SAN FRANCISCO — Coming off Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Golden State Warriors star Andrew Wiggins has been seen in a new light with how he dug deep defensively and by dominating the glass to help his team even the series at 2-2.
The lean, athletic forward registered 17 points, pulled down a career-high 16 crucial rebounds, had a starting unit high plus-minus of 20 and held Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum to 23 points on 23 shot attempts. His desire to win and compete was displayed in his 43 minutes Friday.
There was a period during his six seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves that his competitive spirit was in question. Wiggins possessed athleticism, a quick first step and the ability to handle the ball at 6-foot-8, yet he didn't break out into a star, leaving critics to believe he wasn’t seeking to maximize his attributes.
“I would never say that I wasn’t competitive at any point. I was just on a losing team [in Minnesota],” Wiggins told Yahoo Sports after practice Sunday. “I used to score more and do pretty much everything, but now I’m on a winning team. So, everything I do, people will appreciate it more and that’s what winning does. No one respects losers, and I feel that. Everyone says they want to be a winner, but everyone can’t do it. People respect winners, and I’m happy to be in this situation.”
That “noncompetitive” label is being shed now in Wiggins’ third season with Golden State after being traded there in 2020. There is evidence from his rookie season that supports his assertion he always carried a competitive fire.
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Wiggins with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. And not too long after, LeBron James made a splash when word trickled out that he was returning to Cleveland after spending the last four years guiding the Miami Heat to two titles.
From there, Wiggins’ fate was unknown as management suddenly had to quickly assemble a championship roster around James.
It was an awkward period for Wiggins that extended close to two months, knowing he’d likely never play a game for the team that drafted him.
“It was a tough time,” Wiggins told Yahoo Sports. “I can’t lie.”
In a blockbuster three-team trade in late August, the two headliners of the package saw Wiggins sent to Minnesota in exchange for All-Star power forward Kevin Love.
And in the two games against Cleveland during that season, the eventual Rookie of the Year made sure the Cavaliers remembered why they took him with the first overall pick.
In their first meeting in late December, Wiggins produced 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting in a losing effort in Cleveland. At the time, it was his second-highest scoring output.
The final meeting of the season came in late January. Minnesota lost again, but Wiggins erupted for a career-high 33 points on 14-of-25 from the field in 43 minutes.
“I definitely had them circled on the calendar,” Wiggins told Yahoo Sports. “I knew exactly when they were coming for sure. I was ready.”
A year later in their third bout, Wiggins upped the ante by setting a career-high of 35 points on 12-for-19 shooting. Wiggins and the Timberwolves would not defeat the Cavaliers until his fourth season in the league, but the young star made his point.
“I wanted to show them what they were missing, show them I’m doing better over here. That was my mindset back then,” Wiggins told Yahoo Sports. “It was always fun and competitive playing a team that had traded you. It wasn’t an easy experience to go through, but I feel like that’s what kept me motivated and competitive.”
The Cavaliers got a title out of the trio of James, Love and Kyrie Irving in their second season together after upsetting the Warriors in historic measures by overcoming a 3-1 Finals deficit in 2016.
Wiggins said he understood the route the Cavaliers took to surround James with established veterans and he holds no hard feelings.
But he wants to set the record straight.
“I’ve always been a competitor and wanted to win. That should never have been questioned,” he told Yahoo Sports.