What the War­riors mean when they say Wig­gins ‘fits’

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS -

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> Since the War­riors ac­quired An­drew Wig­gins, the team has pushed a nar­ra­tive that the for­ward will be a bet­ter “fit” for the Dubs. In­deed, “fit” has be­come a buzz­word of sorts around Golden State. And if you’ve heard it and thought it sounded coded, well, you were right.

What are the War­riors re­ally try­ing to say?

Part of the rea­son that Wig­gins is a bet­ter “fit” with the War­riors than the man he was traded for, D’An­gelo Rus­sell, is that he does not present a po­si­tional re­dun­dancy. Stephen Curry is go­ing to re­turn to the lineup in less than a month. Had Rus­sell stuck around, the War­riors would have two starter-cal­iber point guards. In mov­ing Rus­sell for Wig­gins, the War­riors now have one starter-cal­iber wing and

a for­mer MVP at point guard.

That’s a fit, no doubt. But it goes deeper than that.

Ev­ery suc­cess­ful team in ev­ery sport has an iden­tity — a rooted, ide­al­is­tic view of how they’d like to play. Iden­tity is im­por­tant, be­cause amid the most fran­tic mo­ments of the big­gest games, it pro­vides a clear path. Know­ing who you are and what you’re about mat­ters in ways that go well be­yond bas­ket­ball. The last thing you want go­ing into the fourth quar­ter is a cri­sis of con­fi­dence.

And while there is no em­pir­i­cally cor­rect way to play bas­ket­ball, for­give Golden State for think­ing they’re closer to the truth than other teams. The ban­ners in the rafters of Chase Cen­ter — hell, the Chase Cen­ter it­self — is a tes­ta­ment to the Dubs’ suc­cess play­ing their pre­ferred style.

As Steve Kerr once said of the team’s iden­tity: “back-to-back cham­pi­ons.”

There are only a few play­ers in the league that can tran­scend — that fit in any­where they need to go. Kevin Du­rant is one of those play­ers. A per­fect bas­ket­ball player, the for­mer War­rior could play any po­si­tion, any style, and do it on both ends of the court. Some­times the War­riors would ac­qui­esce to Du­rant’s pre­ferred ver­sion of bas­ket­ball — an iso­la­tion­heavy game on the wing — be­cause, well, as he said “I’m Kevin Du­rant” and his tal­ent was so su­perla­tive what­ever he did was win­ning hoops.

Wig­gins isn’t even re­motely close to that kind of player. But nei­ther was Rus­sell.

Rus­sell did not fit the War­riors’ iden­tity. And, sim­ply put, he wasn’t good enough for the Dubs to change to fit around him.

The early re­turns on Wig­gins are that he stands a bet­ter chance of play­ing the way the War­riors want and be­ing suc­cess­ful.

That might not seem like much, but it means every­thing.

If things re­main rel­a­tively static this sum­mer (no given in this mod­ern NBA), Curry, Klay Thomp­son, and Dray­mond Green will lead the War­riors next sea­son. With that core, they’ll likely be a con­tender, but with­out another tran­scen­dent player, they’ll never again achieve the pre­sumed cham­pion sta­tus they so re­cently held. No, they’ll have to fight it out with the rest of the mortals in a tough-scrabble Western Con­fer­ence. That trio’s ad­van­tage over the rest is that they have won ti­tles be­fore — they know what they’re about.

And Wig­gins will be their fourth-best player — maybe fifth or sixth, de­pend­ing on the out­come fo the draft and this sum­mer’s player move­ment bo­nanza.

Find­ing a role amid that kind of tal­ent — with those kinds of ex­pec­ta­tions — could be a daunt­ing task, but the War­riors are mak­ing it sim­ple for Wig­gins. Be­fore the for­ward’s first game with Golden State, Kerr said his only mes­sage to him was to run the wing as hard as he could.

“Do your job”, as Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick preaches, and good things will hap­pen. Move and the War­riors would be able to re­turn to their iden­tity.

It’s been a while, so

I’d for­give you for for­get­ting what that iden­tity is: The War­riors want to play fast, ki­netic bas­ket­ball on the of­fen­sive end. They run a mo­tion of­fense and not just in name — ev­ery­one has some­thing to do in ev­ery mo­ment of ev­ery play.

Con­stant cut­ting, screen­ing, and a col­lec­tive will­ing­ness to shoot the ball when you’re open — un­less you’re Green — cre­ates a beau­ti­ful and suc­cess­ful brand of bas­ket­ball.

Rus­sell played a dif­fer­ent kind of of­fense — he is James Har­den-light. Ef­fec­tive, some­times, but it was an­ti­thet­i­cal to the War­riors’ ideals. (You though the War­riors-Rock­ets ri­valry was bred through mere fa­mil­iar­ity?)

Right or wrong, that tiger wasn’t go­ing to change his stripes. That much was made clear dur­ing Rus­sell and the War­riors’ six-month ar­ranged mar­riage.

And on de­fense? Well, Rus­sell doesn’t do de­fense.

Wig­gins doesn’t have much of a de­fen­sive rep­u­ta­tion, ei­ther, but he’s shown in his first two games as a Dub to be a half­way de­cent on-ball de­fender. See­ing as how you can’t di­vide by zero, that’s an up­grade for Golden State.

Ide­ally, the War­riors want to be smart, long, po­si­tion­less, and ag­gres­sive on the de­fen­sive side, switch­ing every­thing and try­ing to cre­ate tran­si­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties on of­fense.

Wig­gins al­lows them to switch — we’ve seen Golden State do it of­ten since he ar­rived. He has length and solid ball-skills, too — his five steals in his first game were no fluke.

And while the for­ward’s de­fen­sive aware­ness has ap­peared lack­ing and his time in Min­nesota doesn’t por­tend a big change there, the War­riors can hope that the longer he is in the sys­tem, the more he’ll un­der­stand where to be and what to be look­ing for on the de­fen­sive end of the floor.

Wig­gins is no Du­rant, ob­vi­ously, and he’s no An­dre Iguo­dala, whose IQ took the War­riors’ de­fense and off-ball of­fense to another level.

Are their bet­ter small for­wards? Of course. Were they avail­able to the War­riors for Rus­sell? Prob­a­bly not. And even if they were, they wouldn’t in­clude a first-round draft pick in the deal.

But Wig­gins can rea­son­ably do what Golden State wants to do on both ends of the court. That makes him a fit. Im­per­fect, per­haps, but it’s bet­ter than what they had.

Be­cause iden­tity mat­ters, and af­ter a few strange months, the War­riors can get back to theirs now.


The War­riors’ An­drew Wig­gins is con­grat­u­lated by team­mate Dray­mond Green af­ter scor­ing against the Heat in the third quar­ter of their game at Chase Cen­ter in San Fran­cisco on Mon­day.

Di­eter Kurten­bach

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