Warriors get the most out of Andrew Wiggins, key to NBA playoff success – NBC Sports Bay Area & California

SAN FRANCISCO – After four years playing Andrew Wiggins’ rhythms, his Warriors teammates have settled into their roles. He is the shy boxer, and they are his trainers, vigorously rubbing his back and shoulders, nibbling his ear, reminding him that he has champion blood.

“This message is for everyone,” Stephen Curry said Monday. “It’s just a little bit stronger when it’s a guy like Wiggs, who played at the highest level and helped us tremendously to win a championship. He’s totally capable.”

This form of therapeutic cheerleading is designed to get Wiggins to unleash the knockout power that the veteran striker sometimes seems reluctant to unleash. It’s here. The world saw it. Remember the 2022 NBA Finals? Of course it does, as Wiggins’ star turn surprised more than a few longtime observers.

But his teammates are there to cajole. They know Wiggins’ value, especially when the stakes rise, as they do Tuesday night in Sacramento, where the Warriors face the Kings in a Western Conference Play-In tournament game.

Wiggins, 29, responded to the support. After a terrible start to the 2023-24 NBA season, relative to his abilities, he has been much more engaged and productive over the past two months. What had been an unforgettable regular season was saved.

“I just feel like I wasn’t really in a good rhythm early in the year,” Wiggins told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the pitch, I didn’t really feel like myself.

“But now I go to the gym, I work out, I feel good about myself and I have great confidence in myself. I just tell myself, no matter what, to stay aggressive. If I stay aggressive, everything will be fine.

Coach Steve Kerr is taking some of the struggles Wiggins faced early in the season off the player and putting them on himself.

“At the beginning of the year, we were playing him with the big two,” Kerr said, referring to Draymond Green and Jonathan Kuminga. “I think it helped him when we started playing smaller, with JK and Draymond up front with him, because it opened up the floor a little bit.

“And maybe I didn’t do a good enough job early in the season to put him in an attacking position. I think we did a better job later.

In the 43 games Wiggins has played since the calendar flipped to 2024, he’s been solid, too good, too great. Wiggins after the mid-February All-Star break averaged 14.7 points per game, shooting 46 percent from the field, including 38.4 percent from deep.

Wiggins’ most surprising jump was his free throw shooting. He made just 57.1 percent of his foul shots in his first 18 games. He then missed three games due to pain in his right index finger caused by a slamming car door. In the 53 games since his return, a finger healed, he has shot 82.1 percent from the line.

The sight of Wiggins dragging his 6-foot-7, 200-pound frame to the line no longer elicits the expected groans at Chase Center.

“I just kept shooting until something felt right,” Wiggins said.

“I was never afraid of reaching the finish line or anything like that. But free throws can definitely be mental, like when you miss a few, especially if it’s late, the crunch time. I feel like when you do that, when you doubt yourself down the line, that’s when bad things happen. I just started believing in myself. It’s a free kick.

Wiggins’ offensive resurgence hasn’t come at the expense of his defense. He averaged 4.9 rebounds per game after the All-Star break, despite being Golden State’s primary perimeter defender.

“What he has to do is not easy,” Curry said. “I think that’s something that people miss, just in the sense that he’s usually tasked with guarding the best guy on the perimeter. We want him to be aggressive offensively as well, to create shot attempts, to create good offense, to be aggressive attacking the rim and to make shots that he knows he is supposed to take.

“What he has to do requires energy. It takes physicality and consistency – but he is fully capable of it.

Kerr’s trust in Wiggins as a designated defender on the wing was tested earlier this season. This too has been reversed. Two-way Wiggs was crucial to Golden State’s recovery in the second half of the season.

“You can see his defense with the ball impacting the game,” Kerr said. “And then you can see him go down to the rim, attack and get to the free throw line.”

Wiggins will take the court Tuesday knowing he will be the primary defender for Quicksilver Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, who combines surprising speed with solid efficiency and unwavering daring in a 6-foot-3 package of kinetic energy and 185 lbs.

And yes, this is the same Andrew Wiggins who, when Golden State faces Dallas, is given the task of defending 6-foot-7, 240-pound Luka Doncić.

Who wouldn’t need, when so many things are asked of them, a little encouragement?

“It’s like that parent-child relationship — not to say he’s a child — where you’re just asking someone to do what you know they’re capable of doing,” Curry said of from Wiggins, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

“And that’s our energy towards Wiggs all the time. I think he understands how important it is for us to reach our full potential as a team. You’ve noticed this over the last month or so. He responded, so that helps.

Wiggins welcomes the support. No one likes to be called a champion when the compliment is sincere.

“It’s a great feeling, a great feeling, because it means they believe in me,” Wiggins said. “And that leads me to think that they know I’m a part of what we’re doing.” I’m helping us get there, along with a lot of other people. I just have to stick with it.

“I just have to keep my foot on the gas, so we can try to do something special as a team.”

Wiggins and the Warriors’ playoff journey begins Tuesday. It could end quickly, or it could last a few rounds. Like a boxing match.

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