Wiggins reflects on recent struggles, Kerr remains confident originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay area
SAN FRANCISCO — Andrew Wiggins throughout his nine-year NBA career has been incredibly durable. Prior to this season, the longest stretch of games he had missed was four.
Then came the end of 2022 and the start of 2023.
The Warriors’ All-Star forward missed a month of action and 15 games from Dec. 5, 2022 through Jan. 4, 2023. He first went down with a right adductor strain and then was sidelined with two separate illnesses. The transition back to the court hasn’t been easy.
“It’s been a little tough,” Wiggins said Tuesday after Warriors practice. “Just finding my groove, finding my rhythm. Just trying to get back in stride.”
Before dealing with the longest injury of his career, Wiggins looked well on his way to a second straight All-Star Game appearance. He was locking down the opponent’s top scorer, crashing the glass and draining 3-pointers with ease. Two-Way Wiggs was in full effect.
Golden State signed Wiggins to a four-year contract extension worth more than $109 million right before the regular season began. He was a major reason the Warriors won the championship last season, and looked like a cornerstone franchise at the start of this season.
Playing in 22 of the Warriors’ first 24 games, Wiggins averaged 19.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He was shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 45 percent from deep.
Those numbers have been nowhere to be found after returning on Jan. 7 in a loss to the Orlando Magic. In seven games since then, he has averaged 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He still has been a defensive menace at times, but his shot is not falling. Wiggins is shooting 34 percent from the field and is 10-for-44 behind the 3-point line, good for a 22.7 percent clip.
As the Warriors saw their lead Sunday night against the Brooklyn Nets slip away, Wiggins played under four minutes in the fourth quarter, scored a season-low four points, went 2-for-9 from the field and missed all three of his 3- pointers.
“I do think the long absence hurt him,” Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “It’s the first time he’s ever gone through this in his career, to come back in the middle of the season and then find your rhythm against a bunch of guys who are in midseason form. And Andrew was playing so well before the injury.
“I think there’s been some frustration since he returned.”
Kerr has long been a huge fan of Wiggins and has repeatedly said how important his addition in February of 2020 was to the Warriors in the short term and long term. Slumps happen, and the timing of Wiggins’ injury made everything that much worse.
No matter what the numbers say, Kerr isn’t concerned with Wiggins. He even used two of Wiggins’ teammates, who happen to be two of the best shooters of all time, as examples that Wiggins can lean on right now.
“I’ve told him everybody goes through this,” Kerr said. “Even Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson], the greatest shooters on Earth. Everyone goes through this in this game during an 82-game season, so you just have to fight your way out of it by working and competing and staying aggressive.”
Turning into a 3-point threat has been great for Wiggins and the Warriors. Percentage-wise, he was much better than Curry and Thompson before his injury.
Actually, Wiggins led the Warriors in 3-point percentage last season, making a career-high 39.3 percent of his attempts. Even with his current struggles, Wiggins still is shooting a career-best 39.9 percent from long distance.
But Wiggins is best when he’s attacking the basket. He’s one of the best athletes in basketball, he leaps like he has springs in his shoes and everything slows down, making the game easier the closer he is to the rim.
That part of his game has been lacking over the past seven games, and hints of hesitancy have been seen and Wiggins admits there’s a mental hurdle he needs to clear.
“I’m not attacking as much as I used to,” Wiggins said. “I think it’s a mindset thing.”
How will Wiggins get back to his pre-injury form? To him, it’s simple. Everything has to feel like a game.
That means drills, practice, scrimmages and maybe shootarounds as well. Those environments and atmospheres are much different. The intentions still have to be that of a game.
“Taking game-like shots, practicing everything at game speed,” Wiggins said. “I’m trying to get back to how I was, just doing everything full speed. Practice is fast, but the game is even faster.”
Getting Wiggins as close to the version he was in the first month-plus of the season is vital to the Warriors. Their past success has been built around versatile athletic wings surrounding Curry and Thompson with Draymond Green roaming as the ultimate defender. Wiggins checks all those boxes.
Starting with a growing rivalry against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night at Chase Center, Kerr is confident the Warriors soon will see the kind of player they love and need wearing a No. 22 jersey. Wiggins is on the same page there, waiting to get Dub Nation back out of their seats.