Our weekly look at four topics — players, issues, numbers, trends — that are impacting and, in some cases, changing the game.
First Quarter: Andrew Wiggins’ big chance
Nobody can question Andrew Wiggins’ talent, and clearly the Minnesota Timberwolves were enamored with it for a long time.
But time runs out, and now it’s the Golden State Warriors’ turn to maximize his potential, banking on his gifts and their culture — a key aspect here — to see if they can coax the best out of a talented bust.
He doesn’t fall into the category of Kwame Brown or Anthony Bennett, No. 1 overall picks who simply didn’t have the ability to live up to their draft status. But the fact remains, he’s still a bust, only showing flashes of living up to the effort his talent demands.
The Warriors cashed in on their D’Angelo Russell lottery ticket, sending Russell to join his friend Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota with a deadline-day deal.
In return, they inherit a talented enigma and a top-three protected first-round pick in 2021. What’s intriguing is debating what mattered more to Warriors GM Bob Myers: Wiggins or a potential top-10 pick if the Timberwolves fall on their faces this year and next.
What if Wiggins’ value was so low he was the throw-in? With his salary (owed $94.7 million over the next three seasons following this one), it’s not easy to swallow when a player is so content being an average player.
Perhaps the Timberwolves were the issue. By changing coaches, front offices and franchise directions, maybe they didn’t possess the right environment for Wiggins to develop.
Maybe that’s what the Warriors are banking on, a fresh start to be nurtured and pushed by championship veterans. Make no mistake, a lot of the pushing will come from Draymond Green, who’ll likely add some yelling, too.
Stephen Curry has long been noted as one of the best culture-setters in the NBA, and playing next to Klay Thompson can rub off on Wiggins by way of attention to detail and work ethic.
If Wiggins is right, the Warriors can be right back in the thick of Western Conference contention this time next year, assuming Curry and Thompson return to form.
If he follows the form of his first six years, they’ll struggle to make the playoffs and it’ll be a big mark on the culture that dominated the back half of the last decade.
It’s hard to measure a player’s heart, but critics seem compelled to question Wiggins’.
He seemed like a player intent on proving those people wrong to start the season, but after that early spark he’s fallen back to his productive but not impactful ways.
How many nights does a box score scream out “superstar”, but it’s hard to recall an important basket or play that kept things close or put pressure on the opponent? The most meaningful basketball Wiggins has played was when he was an obvious third wheel behind Towns and lightning rod Jimmy Butler.
Butler’s ire was often directed at Towns, not always Wiggins, but Butler never denied how talented Wiggins was, even through the often-unbelievable drama that occurred early in the 2018-19 season.
Being with the Warriors will reveal what’s underneath Wiggins’ talent, and how the Warriors deal with him will determine if they wanted the draft pick or the player.
Second Quarter: Can the Knicks be relevant?
Have the New York Knicks started to do some things right?
They’re the running joke that keeps on running, with chants of “Sell the team!” being a catalyst for owner James Dolan firing team president Steve Mills in an unexpected move days before the trade deadline.
Of course, the timing will always be peculiar, but the quick move to bring in CAA agent Leon Rose struck of rare decisiveness and outside-the-box thinking.
Either that, or newly appointed consultant Steve Stoute has replaced Mills as the most trusted voice inside Madison Square Garden.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Rose and the mysterious William Wesley, aka Worldwide Wes, to keep Scott Perry on as they transition into a new arena of sorts. Rose is used to exerting influence as an agent who’s been in NBA circles for decades, and Wesley is renowned for being the ultimate liaison for players — offering sage advice without asking for anything in return.
The bigger issue is Dolan. It always is, always will be. He hasn’t earned a morsel of trust over the last decade, often changing his mind at a moment’s notice and being genuinely unpredictable.
But it’s OK to say we don’t know if he got this right, or if the Knicks will finally be moving forward to relevance.
If nothing else, Rose knows the inner workings of the league, and even if he doesn’t represent the upper crust of players anymore, he does know his way around the NBA.
It could be a disaster, falling right in line with the course the Knicks have taken. But if Rose and Wesley’s connections still mean something to today’s NBA players — with no reason to think otherwise — maybe, just maybe, the Knicks have a fighting chance.
