Andrew Wiggins may have had the dunk of the 2022 NBA playoffs on Sunday.
With just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Golden State Warriors' 109-100 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Wiggins caught the ball on the perimeter, blew by a closing Reggie Bullock and took flight from a few feet inside the free-throw line before annihilating Luka Doncic (and likely the Mavericks' playoff run):
Officials, perhaps experiencing the same level of shock as everyone else in the building, initially called a charge. Warriors coach Steve Kerr successfully challenged, and the bucket stretched Golden State's lead to 10.
Mustering enough momentum to overcome that moment and a double-digit lead was ultimately impossible for the Mavs, who now trail the Warriors 0-3.
This series is effectively over, and Wiggins may have as much to do with that as anyone. But getting to this culminating moment wasn't easy.
Nine years ago, in May 2013, an 18-year-old Wiggins, wearing a baby blue Huntington Prep jersey, appeared on the cover of the iconic SLAM Magazine alongside Jabari Parker.
Below them, in bold, block lettering, the caption read: Young Money: The Game's Next Superstars Have Arrived.
After one of the most hyped-up freshman campaigns of the modern era, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves, selected him with the first overall pick in 2014. And despite winning Rookie of the Year in 2014-15, much of Wiggins' NBA career was characterized by disappointment.
He's tied for 18th in his draft class in career wins over replacement player. He's only had one season (his second) with an above-average true shooting percentage. And prior to this season, he'd only made the playoffs once (just before Jimmy Butler very publicly ditched him and Karl-Anthony Towns for the Philadelphia 76ers).
In Minnesota, Wiggins did plenty of scoring, sure. But his defense, passing and shot selection were underwhelming. After five years and change there, he was traded to the Warriors, who've spent two-plus seasons molding him into a bona fide three-and-D wing who recognizes when moments like Sunday's present themselves.
In the 2022 Western Conference Finals, he's seen and seized plenty.
After Wiggins went for 27 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in Game 3, he has officially entered the race for the league's first Western Conference Finals MVP (an award that was just announced earlier this month).
His basic numbers (20.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 threes) against Dallas are eye-opening, but they're not gaudy enough to give him the nod over teammate Stephen Curry (28.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 4.7 threes and a 47.8 three-point percentage).
What really gives Wiggins a case is what's highlighted his evolution throughout his tenure with the Warriors.
He's put defense ahead of highlights and notoriety, and in the process, made and received plenty of both.
Mikal Bridges is the only player who's spent more time matched up with Doncic this postseason, and it took him seven games to do so. And the difference in the Mavericks' offense when Luka is defended by Wiggins is striking.
This postseason, Dallas has scored just 100.4 points per 100 possessions when Wiggins is on Luka. In the regular season, the Mavs put up 114.3 points per 100 possessions in the half court.
Wiggins has spent plenty of possessions hounding Doncic for 94 feet. The length and athleticism that made him such a highly touted prospect a decade ago are helping him stay in front on isolations. And he hasn't allowed himself to be bullied in the post, unlike most of the guards and wings for the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns.
On the other end, Wiggins' improvements in both volume and efficiency from the outside have been game-changing for him and the Warriors.
This season, he attempted a career-high 4.3 catch-and-shoot threes per game and converted 41.0 percent of those attempts. He also posted a career high in three-point-attempt rate (percentage of shots that came from beyond the line). As his frequency on those shots has gone up, his reliance on long twos has also declined.
He's now willing and able to be a dedicated floor-spacer for Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. And since defenders now know they have to respect his range on kick-outs, his drives are as dangerous as they've ever been.
Sunday's monster drive and jam over Luka was a perfect example. Wiggins was 1-of-5 from three to that point of the game, but a season of evidence forced Bullock to close hard. That, in turn, got him burned off the bounce. And it put Luka square in the danger zone.
Despite all the challenges Wiggins faced to get to this point, he's still capable of staggering displays of explosiveness.
That, better decision-making and a commitment to defense has all impacted Golden State's bottom line. This series, the Warriors are plus-28.9 points per 100 possessions when Wiggins is on the floor. That's the highest mark on the team. They're minus-38.7 when he's off, which is the furthest that needle goes for any Warrior in the other direction.
Embracing a less prominent role didn't sap Wiggins of his scoring or ability to leap over 6'7" humans. It just allowed him to allocate more of himself to the less glamorous parts of the game. It made him a better player.
And adding that player to one of the best and most decorated trios in NBA history makes Golden State an increasingly obvious pick to win this whole thing.