Kurtenbach: How did Andrew Wiggins look in his first Warriors game? Three takeaways

Photo of Kurtenbach: How did Andrew Wiggins look in his first Warriors game? Three takeaways

SAN FRANCISCO — Andrew Wiggins wasn’t spectacular in his first game as a Golden State Warriors. He wasn’t a revelation to the team or the game of basketball.

But his Saturday debut in blue and yellow was an unquestioned success.

Wiggins looked good, solid. He looked like he fit in with Golden State. Fit goes a long way in this league.

It’s only one game. Thirty minutes doesn’t — and shouldn’t — mean much. And it should be noted that Wiggins played alongside more Santa Cruz Warriors (seven) than championship winners (one, Kevon Looney). But first impressions matter, a lot, and Wiggins made a strong one to the Chase Center crowd, scoring 24 points on 66 percent shooting and swiping five steals in those 30 minutes.

The soon-to-be 25-year-old forward will likely never live up to the expectations of being the No. 1 overall pick; of being Maple Jordan. He’ll likely never play well enough to justify his five-year, $148 million contract, either.

But as the Warriors have said — and meant — they don’t need him to be a superstar. No, they merely need him to play the way that he did Saturday night. Do that and he and his new team will be a success going forward.

Here are three thoughts on Wiggins’ first game with the Warriors and what it portends for Golden State moving forward:

1. Clean fit

Oh, that’s what a wing is supposed to look like.

No offense to Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III — two good players and good guys — but after years of being so blessed with wing talent that Andre Iguodala came off the bench, Wiggins is the first starter-caliber wing the Warriors have put on the floor this year.

It’s impressive how much better the Dubs’ system works with one of those in the fold.

The Warriors, led by Ky Bowman at point guard, ran the same offensive system the dynastic Golden State squads popularized on Saturday. That’s a byproduct of the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors’ synergy with the big-league club. They pushed the pace, moved off the ball, and passed it around, too. The Dubs weren’t talented, but they were trying to play the game the right way.

That, of course, was not the case when D’Angelo Russell was on the team. The rock-pounding point guard is a brilliant offensive creator, but his methodical — ok, slow — style forced the rest of the Warriors to acquiesce to him. Golden State was disjointed at best with him at the helm — a team with two different identities. And when he wasn’t outstanding, the Warriors were embarrassed by opposing teams.

But on Saturday, the Warriors were able to put a cohesive — though not all that talented — group on the court with Wiggins instead of Russell, and that had clear, positive repercussions. I’d venture to say it’ll be a trend.

“Steve [Kerr] said yesterday he wanted to start playing faster… they way they have the past four, five years that led them to being successful,” Marquese Chriss said Saturday. “I think that was what we were doing, just trying to push the ball up the sideline and play aggressive.”

On the offensive end, Wiggins did everything you’d expect a small forward to do in the modern game. He was able to score as a spot-up shooter and off the bounce — driving to the basket well but also pulling up when space presented itself. He was hardly a perpetual-motion machine, but he was a willing pick-setter and he showed a nice understanding of when and where to cut. It’s easy to see that skill being a big part of the Warriors’ offense when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson return to the court, creating even more space and drawing even more defensive attention away from Wiggins.

It was only one game, but I can easily see Wiggins being Harrison Barnes with some wiggle for the Warriors. They really needed someone like that.

2. Impressive on the defensive side

One of the big knocks on Wiggins — and it was fair — was that he played poor defense in Minnesota.

Again, it’s only one game, but as a Warrior, he looked pretty darn good on that end of the court against LeBron James and Anthony Davis Saturday. Not exactly slouches, those two.

Yes, in his first game with the Dubs, Wiggins made more winning defensive plays than Russell did in his 33 contests with Golden State. The five steals were no fluke, he had a nice block, and he forced a few misses too.

Wiggins was able to stay in front of The King Saturday, and he looked solid when switched onto the larger Davis.

He’s not going to win Defensive Player of the Year or anything — and he’ll need a lot more of what he did Saturday to shake off his reputation — but it was encouraging defensive debut.

I’m curious to see more action and minutes with Draymond Green on the court, as to better judge his defensive awareness, but my initial takeaway is that Wiggins shouldn’t be a liability to the Warriors playing their switch-everything defense going forward, and his performance against Davis shouldn’t dissuade Golden State from playing small with Green at center when the full complement of stars is back.

That said, so much of defense is a byproduct of energy, effort, and commitment. It’s easy to imagine how Wiggins was able to get up for his first game with a new team. The question is if he can maintain that level of focus and intensity moving forward — especially considering this Warriors team’s record.

Green was adamant in the preseason that he could help Russell — who has a long wingspan and more-than-adequate intelligence — play passable defense. That effort was dropped within weeks. As Kerr said Friday, Green will be asked to tutor Wiggins. The Canadian’s buy-in will likely determine his level of success with Golden State, and, in turn, the Warriors’ success.

But, again, Saturday’s one-game sample size was encouraging.

3. Let’s wildly extrapolate

It’s only one game, but it’s hard to argue that the Warriors look bad for trading Russell on Thursday.

That’s because the Warriors looked like themselves again on Saturday, and Wiggins was a seamless fit on both ends of the court.

The overarching question, though, is how Wiggins will fit when the real squad is back together next season. We’ll see a preview of him with Green and Curry next month — that should be illuminating, though I’m having a hard time imagining any pratfalls unless he turns into a ball-stopper. Positional fit gives him a leg up in that regard that Russell was never going to receive.

What I’m most curious to see is how Wiggins plays alongside Klay Thompson.

The starting five — no matter who the center is — should fit together well. Again, positional fit matters and the roles are well-defined there.

But the presumed second-unit creates some intrigue.

Wiggins has the ball-handling ability to run the second unit as a primary ball-handler, allowing Golden State to play with a combo guard at the 1 when Curry is off the court. (Perhaps Damion Lee?)

That’s a skill that Thompson does not boast.

It’s a long ways away — who knows, Wiggins might not be on the team by the time Thompson returns to the court — but I’m having a hard time imagining how No. 11 and No. 22’s games would complement each other without Curry on the court.

If Wiggins has the ball in his hands, the primary objective of those possessions would, theoretically, be him creating a look for himself. It’s not great offense, but it’s good. But the second unit has typically been about getting Thompson open for clean looks. Can those two concepts co-exist?

It’s tricky.

But compared to the questions surrounding this Warriors team only a few days ago, it’s one I’m sure the team is happy to ask now.

view The Mercury News
#draymond green
#anthony davis
#dieter kurtenbach
#steph curry
#dangelo russell
#los angeles lakers
#golden state warriors
#lebron james
#sports columnists
#andrew wiggins
#latest headlines
#inside sports