Kurtenbach: Andrew Wiggins’ absence from the Warriors is too big to ignore anymore
Andrew Wiggins’ absence isn’t the sole reason the Warriors lost to the Clippers Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Nor is it the reason the Warriors haven’t won a road game since January.
But the Dubs’ wing has been on an excused absence for family issues for 13 games now, and the team has no idea when he might return.
And my goodness, they could have used him Wednesday.
Both teams brought intensity and focus both teams. Both coaches were using tailored defensive game plans. Steph Curry went and scored 50 points.
But the truth about the postseason — or games that feel like the postseason — is that the wings determine the outcomes.
Wednesday, the Clippers had Paul George (24 points) and Kawhi Leonard (30) as their top two wings.
The Warriors had Klay Thompson (15 points) and Moses Moody (3).
Is it any surprise the Clippers won?
Yes, it’s only one game, but the Warriors’ loss to the Clippers illuminated why the Dubs cannot win a championship without Wiggins, the team’s second-best player in last year’s playoffs.
The Warriors needed better perimeter defense, team rebounding, and secondary scoring Wednesday. Is Wiggins the only route to improvement in those areas? No. But Wiggins brings all three things to the table.
He could have guarded Leonard and George, saving the Warriors from playing a three-guard lineup that was eaten up by those two and Clippers center Ivica Zubac. He could have given the Warriors a few baskets when Steph Curry was off the floor — the Dubs’ early fourth quarter, with Curry sitting, sunk them.
And while Wiggins isn’t a big man, he’s a 7-footer in wingspan. His rebounding was sorely missed Wednesday. It’s one thing for Zubac to pull down an offensive board against a small-ball lineup, but for Russell Westbrook to grab four — all because the Warriors didn’t have enough bodies at the rim — is unacceptable.
Like Harrison Barnes in the Warriors’ dynasty’s early days, Wiggins is the linchpin of the Warriors’ small-ball lineup. Put him at the 4, and the Dubs’ can run Zubac off the floor and match up with the Clips’ two All-Star wings. Without him, the Warriors are playing three one-way players — a deadly combination in the postseason.
These issues will pop up when the Warriors play teams other than the Clippers, too.
Whether the Warriors are playing the Suns’ two great wings — Devin Booker and Kevin Durant — or Luka Dončić and the Mavericks, the truth remains that you cannot even compete for a title without an All-Star-caliber two-way wing.
That’s not Thompson’s role anymore. He’s been great this season, but the bar is lower for him now on the defensive side. As a secondary option, he’s outstanding. As the primary stopper on the perimeter, he’s not the player he used to be, for understandable reasons.
While Jonathan Kuminga has shown flashes, he’s not yet ready for that defensive role. He’s not matching Wiggins on the offensive end, either.
Gary Payton II coming back into the fold will help with defense and rebounding — despite being only 6-foot-2 — but it doesn’t give the Warriors the offense they need.
What the Warriors need is Wiggins. And there’s some serious doubt about his return floating around the Dubs.
That doubt is present in behind-the-scenes conversations, but it’s starting to seep out in Steve Kerr’s press conferences. Surely, I’m not the only one who noticed “when” Wiggins returns is now “if” Wiggins returns.
Obviously, the Warriors are not publicly detailing what the “family issue” is that is keeping Wiggins away from the team.
And Wiggins, a fiercely private person, hasn’t commented on the matter, either. That’s led those close to him to be tight-lipped, too. That’s all fair.
As of Wednesday, the team still sanctions the wing’s absence. I don’t expect that to change, even in the season’s final weeks. This is a “take as long as you need” scenario.
What I can say about the situation is that — to the best of my knowledge — it has nothing to do with the love of the game. Wiggins would prefer to be on the court, but the off-the-court stuff takes precedence and isn’t guaranteed to be resolved anytime soon.
Ultimately, it’s up to Wiggins to decide when he will return to the Warriors.
And if he does not, the Warriors won’t be repeating as champions. They might not even make the actual playoffs without him.
Even if it burdens Wiggins unfairly, that’s the truth.
The Warriors will need Wiggins Friday when they will play the Hawks without Draymond Green, who will be suspended after picking up his 16th technical foul Wednesday.
They’ll need him Saturday when they play the Grizzlies on the back end of a two-time-zone back-to-back.
You get the idea. Every game is huge for the Warriors now, and with the Western Conference’s parity, there will be a lot more playoff-level games like Wednesday’s in the final three-and-a-half weeks of the season.
Those are the types of games where Wiggins is vital; games where Wiggins shines.
The Warriors need Wiggins back, but no one can say when that will happen.
Let’s hope that Wiggins’ family issues can be resolved soon, primarily for him; but not just for him — for the Warriors as well. Without him, the Dubs cannot reach their full potential.