Andrew Wiggins has endured years of criticism throughout the NBA
world. Fans, social-media users and media pundits like Nick Wright
of "First Thing's First" have all took turns bashing Wiggins,
almost in an attempt to send him into the depths of NBA obscurity
for the rest of his days.
On Feb. 6, 2020, the Golden State Warriors sent D’Angelo
Russell, along with Jacob Evans III and Omari Spellman, to
Minnesota in exchange for Wiggins as well as a first-round pick
(Jonathan Kuminga) and second-round pick (New York's Miles McBride)
in the 2021 NBA Draft.
After the move, Wright publicly aired his opinion that Golden
State made a mistake trading for Wiggins.
“Andrew Wiggins is a bad basketball player,” Wright said. “He’s
owed $95 million over the next three years, starting next year.
It’s unspeakable the Warriors did this... It’s over for them now.
We will never see Steph in another NBA Finals again. Ever.”
But it wasn't just him. Plenty of media pundits have had to eat
their words and recant their statements and give apologies as
Wright has had to almost daily since the NBA Finals began.
Selected as the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, much of the
criticism has come from the fact that Wiggins didn’t immediately
become a superstar. They criticized his shot selection, his
intensity (or lack thereof) on the court and his defense. Most of
all, they criticized the fact that Wiggins didn’t lead the
Timberwolves to the promised land.
There were actually some who even suggested that Minnesota cut
Wiggins from the team and eat the rest of his rookie contract
because, in their “expert” opinion, the Wolves would’ve been better
off without him. The term “bust” began to float around, as it so
Andrew Wiggins publicly admitted that, as much as he hoped to
ignore it, he heard the constant criticism.
“You hear it — on social media, when you turn on the TV and
watch sports — you always see certain stuff; certain people say
certain things,” said Wiggins, noting he did his best to remain
positive and tune out the noise, according to Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher
Report. “It never really got to me to the point where, you
know, it messed up my lifestyle, my life. I love myself more than
anyone loves me.”
Wiggins expressed that there had in fact been times when the
criticism got the best of him.
“I’d go through a slump, and then you can’t help but hear it,'”
he said. “You always want to shut the people up that doubt
But those days are far behind him now, as Wiggins has proven —
especially in these NBA Finals — that he is indeed one of the best
two-way players currently in the NBA.
I caught up with Golden State Warriors legend Mitch Richmond to
give his assessment of the player that Andrew Wiggins has grown
(Mitch was a part of Golden State’s high-scoring trio dubbed
"Run TMC," which consisted of Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin. Each
member of the trio was among the top-11 best scorers of the 1990-91
NBA season. Mullin finished eighth in scoring with 25.7 points per
game, Richmond 10th with 23.9 points per game, and Hardaway
finished 11th with 22.9 points per game. Combined, Run TMC averaged
72.5 points per game as the league's highest-scoring trio.)
Etan Thomas: How impressed have you been with
Andrew Wiggins especially after all the criticism he received early
in his career?
Mitch Richmond: "When you’re a young player,
and you’re really a guy that’s kind of passive instead of the
expected boisterous and big personality guys people are used to
seeing, you have to go to the right team and be with the right type
of players. Andrew Wiggins is now in the perfect situation,
surrounded with the right type of guys who can blend with his
"He has two guys in front of him in Steph [Curry] and Klay
[Thompson] who are aggressive on the offensive end, and he has the
ability to go about his business by getting rebounds, playing
defense, shooting the open shot. And he is doing that very well.
When you had him as the main scorer and the main guy, that’s where
he struggled a little bit because he wasn’t that boisterous or that
eager to talk and get his guys involved and just be the vocal
leader. And add Draymond Green, who has such a big personality and
is allowed to shoulder that burden so Andrew Wiggins can be himself
without trying to be somebody he’s not."
Etan: You mentioned Draymond Green, and a while
ago I saw in an interview where he was talking to reporters and
taking up for Andrew Wiggins on the subject of his past criticisms.
He was saying that a lot of times, when a player is put in a
situation where the team doesn’t flourish or get to the promised
land so to speak, the player is blamed, but not so much the
organization. Do you think some of that occurred with
Richmond: "Most definitely. Sometimes, you have
pretty good pieces as far as players, but everyone is not on the
same page and not made to be on the same page by the organization.
There is so much mismanagement of talent that goes on in the NBA. A
winning team is often a reflection of a well-run organization. Many
teams say they want to win, but they don’t do what is necessary for
their players to actually flourish, (and) they don’t put together a
system that will be successful. They don’t run their organization
"Golden State has done a great job of putting the right pieces
together, and creating a winning culture. I’m down there all the
time, going to the games, to practices; I see how the organization
operates. They’ve done a great job of creating a winning culture,
and not all teams do that."
Etan: Very true. You know I love when players
make their critics eat their words and have to backtrack things
they’ve said the way Wiggins has. I love that. And watching him in
these Finals, the Warriors don’t win without him. Yeah, Steph has
been phenomenal and had the 43-point night in Game 4. I wrote an
article about Steph’s phenomenal play and interviewed Nick Van Exel, Rod
Strickland and Steve Francis to all weigh in on his overall
But the Warriors don’t win this series without Andrew Wiggins.
