'21 Season Review: Assessing James Wiseman's rookie campaign
Does Dub Nation know what the young athletic giant's value is to the Warriors?
The following is a conversation on James Wiseman’s season between Daniel Hardee and Thomas “Dr. Tom” Bevilacqua, the author of “Golden Age: The Brilliance of the 2018 Champion Golden State Warriors”. There’s a special OG guest at the end as well!
Daniel: Hey HQ, today we’ve got a power packed deep-dive into the fascinating season of the Golden State Warriors’ #2 overall pick, the 7-footer Wiseman. GSW owner Joe Lacob called him a “once in a decade kind of guy” in November; and yet pundits from every corner of the blogosphere have been pushing for Big Jim to be traded as soon as possible.
Wiseman’s season was sabotaged by a lack of summer league and missing training camp before a torn meniscus terminated his year. And yet there was plenty to glean from his shortened rookie year. Remember the SF Gate article about Wiseman’s specific challenges as a rookie center in an unorthodox Warriors offense?
"During the Warriors-Bucks broadcast a few weeks ago, TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal was applauding Wiseman, highlighting plays where he looked like Andrew Bogut. Andrew. Bogut. It’s not that Bogut wasn't a good NBA player with a long career, it’s that Wiseman has the potential to be so much more. Thing is, Shaq wasn’t totally off-base: In his current head space, in the current iteration of this Dubs’ offense, Wiseman can really only be a Bogut."
A lot to unpack from that quote but the biggest thing for me is let’s all remember that Andrew Bogut was a franchise changing acquisition...and to compare Bogut to Wiseman and say "if Wiseman ends up like Bogut, that would be underselling his much higher potential" is mind blowing. That’s how high the REASONABLE expectations are for a guy that a lotta people weren’t wowed by this season.
Dr. Tom: Yes if Wiseman has Bogut’s career (though, if Bogut doesn’t get hurt as much early on as he did…) it’d be a disappointment but it’s ok for Wiseman to be just Bogut right now...like that doesn’t mean he’ll be that forever. I’m trying to think of good examples with a big man but if you look at the 2003 Spurs, like Tony Parker was really restricted in what he did. But then as he matured he did more and more.
Daniel: Ooo you're talking about that old Ric Bucher article when he said Parker (a future Finals MVP) wasn’t “the answer”.
Dr. Tom: They might have moved on from Parker to get Kidd and maybe they win more titles between 2004 and 2010 but then it stops real fast/there’s no 2013 Finals and 2014 championship. It’s a different position but the same principle.
If you look at the youngest players to play in an NBA game and look at the bigs… it’s rough or it’s players who took a long time to realize things (Jermaine O’Neal for example). Taking a look back at O’Neal’s stats he didn’t start playing as much as Wiseman did last year until his 5th season (when he was 22).
Another big who was on that Youngest Players in NBA History list was Andrew Bynum. An interesting comp to look at is Wiseman’s first year and Bynum’s third (they’re roughly the same age there and that was the ‘08 season when the Lakers went to the Finals before Paul Pierce gave them the business and won Boston another ring).
Bynum’s better… but not as dramatically as you’d expect.
Daniel: Very interesting you brought up Bynum; wasn’t he the topic of the first ever viral NBA video? Remember Kobe Bryant grumbling because the young big man wasn’t traded?
Dr. Tom: Whereas Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are making a point of featuring/shepherding along this young big (and it’s some people in the fan base that trying to throw him out the door). Kobe was really fired up to get owned by The Truth in the Finals I guess.
Daniel: You know I loved Paul Pierce’s game! But it’s funny how over time Bynum became a major component of Kobe’s non-Shaq championships, to the point Kobe began conceding crunchtime opportunities to feed the young giant.
Dr. Tom: Look I’m not saying Bynum was a great big (he was probably better than some of the stiffs in the league today but I digress) but he was a major piece on a championship team and he was derailed less because of talent and more injuries and his own issues/immaturity/etc. I think the building blocks for Wiseman were there and we saw some of them in that first season. If you’re a big, the one thing you should be able to do is score around the basket based upon your height/size (I mean, that’s Rudy Gobert’s entire offensive game in a nutshell).
Per Cleaning the Glass, Wiseman shot 76% at the rim, which put him in the 89th percentile. There’s room to improve (which will be the recurring theme of this endeavor I’m sure) but at the very least he’s providing the Warriors something they don’t really have.
Daniel: That makes sense considering he led all rookies in dunks this season with 84. That was good enough for 20th overall in the NBA, despite only playing 39 games.
But going away from the dunks there were times (especially on designed plays) where he looked like a legit shooter. I hope the Warriors look into some more actions like this for him:
Dr. Tom: To go back to our conversations about Kevon Looney, he could be really hesitant to take those shots until very recently and it really limited his development. That Wiseman will take them (even those open three-pointers) is a good sign. He’s never going to be some dead-eye shooter from outside (whether in the mid-range or from three) but if he can take them and make them enough so that there’s a threat there, that complicates how defenses will approach him.
