Warriors

James Wiseman’s Early-Season Rookie Report

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It’s no secret James Wiseman is the most exciting thing to happen to Golden State since the 2019 Finals. They haven’t had a pick this high since drafting Joe Smith in 1995, and the early returns on Wiseman have been great. He also now has more games under his belt in the NBA than he did in college. The Dubs are 4-3 and would be worse off without Wiseman’s early play. With all the investment in Wiseman’s talent, both in the present and future, it’s important to check in on how the prized rook is coming along.

I scouted Wiseman on his limited college film during the draft process and I’ll use the same process to evaluate him, breaking down his skills into three basic categories: offense, defense and in-between.

Offense

The big surprise so far has been the jump shot. Taking confident jumpers and making them at a decent clip was not something anyone expected this early from Wiseman. Some have been ill-timed, but his stroke is fluid and the confidence is high. Dubs fans have fawned over his early success from deep, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. His 5/12 clip from deep has been touted as a sign he is a good shooter, but it buries his 4/15 mark from midrange and a whole lot of ugly misses. Teams are mostly letting him have these shots as they figure out how to defend him. That he can make them is an excellent sign, but the season is long.

What the shooting does bring is a need for defenses to respect it going forward. If he can make them pay on 35-40% of open threes or long twos, opposing centers will play him out to the perimeter. This opens up room for the rest of the offense and for Wiseman himself, who has used his superior athleticism to exploit some early overplays by the defense. Plays like these make him a dangerous threat from all kinds of offensive actions, and adding defensive headaches to defenses already dealing with Steph Curry is a big deal.

Besides some showy dunks and plays like the one above, Wiseman has struggled so far in the paint. He hasn’t used his strength well to create looks down low. Post-ups aren’t the most efficient form of offense, but he has to be able to punish smaller matchups.

He’s struggled to put himself in a good position to receive post entry passes as well. He’s shooting below 50% on two-point attempts largely because he tends to go up strong in double teams. The Dubs need him to pass out of these looks for the offense to work. Living above the rim and getting easy buckets down low is what Warriors centers need to do. Wiseman has work to do on that end to make a bigger impact in Year 1.

His offensive awareness has been a struggle at times. His screens are punishing, but he struggles to find the right footing when setting them. Wiseman’s positioning on the offensive glass has been poor, again not using the full potential of his immense size.

One thing he does very well is find space on his rolls. He finds soft spots in the defense and can explode to the rim before they can recover. Most players seem hesitant to even contest him 1v1 at the rim. The passing and awareness will develop with time, but Wiseman has all the makings of a dominant scoring center. The question is how quickly he can advance in his development in a stunted season.

Defense

Wiseman’s play on the ugly side of the floor has been very inconsistent. He has massive swings between excellent and bad plays, often in very quick succession. He was notably tasked with facing Giannis often against the Bucks on Christmas. Almost every defensive possession came down to his positioning. When he and the two-time reigning MVP were squared up, Wiseman was surprisingly stout. He denied Giannis entry to the paint numerous times and forced him into ugly shots. But things escalated quickly when Wiseman was caught in bad spots. He racked up fouls when players weren’t flying past him. The further he is from the rim, the chancier his defense becomes.

He’s started to show some promising signs of defense around the cup. Having a 9’6″ standing reach means your presence is scary for opposing offenses. He’s prone to some hacks but is excellent when playing technically sound. Wiseman picked up his 4th foul in Detroit with 10 minutes left in the 3rd, but managed another 10 minutes before fouling out because he changed his defensive tactics. He kept his arms vertical, stayed near the rim, and the Pistons couldn’t figure it out until too late.

The loss of Marquese Chriss means every minute Wiseman sits due to foul trouble hurts the team even more. He’ll have to clean this problem up faster than most rookies for the Warriors to have a shot at making a run this season. Teams in the playoffs without quality rim protection are on borrowed time.

But if we see more of this down the stretch, look out.

In-Between

Wiseman’s three games in college probably told you he was extremely athletic, even by NBA standards. That has been absolutely true. His explosiveness in the open court, agility and ability to leap off both feet have translated right away.

What he does with that athleticism is the problem. His fast-break opportunities have all involved barreling to the rim through multiple defenders, usually not to good results. Sometimes it works, and it REALLY works.

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Wiseman has the rare ability for centers to get a head start off a made basket and create quickly down at the other end of the court. As the Warriors start to gel together as a team, they should find him up the floor for plenty of exciting plays. Fast-break execution requires a certain familiarity they just don’t have yet. They have created many turnovers through the first few games and this should translate to more points as the season wears on. Getting easy buckets in transition to complement his shooting and finishing could make Wiseman a potent scorer.

Looking Ahead

With Draymond Green back in the fold, Wiseman a huge burden has been lifted off his shoulders on both ends of the floor. Green has been in his ear on the bench all four games and one can imagine it’s more of the same off the court. Having a guiding presence like Dray with him at all times will quicken Wiseman’s development, something this aging Warriors core needs if they want to preserve the title window.

This seven-game homestand full of tough teams presents a big second hurdle for Wiseman and the rest of the team, and we’ll be watching closely to see how he responds.

At the very least, he’ll give us some big highlights to get excited about.

Follow us on Twitter @DubsLead for the latest Warriors news and insight. 

About Charlie Cummings

Warriors writer born and raised in the Bay Area. University of Denver graduate currently living in Denver

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