The monster rebounds he had in Boston in Game 4 (from the guard
spot), and especially Game 5 when Steph was off. Wiggins stepped
right up. They don’t win without him. So to see how far he has come
from the constant barrage of criticism to now, the fact that you
can make a case for him being the Finals MVP is really amazing to
Richmond: "Yeah, he has been steady and crucial
the entire series. Everyone had judgement early, even me, but now
he is in the right situation for him, and people really discount
how much the right situation can dictate the success of a player in
the NBA. Wiggins has been the backbone of the team. That’s a fact.
All of the attention isn’t on him. You mentioned Steph being off in
Game 5, but really, the entire Boston defense was geared toward
him, and they did a great job of making sure he didn’t explode for
43 or possibly 50 the very next game.
"So other players like Wiggins had the opportunity to be freed
up, and he took advantage of that opportunity. But even without
that, like I said, he has been stellar all season. Let's be clear:
Steph Curry is the MVP. But yes, there can definitely be a very
strong case to be made that Wiggins could be the Finals MVP, at
least up until this point."
Etan: Let me ask you if you remember this.
I’mma take you back a little bit. I had first gotten traded to the
Washington Wizards my rookie year in 2000 from Dallas, when half
the team was traded for Juwan Howard, but I got there late because
I had the surgery. And when I got there, it was during one of the
last games and you were in the training room in the whirlpool.
You said to me: Young fella I’ve watched you play at
Syracuse, love how you play, you’re gonna have a great career in
the league, but let me offer you a piece of advice. Block out all
the noise. Whether it’s from the media, fans, your friends, family,
other players, from wherever — just block it all out, stay focused,
have tunnel vision and you’ll be fine. You probably don’t
remember that, but that was some of the best advice I ever got in
Richmond: "I do remember that, we were with the
Wizards and the outside noise was tremendous. One thing I learned a
long time ago in this sport: You have to have tunnel vision. You
have to play the game with headphones on where nobody is entering
or affecting your mental space. You wanna be clear and focused.
It’s easy to get distracted if you don’t take on that type of
mentality. When you came to the Wizards, we were losing, getting
booed, the fans were tough. It makes me feel good that you
remembered that because that was a long time ago (laughing). We
gotta be going back 20-something years ago."
Etan: (Laughing) Yeah, we’re getting up there.
But it was such great advice, and going back to Andrew Wiggins,
that’s what he had to do — block out all the noise. I read an old
article where he was talking about how it did in fact bother him
hearing the criticism, but how couldn’t it? I mean, Nick Wright
literally called him a horrible player and said the Warriors
wouldn’t win because they traded for him.
(I hate that the media has become this hot takes, shock-jock
show. And when one person like Nick Wright says something like
that, other media jump on board like what he said was the Gospel.
Then, you have social media who also runs with it.)
But Wiggins' success now is a great example of what you told me,
how you have to block out the noise and stay focused, and you will
be able to prove people wrong. That’s why I reached out to you for
this interview because Andrew Wiggins did exactly what you told me
two decades ago.
Richmond: "Yeah, and in this day and age, it’s
even more difficult than when we played because of the advent of
social media, and everyone has an opinion that they have the power
to express through Twitter or Instagram or whatnot. And there are a
million Nick Wrights, like you said, because that type of
commentating is popular, and it wasn’t like that when we were
playing. You have 25 shows every morning after a game who are all
doing the same thing on every channel.
"The perfect example of blocking out all the noise is Kawhi
Leonard. He blocks out everything. He doesn’t listen or look at any
of that stuff. A lot of young players who came up in this
social-media-buzz era, this is all they know. A million people
telling you that you suck after you have a bad game. That’s not how
we came up.
Etan: Not at all. I’m glad they didn’t have
social media back in the day when we played.
Richmond: "Oh, me too. But I always tell young
players, while this is the norm in your era, it’s not the best for
everyone. Some of y’all need to turn all that off and hire someone
to manage your social media — because I understand marketing-wise
the positives of it, but you don’t look at it at all. And don’t
listen to the talking heads either. Just keep that tunnel vision
like a horse with blinders on, and keep pushing."
Etan: I agree 100%. So, last question. How
proud are you of the Warriors and what they have accomplished this
Richmond: "You gotta tip your hat to them. They
have been so exciting to watch since Klay and Curry touched down in
Oakland. In our day and age, we always heard, 'You live by the
three, you die by the three.' And we never would’ve thought that a
team that shot this many threes would have chance to win a
Etan: Thus, the reason Charles Barkley hates
the Warriors so much. (Laughing)
Richmond: (Laughing) "And he’s never going to
let that go either, but it’s here. They are winning by the three.
They’ve dispelled that notion. But when you have the best shooters
in the game — and that’s what they do best is shoot threes —
they’ve created new basketball reality, whether anyone likes it or
not. But I’m extremely proud of them. I know the Bay Area is proud
"We had some great fans, even back when we played there, and me
and Tim and Chris were Run TMC — the Oakland fans were always
wonderful. Even when the team is struggling, they are there
supporting the team with all the positive energy they can possibly
give. So it’s great to see the fans be rewarded as well. You have
to take your hat off to the whole Bay Area, you have to take your
hat of to the organization and to the team. They have showed you
how you properly run an organization, support the players, allow
them to be individuals — not what you want them to be, but who they
are and support them in what they do best, bringing it back to
Wiggins, and that’s why they are having the success they are
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