Kurtenbach: What the Warriors mean when they say Andrew Wiggins ‘fits’
SAN FRANCISCO — Since the Warriors acquired Andrew Wiggins, the team has pushed a narrative that the forward will be a better “fit” for the Dubs.
Indeed, “fit” has become a buzzword of sorts around Golden State. And if you’ve heard it and thought it sounded coded, well, you were right.
What are the Warriors really trying to say?
Part of the reason that Wiggins is a better “fit” with the Warriors than the man he was traded for, D’Angelo Russell, is that he does not present a positional redundancy. Stephen Curry is going to return to the lineup in less than a month. Had Russell stuck around, the Warriors would have two starter-caliber point guards. In moving Russell for Wiggins, the Warriors now have one starter-caliber wing and a former MVP at point guard.
That’s a fit, no doubt.
But it goes deeper than that.
Every successful team in every sport has an identity — a rooted, idealistic view of how they’d like to play. Identity is important, because amid the most frantic moments of the biggest games, it provides a clear path. Knowing who you are and what you’re about matters in ways that go well beyond basketball. The last thing you want going into the fourth quarter is a crisis of confidence.
And while there is no empirically correct way to play basketball, forgive Golden State for thinking they’re closer to the truth than other teams. The banners in the rafters of Chase Center — hell, the Chase Center itself — is a testament to the Dubs’ success playing their preferred style.
As Steve Kerr once said of the team’s identity: “back-to-back champions”.
There are only a few players in the league that can transcend — that fit in anywhere they need to go. Kevin Durant is one of those players. A perfect basketball player, the former Warrior could play any position, any style, and do it on both ends of the court. Sometimes the Warriors would acquiesce to Durant’s preferred version of basketball — an isolation-heavy game on the wing — because, well, as he said “I’m Kevin Durant” and his talent was so superlative whatever he did was winning hoops.
Wiggins isn’t even remotely close to that kind of player. But neither was Russell.
Russell did not fit the Warriors’ identity. And, simply put, he wasn’t good enough for the Dubs to change to fit around him.
The early returns on Wiggins are that he stands a better chance of playing the way the Warriors want and being successful.
That might not seem like much, but it means everything.
If things remain relatively static this summer (no given in this modern NBA), Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will lead the Warriors next season. With that core, they’ll likely be a contender, but without another transcendent player, they’ll never again achieve the presumed champion status they so recently held. No, they’ll have to fight it out with the rest of the mortals in a tough-scrabble Western Conference. That trio’s advantage over the rest is that they have won titles before — they know what they’re about.
And Wiggins will be their fourth-best player — maybe fifth or sixth, depending on the outcome fo the draft and this summer’s player movement bonanza.
Finding a role amid that kind of talent — with those kinds of expectations — could be a daunting task, but the Warriors are making it simple for Wiggins. Before the forward’s first game with Golden State, Kerr said his only message to him was to run the wing as hard as he could.
“Do your job”, as Patriots coach Bill Belichick preaches, and good things will happen. Move and the Warriors would be able to return to their identity.
It’s been a while, so I’d forgive you for forgetting what that identity is: The Warriors want to play fast, kinetic basketball on the offensive end. They run a motion offense and not just in name — everyone has something to do in every moment of every play.
Constant cutting, screening, and a collective willingness to shoot the ball when you’re open — unless you’re Green — creates a beautiful and successful brand of basketball.
Russell played a different kind of offense — he is James Harden-light. Effective, sometimes, but it was antithetical to the Warriors’ ideals. (You though the Warriors-Rockets rivalry was bred through mere familiarity?)
Right or wrong, that tiger wasn’t going to change his stripes. That much was made clear during Russell and the Warriors’ six-month arranged marriage.
And on defense? Well, Russell doesn’t do defense.
Wiggins doesn’t have much of a defensive reputation, either, but he’s shown in his first two games as a Dub to be a halfway decent on-ball defender. Seeing as how you can’t divide by zero, that’s an upgrade for Golden State.
Ideally, the Warriors want to be smart, long, positionless, and aggressive on the defensive side, switching everything and trying to create transition opportunities on offense.
Wiggins allows them to switch — we’ve seen Golden State do it often since he arrived. He has length and solid ball-skills, too — his five steals in his first game were no fluke.
And while the forward’s defensive awareness has appeared lacking and his time in Minnesota doesn’t portend a big change there, the Warriors can hope that the longer he is in the system, the more he’ll understand where to be and what to be looking for on the defensive end of the floor.
Wiggins is no Durant, obviously, and he’s no Andre Iguodala, whose IQ took the Warriors’ defense and off-ball offense to another level. Are their better small forwards? Of course. Were they available to the Warriors for Russell? Probably not. And even if they were, they wouldn’t include a first-round draft pick in the deal.
But Wiggins can reasonably do what Golden State wants to do on both ends of the court. That makes him a fit. Imperfect, perhaps, but it’s better than what they had.
Because identity matters, and after a few strange months, the Warriors can get back to theirs now.