Mitch Richmond: Andrew Wiggins proved all of his doubters wrong

Mitch Richmond: Andrew Wiggins proved all of his doubters wrong

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 often does.

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 you.”

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 into.

(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 personality.

"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 Wiggins? 

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 correctly.

"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 greatness.

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 see.

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 the league. 

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 year?

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 championship."

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 of them.

"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 having."

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