Andrew Wiggins is an All-Star. How did we get here?
Andrew Wiggins has been many things throughout his career: a prodigy, a trade chip, a bloated contract, a reclamation project, a lightning rod of vaccination controversy. And on Thursday, he became yet one more thing.
An NBA All-Star.
For the first time in Wiggins' eight-year career, he was named to an All-Star team by coming in third in the NBA fan vote. The only players ahead of him in the Western Conference frontcourt voting were LeBron James, an 18-time All-Star, and Nikola Jokic, the reigning MVP.
Even after being in the mix for a nod in each round of All-Star voting, Wiggins' selection still came as a bit of a shock. This was Andrew Wiggins, a player whose reputation has been defined by inefficient volume shooting, Jimmy Butler criticism and teams giving up on him. What on earth changed?
A few things changed, though not enough to quite explain Wiggins apparently being one of the top three frontcourt players in the conference. He most certainly got some help from a Warriors fanbase rejuvenated by the team's return to excellence this season. He also benefited from friendly circumstances on the ballot, as the two players right behind him on the last round of voting were Paul George (out since Dec. 22) and Anthony Davis (who just missed 17 straight games).
Also behind him were teammate Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert, two All-NBA defenders who were arguably more deserving, but whose full contributions don't receive as much attention from casual fans beholden to box scores.
The Western Conference frontcourt was arguably the least deep group of candidates, and a reclassification of, say, Luka Doncic would almost certainly have yielded a different result. But even though he did catch a few breaks on the path to All-Stardom, Wiggins isn't the same player he was when he arrived in the Bay Area.
The Warriors have unlocked Andrew Wiggins
When Wiggins was first drafted, the ideal outcome for him as a player seemed to be the kind of guy who could use his elite bounce to get to the rim and terrorize opponents on defense. It took years for some to realize that wasn't going to happen.
In his first five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was inconsistent on offense, often lost on defense and simply never displayed the aggression fans wanted to see. He was supposed to be the ball-handler who ran the Minnesota offense alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, but it never materialized.
Wiggins took on a very different job description when the Timberwolves sent him to the Warriors (plus a first-round pick that turned into Jonathan Kuminga) in exchange for D'Angelo Russell, taking on a contract that many saw as one of the worst values in the NBA. The Warriors might have been at their nadir at the time, but they still had Curry and Green.
Wiggins' improvement in the time since that trade has peaked this season. With Curry (or Jordan Poole) running the show on offense, Wiggins has become the team's top catch-and-shoot threat, making a team-high 43.3 percent on such 3-pointers on 4.1 attempts per game (up from 36.4 percent in his final Timberwolves season), per NBA Advanced Stats.
With Green's coordination on defense, Wiggins has often guarded other teams' primary scorers, fielding a team-high 13.8 field-goal attempts per game on defense and allowing opponents to shoot 41.8 percent from the field. That latter mark ranks sixth in the NBA among players with at least 500 such attempts.
In simpler terms, Wiggins is shooting as efficiently as he's ever had in the Warriors' more shooter-friendly environment, with a career-high 48.1 percent from the field, a career-high 40.4 percent from deep and a career-low 1.6 turnovers per game. He's not drawing as many free-throw attempts, but that's only because he's become more selective in when he gets to the rim.
When people say situation can matter as much as talent, they mean cases like Andrew Wiggins, who somehow became an All-Star by embracing more of a role player identity. His 18.1 points per game may be the lowest of the 10 All-Star starters and lower than most of the eventual reserves, but people mocking his selection may not realize how much he's changed.
Will LeBron choose Andrew Wiggins this time?
As wild as Wiggins becoming an All-Star is, the funnier moment could come on Feb. 10, when All-Star captains LeBron James and Kevin Durant pick their teams.
That would be LeBron James, the superstar who famously oversaw Wiggins, then the No. 1 overall pick, being traded to Minnesota for Kevin Love when he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wiggins and the Timberwolves never did much to make the Cavaliers regret that trade.
Now, however, James has a choice to make on Wiggins again (under significantly less important circumstances). Wiggins figures to be one of the last starters to hear his name called on TNT, but James picking the 26-year-old would make for an interesting moment.