SAN FRANCISCO — The success of Golden State’s newest small-ball lineup shined a light on its spectacular three-guards and Draymond Green’s defense. But this death lineup doesn’t function without it’s fifth member stepping up his game.
In the first two games of the first round series against Denver, Andrew Wiggins has been every bit the aggressive, decisive player the Warriors hoped he could be consistently during the regular season.
“The way Wiggs has been attacking the rim in incredible. The way Wiggins has been rebounding, that’s what allows that newer version of the death lineup to really work,” Green said after their Game 2 win on Monday. “Wiggins has been locked in like I’ve never seen Wiggins locked in before.”
Wiggins, who averaged a disappointing 4.5 rebounds per game during the regular season, leads the team with 17 total rebounds (8.5 average) so far this series. And those rebounds have not been gimmes — the 6-foot-7 forward is attacking the glass and boxing out.
“I think Andrew has really adapted well to this series,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Given our advantages and disadvantages, he understands if we are going to play small, he has to rebound.”
Though Wiggins looks the part of an imposing forward — tall, long and uber athletic — his effort doesn’t typically match the expectation. An issue that’s plagued Wiggins since his days with the Minnesota Timberwolves and recurred at times with Golden State.
Strong defense and a career year from 3-point range bumped Wiggins to his first career All-Star game, but as the season wore on his teammates and coaches publicly urged him to be more aggressive driving to the cup and on the boards.
This dates back to Nov. 10, when Wiggins emphatically dunked over former teammate Karl-Anthony Towns and Steph Curry jokingly vowed to show Wiggins a picture of that dunk every day to motivate him.
During his worst stretch of the season from February through March, Wiggins admitted that he was “guilty” of “falling asleep sometimes” on some defensive possessions, but promised he’d sharpen up as the games “ramp up and we get closer to the playoffs.”
Wiggins kept his promise. He ‘s used his length his to make the Warriors ‘small-ball lineups play bigger and add strong perimeter defense where some might lack with a three-guard lineup featuring Curry, Klay Thompson (slightly limited on defense after two major injuries) and Jordan Poole.
Nemanja Bjelica, who played with Wiggins in Minnesota, said Wiggins’ defense all-around has been a game changer.
“His defense, the way he helped us big guys, especially on the boards, this is the best version of Wiggins that I’ve seen,” he said.
Adding plenty of defense in a three-guard lineup is necessary, but what makes the new death lineup deadly is the pick-your-poison aspect. Opposing defenses can’t overplay any of the four scorers, including Wiggins as he’s developed into a scary catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter on this team.
“We need him to continue to do that because he’s so great when he does more than just scoring, obviously,” Thompson said.
He’s been efficient as a scorer so far, averaging 5 makes on 10 field goal attempts per game. That includes more attacks in the paint.
“We still need him to attack when the attack is there,” Kerr said. “He’s done that several times. He’s shot it really efficiently. His defense has been solid. So he’s having a good series. We’re going to need him more and more.”