DALLAS — The dunk will rightfully get most of the attention. In the fourth quarter, Andrew Wiggins received a kickout pass on the right wing from a driving Stephen Curry, blew by a closeout defender, saw the rim in front of him, and launched for a violent tomahawk dunk that came at the expense of Luka Dončić. While the slam was clearly impressive—a consensus of Warriors agreeing after the game it was their favorite of Wiggins’s—it wasn’t merely a highlight. It was also an exclamation point. Golden State, after a 109–100 win over the Mavs, is on the precipice of a return to the NBA Finals, their first since 2019. And the emergence of Wiggins—first a bust, then an overpaid role player, to now in the perfect situation—is a big reason why.
“I can tell you everybody in the organization is happy he’s here,” Klay Thompson said of Wiggins after Game 3. “Without him we would not be where we’re at.”
The former No. 1 overall pick is putting together the best playoff series of his career in the biggest playoff series of his career. Wiggins is averaging 20.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game in his first conference finals. On Sunday, he scored a postseason career-high 27 points, adding 11 rebounds in 40 minutes. He led the team in plus-minus, and also took on the task of guarding the emerging world-destroyer Dončić for large stretches of the game.
“He’s just having a great run,” Kerr said postgame. “He was an All-Star for a reason. He’s a fantastic two-way player. You don’t win in the playoffs without guys like Wiggs.”
It’s been not the most picturesque road for Wiggins to this moment. He was drafted by Cleveland and sent away before even playing a game for a team that didn’t think he could be part of a win-now group. He spent more seasons in Minnesota (six) than he played playoff games for the Wolves (five). And in that time, he developed a reputation as someone who wasn’t quite living up to his potential, even when the numbers looked good on the surface. Finally, he joined a Warriors team that needed two years to fully regroup after a 2019 Finals loss that resulted in the departure of Kevin Durant and the first of two season-ending injuries to Thompson.
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For a team that’s now once again in a position to contend for championships, Wiggins is proving he can, as Curry said is asked of him, “impact winning.” In the playoffs, there’s no greater qualifier a player can aspire to. Simply put, when the stakes are the highest, does your presence give your team a better chance to win? For Wiggins, the answer has been a resounding yes.
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Against Dallas, Kerr is mostly mirroring Wiggins’s minutes to Dončić’s because of his defensive presence. According to NBA.com’s (albeit imperfect) matchup stats, Wiggins has spent 29 minutes and 51 seconds matchup with Dončić through three games. On 134.2 partial possessions in which Wiggins has guarded Luka, Dallas has scored only 133 points, or 0.99 points per possession.
On offense, Wiggins is shooting 41.5% from three, and he’s become adept at leveraging the defensive attention on the Dubs’ shooters to find himself open looks, cuts to the hoop, or even lanes to the offensive glass. (He had six offensive boards in Game 3, including a slick putback dunk not long after his Dončić poster.)
While no one is confusing Wiggins with Kevin Durant, his play does bring a certain dynamism to the Warriors. He’s more than only a 3-and-D player. And while he’s certainly in an enviable situation (many players would likely look better playing off Steph, Klay, and Dray), Wiggins’s acceptance of his role has allowed him to thrive in a way he couldn’t as a No. 1 option.
It’s what the Warriors have needed as they enter a new era of contention. Yes, the core remains one of the best the sport has ever seen. But the supporting cast were largely question marks headed into this season, and even more so after numerous injuries left the rotation in flux headed into the playoffs. As the games have gone on, and the stakes have only risen, certain players (Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole) have proven themselves to be consequential to success. And they’ve helped the Warriors, despite what’s been at times an awkward mix of old and new, outlast some contenders and rivals of yesteryear as they look to make their sixth Finals since 2015.
“It’s just a testament to the vision of the fit that he was going to be when the trade happened,” Curry said of Wiggins after the game. “We know we needed everybody to step up for us to get back to this stage, and for us to win one playoff series let alone to where we are now.”
Wiggins may never quite reach the heights of the Maple Jordan nickname bestowed upon him when he was entering the NBA. And the Warriors certainly haven’t achieved their No. 1 goal quite yet. But both parties are where they expected to be when Wiggins joined the team in February 2020. Golden State is on the cusp of another Finals. And Wiggins is an undeniable catalyst for the team’s current success.
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