We throw away the word “bust” easily. You know who had a bust? Michael Olowokandi had a bust. LaRue Martin was a bust. Kwame Brown had a bust. Want to spread the stadium a bit and include the NFL? JaMarcus Russell had a bust. Tim Koch was a bust. Sam Bradford had a bust.
He owns the NBA Rookie of the Year award. He has averaged more than 20 points per game in the NBA in three different seasons. The All-Star Game has begun. By any measure, a player gaining this type of career should not see their name and “bankruptcy” in the same sentence.
This is the burden of extraordinary talent, and to be selected #1 overall in the draft. Hell, before playing a team game in Kansas, he had an impossible title to live up to in honor of his homeland and a specific player whose talent indicated his early skills: Maple Jordan.
“Wigs has more god-given abilities than any player in the league now,” Jimmy Butler, a Minnesota Wiggins member who handles the referee like everyone else, once said.
Anything – everything – Wiggins was doing, there was always a caveat. There was always a feeling he could do more. There was a belief that he was someone who was skilled in stats, and would score you a bunch of points in loss after loss. He was called the worst player in the NBA. Charged with leading the league in empty minutes.
And now, he’s 48 minutes away from one of the great redemption stories in NBA history, and perhaps 48 minutes away from accepting the Bill Russell Cup as the NBA Finals player of the year if the Warriors can shut down the Celtics as well. In Game 6 Thursday night In Boston or in Game 7 on Sunday in San Francisco.
While it would take a surplus of cold-blooded, conspicuous voters to reject Steve Curry’s MVP award for the fourth time if the Warriors made it through, the truth about Wiggins is as prominent in the conversation as it is. Tells the most compelling story in these finals. He averaged 18.4 points and 9.4 rebounds, but more specifically, in his two top games of the season – and his life – he earned 17 points and 16 rebounds in Game 4 and followed that up with 26 and 13 in Game 5, helping take Golden State out of a two-game hole for one and push the Warriors to the edge of the title.
“It was no bigger than this,” said Wiggins after the fifth game, and he said it with a relief that teaches you: He heard the whispers. He knows what people have said about him. And he knows that when it mattered most, he upped his game.
“I think it’s a reminder that for every player in the NBA, conditions are everything,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “You kind of need to find the right place, the right mates, that kind of thing. Whigs was a great fit.”
You don’t often see a No. 1 pick overall with the kind of humility that Wiggins sucked in – and remember, this is his eighth season in the league – and then take a quantum leap forward.
Really, the only example that feels remotely similar is Jim Plunkett, who finished first in the 1971 NFL Draft, had some early pace in New England (runner-up as Rookie Striker of the Year) and then fell off the net for seven years. Then, somewhat impossibly, he re-emerged as a star with the Raiders, leading them to wins at Super Bowls XV and XVIII, and resetting his entire career history.
The introduction to the star role for Wiggins wasn’t quite as blatant as Plunkett, but his development as a staple in the championship engine is highly unlikely. The Warriors baffled much of the league when they replaced D’Angelo Russell and a few younger players with Wiggins and a couple of picks. They called trade a lot of things, except as it turned out: the missing ingredient.
“He embraced the challenge of consistency and what he can do on both ends of the floor,” Curry said. “We’ve embraced him since day one. We’re trying to paint a picture of what his skill set can do for us to reach the highest level.”
That plateau is within their reach now. And somehow – improbably and impossibly – Andrew Wiggins provided the right boost to get them there. Once a bust, now a boost. Who saw that coming, except perhaps Mabel Jordan himself?