from Minnesota to Golden State. “Here everything is different, especially with the guys that I have behind me — it’s not just me out there on defense. We got Draymond [Green], we got Steph [Curry]. We got Kelly [Oubre] doing a hell of a job. The guys behind me, I know they got my back. It’s great here. It’s great.”

What Timberwolves fans will interpret as shots at Karl-Anthony Towns & Co. Wiggins wanted to serve as compliments to his new organization. He referenced Green’s Defensive Player of the Year bona fides, but the fit is more telling in role than in personnel. Minnesota generally needed Wiggins to be either a Batman or Robin, and he averaged as much as 23.6 points per game as an offensive force.

On Sunday, the Warriors needed more offensive contributions than they originally counted on — his 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting is the high end of what they hope to ask for from the 25-year-old — but see him as something they lacked last season: a defensive weapon.

Wiggins forced Leonard into big late misses in the Warriors’ victory over the Clippers on Friday. He shut down Siakam because in the game’s biggest moments, Steve Kerr wants the long and quick Wiggins on the opposing team’s best player.

“We’re not asking him to change our franchise,” the Warriors coach said of Wiggins. “We’re asking him to play defense and run the floor and get buckets.

“And he’s capable of doing all that.”

Few had a better view of Wiggins’ stop than Curry, who needed Wiggins’ help on both ends. The Raptors went all-out to ensure Curry didn’t beat them, and in a rarity, he had no answer on a night he scored 11 points. Even the times he got a peek at the hoop, the ball rimmed out. That will happen.

Curry is the leader, the fulcrum by which all other parts follow. He possesses enough court awareness that he can see the pieces falling into place.

“He’s been amazing. He’s taking the challenges, one-on-one defense,” Curry said of Wiggins. “Being able to be physical, use his length, just make guys work — he had a pretty good run these last three games with Kawhi, PG and Pascal Siakam.”

Wiggins, too, is seeing hope. For the immediate future and more distant one.

“We’re flowing better,” Wiggins said. “The chemistry is building, and we’re starting to look good.”


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