It’s the move many thought would take 15-20 games before materializing, yet Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr wasn’t pulling any punches late in his team’s season opener against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.
18 months ago Andrew Wiggins was the franchise’s second-best player in a championship-winning playoff campaign. On Tuesday, after a lacklustre performance through 27 minutes, the 2022 All-Star was left out of Kerr’s closing lineup.
While it didn’t result in a win, Steve Kerr’s decision to bench Andrew Wiggins was the right one and sends a strong message to start the Golden State Warriors season.
Wiggins had little impact in the first three-and-a-half quarters against the Suns, finishing with just 10 points on 4-12 shooting. But while his offense left a lot to be desired, it was his defense and rebounding that saw Kerr take the bold measure of benching him over the final minutes.
The Canadian begun by conceding an and-1 on Jusuf Nurkic as the Phoenix big man lumbered down the lane for a layup on their opening possession. Wiggins was then torched over the first seven minutes by Suns star Devin Booker, with the 26-year-old lifting his team to a 24-12 start on the back of 15 points on 5-7 shooting.
Wiggins also conceded a four-point play to Kevin Durant late in the first-half, only worsening what was a 31-11 run against the home team. But as underwhelming as the defense was, the 28-year-old’s one solitary rebound as the starting power-forward had to be the most frustrating aspect.
Kerr had previously acknowledged his raft of closing options heading into the season, but his decision to play Kuminga over Wiggins still took many by surprise. Speaking postgame, the four-time championship-winning coach explained his decision.
"“I thought both Kuminga and GP were defending at a high level. Obviously you’ve got to guard Kevin and Book out there. It felt those guys were defending well and so we went with them. That’s how it’s going to be a lot of nights this year, whoever’s playing best will finish the game,” Kerr said."
The decision to go with Kuminga was even more surprising given the third-year forward had been limited to just over five minutes in the first-half due to foul trouble. The 21-year-old was impactful in the second-half however, scoring 10 points and providing activity on the glass to finish with six rebounds.
The Warriors depth should be one of their strengths this season, allowing Kerr to mix-and-match closing lineups on a game-by-game basis depending on who’s playing well. That was evident on Tuesday against the Suns, with Wiggins’ benching sending a strong message that no one is safe should they produce an uninspiring display.