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Golden State Warriors

Can the Golden State Warriors unlock the full potential of Andrew Wiggins?

This season's trade deadline wasn't nearly as wild as last season's, but there were still some big-time trades.

One of the biggest? The Golden State Warriors sent D'Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a package headlined by Andrew Wiggins.

The trade makes perfect sense for the Timberwolves, if only because they've teamed franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns with one of his best friends in Russell, a one-time All-Star averaging 23.6 points and 6.2 assists per game this season. The two should complement each other perfectly on offence. Not so much on defence - neither Russell nor Towns are exactly known for their defensive acumen - but the Timberwolves have time to figure out how to build the right team around them.

For the Warriors, the trade is much harder to evaluate for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, we'll have to wait several months to see it all come together. There's a chance Stephen Curry will return from injury in March, giving them a chance to see how Wiggins fits alongside the two-time MVP for 20-something games, but Klay Thompson isn't expected to return at all this season as he continues to recover from tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals.

That means we're unlikely to see the retooled Warriors at full strength until the start of next season.

Secondly, Wiggins will have to change his game quite a bit to make this experiment work.

There's at least a blueprint for Wiggins to succeed in Golden State. Even though he's being paid like he's a star, he'll essentially be expected to fill the Harrison Barnes role on this team as the starting small forward who can play some small ball power forward when the Warriors go to their "Death Lineup" with Draymond Green at centre.

That alone brings some concerns.

Outside of Jimmy Butler's brief time in Minnesota, Wiggins has spent his entire NBA career being a No. 1 or No. 2 option. How will he adjust to now being a No. 3 and sometimes No. 4 option in Golden State? He won't have the ball in his hands nearly as much for obvious reasons - you're not going to run your offence through Wiggins when you have Curry, Thompson and Green on your team - forcing him to take more of a backseat on offence than he ever has before.

It would be one thing if Wiggins was a knockdown shooter, but he shot above 35.0 percent from 3-point range only once during his six years with the Timberwolves. For his career, Wiggins is a 33.2 percent 3-point shooter. Barnes, on the other hand, is a career 37.1 percent 3-point shooter.

If there's any hope that Wiggins can be a better 3-point shooter in Golden State's system, it's that he won't have to shoot nearly as many 3s off the dribble. According to NBA.com, Wiggins has had far more success on catch-and-shoot attempts in his career, looks he should get far more often playing with two of the league's biggest gravity suckers in Curry and Thompson.

He shouldn't be nearly as reliant on pull-ups, which have been the biggest source of his inefficiency as a 3-point shooter.

Andrew Wiggins' 3-point shooting
Season Catch-and-shoot 3PT% Pull-up 3PT%
2014-15 34.0 17.9
2015-16 33.8 23.1
2016-17 40.1 29.2
2017-18 34.9 26.0
2018-19 36.4 28.3
2019-20 36.0 31.1

If Wiggins can become a greater threat from the perimeter, he could very well be an upgrade over Barnes offensively because he's a far superior playmaker. Again, not that the Warriors are going to all of a sudden hand the keys of the offence to Wiggins, but his ability to create shots for himself and others - he has quietly improved as a passer this season - could give Golden State another punch on offence.

It helps that Wiggins should have plenty of room to operate in Golden State. While the Timberwolves and Warriors have been two of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league this season, the Warriors should return to being one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the league when Curry and Thompson return.

Even without knowing who the fifth starter will be alongside Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Green, Wiggins should have a lot more space to work with in Golden State, which will play to his strengths as a driver.

That's the path towards Wiggins thriving with the Warriors - become a more reliable spot-up shooter, make the most of Golden State's spacing as a relentless driver and serve as another creator, one who can take some pressure off of Curry, Thompson and Green when needed. Russell could do some of those same things, but Wiggins makes for a more natural fit in the backcourt with Curry and Thompson because of the position he plays.

In that sense, being a third or fourth option with the Warriors might suit Wiggins better after being overextended as a first and second option with the Timberwolves. He'll have a clearly defined role in a system that has proven to work. He'll no longer be expected to lead. Instead, he'll be expected to learn from Curry, Thompson and Green.

"I do think that we're confident here that we've got an environment that is conducive to players, getting the most out of their ability," Steve Kerr said of Wiggins on 95.7 The Game. "We've got players here who everyone wants to play with. Steph, Klay, Draymond, they play a wonderful style of basketball and they make people better because of how good they are."

Whether or not the Warriors can get Wiggins to buy in on the other end of the court is another story. As Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports noted, the advanced numbers don't exactly paint the picture of Wiggins being an impact defender.

In fact, they make him out to be one of the worst defenders in the league.

Even so, there's no denying that Wiggins has the tools to be a positive defender because of his speed, length and athleticism. The fact that he's always had the tools and has never put it together is obviously concerning, but if there's a team that can get him to buy-in defensively, it's the Warriors.

The Warriors are setting the tone with him immediately, with one of the team's coaches telling Anthony Slater of The Athletic that he has the potential to help them win "as long as he's willing to buy in to competing and using his tools on the defensive end."

So can the Warriors unlock Wiggins' full potential? Absolutely. But will they? There's no way of knowing with so much up in the air, which is what makes this such a fascinating deal.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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