It is games like these that don’t allow me to lose hope on Andrew Wiggins. He has had some memorable games in his career in Oklahoma City. The half-court game winner and earlier this season his 30 point performance with the game-deciding basket. All of those games, while were amazing, didn’t amount to last night’s win against Oklahoma City 119-117. Wiggins had 40 pts, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and shot 16/18 from the free throw line.
What we saw was a Wiggins that was motivated. He was motivated to win the game for Ryan Saunders’ first career game as head coach. And up until this point, the culprit to Wiggins reaching his potential was ultimately his motivation. He never seemed assertive enough to lead a team to victory. After the game, Wiggins mentioned that the win was important to get for Ryan Saunders because he was the only coach that was still around since his rookie year. And since after his rookie year, he has been coached by Sam Mitchell and Tom Thibodeau, who both ultimately struggled in connected with him on a personal level but also leveraging him correctly on the court.
Wiggins was motivated but he was also used in many ways that Flip Saunders used him in his rookie year. Ryan Saunders involved him in the offense early and often. Pre-game, Wiggins said he would look to get out in transition and attack more, and he did exactly that early on. Wiggins got to the line, and made his free throws, like he did early in his career as well. Wiggins made 16 of 18 free throws on the road, which is extremely impressive.
Saunders also let Wiggins handle the ball, something that helped him get his offense going in the second half, where he can often get lost after having a productive first half. He also set him up in post-up sets and in give and go’s with KAT late in the game. Once it seemed as if Wiggins was planning to score at any opportunity, he would dish it out to someone for an open shot. This came up huge in the final minute of the game where he created an open 3-pointer for the rookie Okogie.
While bringing back all of these things that made Wiggins successful in the past, Wiggins included things that he has worked on over the years as well. Wiggins added 2 threes and showcased him improved ball handling by getting to the basket against a difficult OKC defense. He hit some amazing moving jumpers late in the first half that he has also added recently to his repertoire.
The reason this game was so impressive though for Wiggins is that he did this while having to carry the offense without much support. Derrick Rose was out in this game, KAT was in foul trouble and Teague was ejected in the second half. This allowed the highly-ranked OKC defense to focus on Wiggins. He often had one of the league’s best defenders in Paul George guarding him and one of the better rim protectors in the league in Steven Adams protecting the paint.
He also had to carry a major defensive load in the game. Robert Covington was out so Wiggins was asked to guard Paul George (who shot 37.5% from the field) for most of the game. Josh Okogie was guarding Russell Westbrook so it didn’t allow for much rest on the defensive end.
Being that Wiggins had a double-double, he clearly was hustling for rebounds, as he is mostly criticized for not doing. He showed heart and energy in a game that needed every ounce of it. It was beautiful to see Wiggins be the first to congratulate Ryan Saunders on the win when he entered the locker room. It finally feels like Wiggins found a coach that he wants to play hard and win for.