The first eight years of Andrew Wiggins’ NBA career went by with no chance of proving himself on the league’s biggest stage.
Languishing in Minnesota before joining a transforming Golden State Warriors team, the lack of major opportunities gave the Canadian a reputation as a talented player who shunned the spotlight.
In these NBA playoffs, Wiggins upended that reputation. It turns out that he really likes the big moments.
The Warriors put the finishing touches to their fourth NBA title in eight seasons with a 103-90 win over Boston on Thursday night.
On a team that features Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — who have made six NBA Finals together — it was Wiggins who stepped up his career-best streak to push the Warriors to the title.
The Vaughan, Ont., native was instrumental in the deciding game, scoring 18 points, with six rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.
“He shines on the brightest stages of the playoffs,” Curry said after Game 5. “It’s just amazing to see things working in his favor in terms of dispelling all the narratives around him and who he is is a basketball player right in front of your eyes.”
Heading into Game 6, Wiggins played himself into the Finals MVP conversation with massive performances that helped Golden State turn a 2-1 series deficit into a 3-2 lead.
Wiggins had 17 points and 16 rebounds in Game 4 as the Warriors tied the series 2-2, then had 26 points and 13 rebounds in Golden State’s 104-94 victory in Game 5, punctuating his night beating Boston’s Derrick White for an emphatic late-game dunk.
He also played excellent defense against Celtics star Jayson Tatum throughout the series.
Count his superstar teammates among those he has impressed.
“We’re no more excited than Wiggs dunks on somebody and the ‘bad guys,'” Thompson said after Game 5. “It really elevates the whole team and the Bay Area.”
This type of NBA success was expected for Wiggins, a high-profile prospect from the Toronto area, early in his career. But it took time for his prodigious talents to establish themselves in the big leagues.
After a college season at Kansas, Wiggins was selected first overall by Cleveland in 2014, but he would never share the field with LeBron James’ Cavaliers. He was distributed to Minnesota before the start of his rookie season in a package that sent big man Kevin Love to Ohio.
The Cavs would go on to appear in four straight NBA Finals, winning one, all against Wiggins’ future teammates on the Warriors. But Wiggins toiled in relative obscurity on a mostly forgettable Timberwolves team for the next six seasons.
Minnesota made the playoffs once in their time there when they finished 47-35 in 2017-18 _ good for eighth place in the Eastern Conference – before retreating to Houston in five games in the first round.
Every other season has been a loser, including the league’s worst 16-66 in 2014-15, when the only bright spot was Wiggins winning the Rookie of the Year award.
With the defeat came a lack of urgency. With little to play, Wiggins earned a reputation _ deserved or not _ as a talented player who made little impact on the pitch, an ’empty calorie’ scorer who put in big numbers when play n was not in play.
Wiggins was traded to Golden State during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season with D’Angelo Russell on the other side. With Thompson out with a torn ACL sustained in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals against Toronto, and superstar Kevin Durant no longer with the team, the Warriors fell to a 15-50 record.
Wiggins was slow to settle into his new team, but turned a corner this season, earning an All-Star nomination for the first time in his career.
Now he is a central part of a championship-winning team.
“Now is the time,” Wiggins said earlier in the playoffs. ‘It’s always great to be able to show what you can do, what you’ve worked for. So I’m just happy to be able to be here on the biggest stage and help my team win.”
Wiggins is the eighth Canadian to win an NBA title, joining Mike Smrek (Los Angeles Lakers, 1987, ’88), Bill Wennington (Chicago, 1996. ’97, ’98), Rick Fox (Lakers, 2000, ’01, ‘ 02), Joel Anthony (Miami, 2012, ’13), Cory Joseph (San Antonio, 2014), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland, 2016) and Chris Boucher (Golden State 2018, Toronto 2019).