If D’Angelo Russell ends up in Minnesota before Thursday’s trade deadline, Andrew Wiggins will be heading to the Warriors. Multiple league sources say Wiggins is involved in every iteration of a deal being discussed between the two teams. Wiggins has the best contract on the Wolves to match salaries with Russell, and his career could be re-energized in Golden State. It might be the greatest heat check of the year if the Warriors trade for such a notoriously inconsistent player who’s owed $94.7 million through 2022-23.
But there’s a holdup: Minnesota isn’t offering enough draft compensation. As it stands, the Warriors have been offered Minnesota’s 2020 first-round pick and Brooklyn’s 2020 first-round pick, which the Wolves received from Atlanta in a separate four-team trade with Hawks, Rockets, and Nuggets. But the Warriors want future firsts instead of picks in 2020—most importantly, they want an unprotected first-round pick in 2021, which will have a much stronger draft class than the one coming this June. As of now, the Timberwolves aren’t budging on Golden State’s demands. At one point, the Warriors were directly involved in the blockbuster that took place Tuesday night. If the Timberwolves and Warriors follow up with a trade of their own, Wiggins, though, might benefit most of all. The former no. 1 overall pick would find himself in the most stable situation of his career after having had four head coaches in five and a half seasons with the Timberwolves. The Warriors have brought the best out of Russell; could they do the same for Wiggins?
Situation matters. Wiggins has run a heavy dose of pick-and-roll and has performed quite poorly, never ranking higher than the 60th percentile in scoring efficiency since 2016-17, per Synergy Sports. The 24-year-old will probably never be the go-to scoring threat that the Timberwolves need, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a valuable piece in a different environment. In Golden State, Wiggins would operate in a system with more spacing than and play a simpler game. With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson sharing the floor, Wiggins could focus on shooting spot-up 3s, attacking closeouts, cutting, making the simple pass, running the break, and playing hard on defense—which is essentially Andre Iguodala’s old role.
Wiggins has been great at cutting since he was a Kansas freshman, but Minnesota’s system has never emphasized it as much as Golden State’s. The limited designed and improvised cuts to the rim he’s made over the years in Minnesota highlighted Wiggins’s elite athleticism and diminished his need to dribble. He’s savvy at using jukes to fake defenders and can finish lobs with fluidity, as shown in the clips above.
Though Wiggins can handle well enough to initiate a possession, he’s at his best when he doesn’t have to be the creator; he’s more adept as a cutter and shooter. Over his career, Wiggins has hit 36 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s, per NBA Advanced Stats. That’s nothing spectacular, but it’s enough to earn the respect of the defense.
It helps that Wiggins is finally attempting smarter shots—only 11 percent of his attempts this season have come from deep midrange, down from 26 percent over his first five seasons, per Cleaning the Glass. Wiggins has long been an eyesore because of his tendency to jack up 2s early in the shot clock, but now he’s looking to pass. He is making 41 passes per game this season, up from only 24 prior to this season, per NBA Advanced Stats. It’s easy to imagine Wiggins racking up more assists when the guards he’s kicking passes out to are Steph and Klay instead of Shabazz Napier and Jarrett Culver.
I’ve never been a big Wiggins fan. Heading into the 2014 draft, I had him ranked behind Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker. In the summer of 2018, a year after he agreed to a max extension, I tweeted that Wiggins would have an albatross contract “unless he starts passing, rebounding, defending and shooting well.” But it’s undeniable that he’s made improvements on the offensive end this season in Minnesota. And just as Russell has made a leap as an off-ball scorer under Steve Kerr, Wiggins could become a valuable offensive player with the right system and supporting cast in Golden State.
Maybe playing next to future Hall of Famers like Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green in a winning environment with legitimate NBA Finals hopes next season, Wiggins might even start defending with more consistency. At the least, Wiggins is a better defensive fit than Russell, whose effort this season with the 12-win Warriors is about as bad as it was last season when he was winning games with the Nets—his defense may never change. Wiggins, at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, would provide more size next to Curry and Thompson. He has shown glimmers of being a high-level on-ball defender over the years. There’s still some hope that he can tap into that with a new team, even if he can’t reach the defensive heights of Iguodala, a former Finals MVP.
Even if Wiggins doesn’t figure it out with the Warriors, he and the rest of the proposed trade package could help Golden State in other ways. The draft assets they receive could end up bolstering their bench with low-cost players. They already have their own lottery pick this year, and the pick they receive from the Timberwolves could give them another. A first beyond 2020 would make up for the protected 2024 first they lost to dump Iguodala on the Grizzlies in order to make room for Russell. By restocking their draft-pick cupboard, they’ll be a rare team that is ready to compete for a championship and is loaded with draft capital. Someday, maybe those young players and draft picks could be used to land the next superstar that finds himself on the trade market. The Warriors would need salary to make those types of big deals work, and Wiggins could be a good contract filler starting in 2021, when he’ll have only two seasons left on his contract, all the way up to the 2023 offseason, when they could sign-and-trade him. We’re a long way from that point, but by then, maybe the Sixers will be looking to break up Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, James Harden will want out of Houston, or Devin Booker will have finally had it in Phoenix; or, ironically, KAT will want to break up with Russell. The only way the Warriors would have a chance to land a star in a trade is if they have the salaries and assets to get it done; it helps to plan ahead.
This is all theoretical. Wiggins’s results haven’t changed much no matter who has been coaching him or what habits he’s revised. There’s a chance that Wiggins’s contract is indeed an albatross. The players the Warriors draft could fail—which is why they are right to ask for a better first-rounder from the Timberwolves. But there’s also sound logic to the proposed trade package for Russell: It could help the Warriors remain in the title chase while also invest in the future.
Warriors owner Joe Lacob said in 2018 that he wants his franchise to have a 20-year run like the Spurs. Draft picks, younger players, and salaries that’ll be tradable during the right year are what they need to keep this thing rolling as Steph, Klay, and Draymond play into their 30s. Trading for Wiggins is a risk, but he could be the risk that keeps the Warriors light-years ahead.