The past five seasons have played out like a dream for the Golden State Warriors. Fans of the team have enjoyed a dynastic run that included five straight trips to the NBA Finals from 2014-2019 and three NBA Championships along the way. However, this dream run seemingly came to an end during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals when Kevin Durant and Klay Thomspon sustained major injuries that would sideline them indefinitely. The disaster continued from there as the Warriors went on to lose the championship to the Toronto Raptors. Not only that, but Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets in free agency and point guard Stephen Curry broke his left hand and has played only four games this year while Thomspon won’t be back on the court until next season. All of this has added up to a lost season in the Bay. Yet, despite their league-worst 12-40 record, the Golden State Warriors are still in the business of competing for championships. By trading D’Angelo Russel, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins, a protected 2021 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick, the Warriors have set themselves up to go all in on the 2021 season and beyond.
As it stands, D’Angelo Russel is a better player than Wiggins, but that’s not the point. Wiggins is a small forward and Russel is a point guard. Though Russel is a special offensive player, he was never going to be a long-term fit on a team that includes two elite guards in Curry and Thompson, the two greatest shooters of all time and perhaps the best guard duo in NBA history. The team has always seen Russel (whom they received from Brooklyn in exchange for Durant) as an asset they would use to retool their roster around their three stars in Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green. Warriors Head Coach, Steve Kerr, admitted as much. “To be honest, the fit was always questionable,” he said of signing Russel.
Wiggins, who was the first overall selection in the 2014 NBA draft, is a strong positional fit for the forward-needy Warriors. “It’s a positional fit when we’re healthy,” Kerr said. “The big hole in the roster really is at [the small forward position]. Wings are really hard to come by — both in the draft and in free agency. Positionally, this makes a lot of sense.”
Throughout his career, Wiggins has been criticized for being an inconsistent scorer (19.7 points-per-game on 44.1% shooting and 33.3% from 3-point range) and not playing hard enough on defense, two characteristics of a young player who is not fully engaged. Much of the blame for this falls on the Timberwolves, who have not put him in a position to succeed by surrounding him with talent and structured coaching. He is as athletic as anyone in the league and has the size and skillset to be a very good defender. Pair him with two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, Draymond Green, and the Warriors should be able to maximize his defensive abilities. Furthermore, playing on a team with the two greatest shooters of all time, Curry and Thompson, will allow Wiggins to get more open looks than he’s ever had.
Though he has largely underperformed his draft status throughout his NBA career, a healthy Warriors team won’t need Wiggins to be the superstar he was projected to become out of college. “Minnesota needed him to be a star. And we’re not asking him to be a star. We’re asking him to play a role on a team that already has some star players. There’s a huge difference there,” Kerr said. Remember the Warriors won the 2015 NBA Championship and went to the 2016 finals with Harrison Barnes starting at small forward. If Wiggins can be an upgrade on Barnes (which he already is), the Warriors will have acquired a very valuable player.
The other piece of the trade that could become very valuable for the Warriors is the pair of 2021 draft picks they received. In addition to their own 2020 first-round pick (projected top-3) and Minnesota’s 2021 second-round pick, the Warriors now have the Wolves’ 2021 first-rounder, which is top-3 protected. So, if the Timberwolves finish with a top-3 pick, they will instead send a fully unprotected first-round pick in 2022 to Golden State. Despite acquiring Russel, the Timberwolves are still one of the league’s worst teams. They currently sit at 16-35 after getting off to a 3-0 start to the season. They will likely be bringing back the same roster in 2021 and 2022, meaning that pick they traded away could wind up being very valuable.
While Golden State has used free-agency to acquire several key players for their championship runs (Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livigston, etc.), they have a spectacular track record with drafting and developing players. Most teams find their franchise players by picking somewhere in the top-3, yet the Warriors have gotten mind-blowing value out of their picks later on in the draft. Steph Curry was selected seventh overall in 2009, Klay Thompson 11th overall in 2011 and Draymond Green was taken with the 35th pick in 2012. The Warriors are living proof that it’s more important to draft well than it is to draft high. Now they have a chance to do both.
The Russel-for-Wiggins blockbuster wasn’t the only trade the Warriors made on deadline day either. They also shipped Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III to the Philadelphia 76ers for three second-round picks. This was a no-brainer for the Warriors who never had Burks or Robinson in their long-term plans. With their newly acquired haul of picks, the Warriors should have the draft equity necessary to fuel any future playoff runs they may have down the line.
Next year the Warriors will bring back Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to pair with Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. And if the Wiggins experiment doesn’t work, they now have a number of very valuable draft picks to use or trade for an already-proven NBA player to bring into the mix. Add in promising young players in Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall and the Warriors form what should be one of the NBA’s elite teams for the next few years. As bad as it may look now, the 2019-20 season isn’t the end of the Warriors dynasty, it’s only the intermission.