Third Quarter: Spencer Dinwiddie knows how the game is played
Spencer Dinwiddie is plenty of things.
He’s vocal and charismatic to the media, he’s a rebel of sorts to the NBA, and his road-less-traveled history leaves him realistic but not jaded.
One thing you can’t call him is a fool.
He earned All-Star consideration (averaging 21 points and 6.4 assists in 50 games) as he kept the Brooklyn Nets in playoff standing as they dealt with injuries to Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, but it wasn’t enough to keep his name out of the rumor mill leading to the trade deadline.
As a player who’s spent time in the G League, was traded multiple times and was released, Dinwiddie, 26, is well aware of the cutthroat nature of the NBA.
But working as hard as he has to get to this place, being a player of note and even signing a three-year, $34 million extension before the start of last season, enduring the rumors left him wondering what more he has to do to earn some security.
“You try to do everything you can do. You understand the business of it,” Dinwiddie told Yahoo Sports. “It's kind of like a [frustrating] thing, you know? It's hard to put into words. It's not dramatic, it's not big. It's just ... damn.”
The Nets didn’t move him before Thursday’s deadline, and there didn’t seem to be any real threats of it, either. But Irving is the point guard for now and the foreseeable future, with the investment the franchise made to him and Kevin Durant last summer.
Dinwiddie is a friend of Irving’s, so there’s no drama there, but he also understands it would take a lot for another team to value him at his position and hand him the keys to their franchise.
“Honestly, I don't think that's gonna happen,” Dinwiddie told Yahoo Sports. “Unless the situation is absolutely perfect. If you're young, you won't take a 26-year-old. If you're a contender, you're already good enough. So it would take a team that needs a PG, is trying to contend, and has money. It would take that sweet spot.”
Yes, he’s pragmatic, too.
“Maybe there's a sweet spot out there,” Dinwiddie said the night before the trade deadline. “The business will tell if that's what it is. I'm not playing for stats. When we're up 30, I kick it into second gear. I don't care. I don't have to score 20 or keep a streak or match a stat. I'm playing for fun. I'm playing to win. Obviously, to feed my family and stuff like that, but the legacy of enjoying this and winning and getting something out of it. It'll continue to evolve for this next six or eight years or how long I'll play.”
Whatever was going to happen, Dinwiddie wasn’t going to spend all day refreshing his Twitter feed.
“I close my eyes. I know it's cliche, but Jesus take the wheel [because] I don't have control of it,” he said.
He smiled, being reminded of the days when he was told he was too smart for his own good as a rookie — a little too pragmatic, even back then.
But not a fool.
Fourth Quarter: Should Zach LaVine be an All-Star?
What’s a guy gotta do to get some respect around here?
That’s what Zach LaVine has to be feeling in Chicago. There’s ineptitude around him, followed by injuries and a general lack of belief in the Bulls’ rebuild.
LaVine is doing his part, being the lone Bull to outperform expectations in what will amount to another lottery season.
His numbers (24.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists) are All-Star caliber, and it seemed like a natural fit that he would be selected as a reserve in Chicago, where All-Star Weekend is being held from Feb. 14-16.
But since the Bulls’ record is what it is (19-34), he fell into the pile of snubs. LaVine knows he isn’t alone, but when you’re having a rough season from a team standpoint, having individual recognition was at least a possibility.
Except it isn’t.
“It's turned into a team success thing instead of an individual thing,” LaVine told Yahoo Sports. “I think basketball is the only one that does that. Football doesn't do that. Baseball doesn't have it. I feel like the best players play in that game. This year, I feel like I'm one of the best players in the NBA, especially the Eastern Conference. It's frustrating, but there's nothing I can do about it.”
When asked who were the best players to be missing out from the midseason showcase, he didn’t hesitate.
“There's three main guys ... [or] four,” LaVine said. “I'll put me in it. Bradley Beal. Devin Booker. And Karl-Anthony Towns. Obviously, there's more like Kyrie [Irving], he's been hurt, and Paul George. It's tough.”
It’s hard to separate impactful numbers from stat-stuffing in today’s era, but LaVine has had star moments this season.
Coaches are prone to vote for who they know, but sometimes a deeper look should reward those having exceptional seasons.
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