SAN FRANCISCO — Andrew Wiggins felt like he was floating in early December.
“Amazing” is the word he used to describe how he felt through the first 22 games of this season. “I felt like I was in a great, great rhythm. Every shot that I shot felt like it was going in.”
Wiggins seemed to pick up this season right where he left off from the NBA Finals. He looked as confident as ever as he opened the 2022-23 campaign averaging 19.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals, while shooting a career-best 51.1% from the field and knocking down 45% of his 6.8 3-point attempts per game.
But trouble struck early last month.
Wiggins experienced some tightness in his right thigh after he walked away from his best game yet — a 36-point outing that included a career-tying eight 3s in a blowout win over the Rockets on Dec. 3. At first, he didn’t believe it was anything too serious.
“I thought I was going to be out for a few games,” Wiggins said. But the tightness persisted and the team’s medical staff diagnosed him with a strained adductor. He was cleared to practice about two weeks later, but when he neared his return around Christmas, he fell sick — twice — along with everyone in his household.
Wiggins ultimately missed 15 consecutive games, his longest absence from the game in his nine-year NBA career.
“It’s not fun” missing that much time, Wiggins said.
The Warriors weren’t having much fun either.
Golden State dropped seven of its next nine games without him, losing Stephen Curry to a shoulder injury along the way, before going on a five-game home winning streak that helped bring them back above .500.
Wiggins finally was cleared to come back Saturday against the Orlando Magic. The game ultimately turned out to be an overall underwhelming game for the defending champs that dropped them to 20-20 on the season.
It’s expected for a player to miss a month to need some time to brush off the cob webs before settling back into a groove. Wiggins said he felt a “step slow,” and it showed. He was restricted to 19 minutes and finished with 12 points on 4 of 12 shooting, going 2-for-7 from distance. While he had three defensive boards, two assists and a steal, Wiggins also committed three turnovers and ended the night with a team-worst minus-22.
“Just felt a little rusty out there,” Wiggins admitted after the game. “Just trying to get my feet right, get back into rhythm, but I know it’s going to take a little time, put in the extra work and I’ll be good.”
If there’s anyone who can relate to the difficulties of returning to the game after a prolonged absence, it’s Kevon Looney.
Before he became the team’s iron man, owning the second-longest consecutive games played streak in the NBA, Looney had to come back from several injuries that derailed him early in his career. Looney said the first few games back are tough and he noted the challenges of establishing a rhythm when playing under a minutes restriction.
“You can practice as much as you want and go game speed but it is nothing like the actual game,” Looney said. “We are a different type of team where the ball is moving and kinda free flowing, so you never know when you are going to get your shots all the time, so it’s a little difficult.”
Wiggins might need a few games under his belt to get his conditioning back to the level it was before the injury. But the Warriors need him to quickly get back to speed, especially as they prepare to embark on another lengthy road trip, beginning with a Jan. 13 game in San Antonio.
The road hasn’t been kind to the Warriors, who have the fewest away wins in the league. Wiggins could play a big role in helping Golden State correct its road woes but only if he gets back to the version of himself he displayed in early December.
He’s confident that’ll happen sooner rather than later.
“I don’t think it’ll take long. I hope I’ll be back next game, right?” Wiggins said with a smile. “Quick turnaround.”