Daniel: Dub Nation HQ’s logo designer Ivan was quick to compare Wiseman’s offensive tendencies to Chris Bosh; a tall smooth finesse big who preferred feathery jumpers over bully ball. And I gotta say at this point I can see the Bosh prototype in Wiseman.
Dr. Tom: I’d like to add that Anthony Davis and Wiseman’s first year compared weren’t that different either. Here's a statistical comparison from the rookie seasons:
Bosh: 75 games, 33.5 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 7.4 REB, 1.4 BLK, 46% FG%
AD: 64 games, 28.8 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 8.2 REB, 1.8 BLK, 51% FG%
Wiseman: 39 games, 21.5 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 5.8 REB, 0.9 BLK, 52% FG%
Here are Wiseman’s offensive rankings per Synergy. Judging from the wide variety of shot types he got, it’s clear that the team experimented with him heavily on postups for a “poor” result.
I look at that and go “great, keep giving him touches see if he’ll grow with reps.” I’m thinking about how the Warriors have ran their split cuts by dumping the ball to their big man and then having the Splash Bros create havoc with off-ball screens and movement. Remember when the Warriors would do that with Kevin Durant and if KD didn’t wanna pass it, he could just turn and annihilate his defender relatively close to the basket?
When Looney’s in that situation, we know he’ll give a good effort, but often times his groundbound game makes that a win for the defense. If Wiseman’s in that spot and can evolve from “poor”, then the Warriors offense brings back a sorely needed dimension for causing havoc closer to the basket. Wiseman showed tantalizing flashes, but as a youngster in this league he still has much to learn about knowing when/how to attack around the basket.
Dr. Tom: Actually, that gets into something I identified as where Wiseman needs to improve. Only 49% of Wiseman's shots came at the rim, placing him in the 54th percentile, again per Cleaning the Glass. If that's what he does best (at least right now) then he should really be maximizing that area and taking way more shots in that space. This is where comfort comes into play and it's why it was worth it for Steve Kerr to force Wiseman to play a bit more might have been the right call.
They all need to get comfortable with one another, especially Curry since he's running so much of the offense/is the offense. I don’t think they should necessarily be featuring Wiseman in such a way that it really takes away shots from Curry and Wiggins (and eventually Klay) but if you know he does well in this element of the game you want him to be doing it as much as possible.
Daniel: MOAR PICK AND ROLL?!
Dr. Tom: I wonder if the difficulties of this season (i.e. not having Klay on the court to take some of the pressure off Steph) had something to do with this and that Wiseman’s options to get those kind of shots were only possible in a kind of offense that Kerr doesn’t want to run all the time. Perhaps the Warriors with the full clip will lead to Wiseman more organically getting those shots.
But Synergy giving him positive marks for transition scoring is encouraging; being good in transition makes me think of a young David Robinson.
Daniel: And Wiseman’s DEFINITELY good in transition. Is there a scarier sight in basketball than giants like the Admiral or Wiseman with a full head of steam navigating a scrambling defense on the break? I mean for my dollar it was the most entertaining part of any Warriors game this season outside of Curry’s wizardy.
If Wiseman’s going to be the center I believe he can be, then the post-up and spot-ups have to improve from the “poor” zones in that chart up there. Those are the opportunities that defenses will concede to him, and if he’s going to be in those situations the Warriors will need him to at least be average percentilewise.
Which brings me back to that point earlier from the SF Gate article about the type of big man Wiseman is while trying to fit in the GSW offense. The opportunities to find his game and have free time to experiment is severely warped by playing in a style that favors guards/wings skittering around in an orchestrated frenzy to find open spot ups and sharp cuts. Wiseman had to learn how to play air traffic controller: making the right reads and the right passes, knowing where to screen, while still looking to get his own offense going.
He did get the yips catching passes in traffic sometimes (ERICK DAMPIER FLASHBACKS) although that improved as the season progressed.
But think about the expectations on this dude: be a monster around the rim and stretch the floor like a young Toni Kukoc otherwise you’re “wasting Curry’s prime” hahahah. #2 overall pick for a reason, baby!
Dr. Tom: Probably a conversation to have another time, but I feel like the way we think about a “prime” and how long/when it will be with Steph is pretty ridiculous. So all of the pearl-clutching that they drafted Wiseman and are making an effort to develop him, you can miss me with all of that.
Daniel: The doctor is getting feisty! We’ve spilled a lotta ink on his offense, let’s get into his defense.
Dr. Tom: Again I’m going to drop some info gleaned from Cleaning the Glass (so get off my back you nerds) but Wiseman blocked 2.2% of opponents shots last season, putting him in the 70th percentile. Not great and it could get better but also not bad, especially for a team that lost so much rim protection over the past couple of seasons. I don’t think Wiseman has the potential to be peak Dikembe Mutumbo (no no no).
But this seems like something that’s already a part of his game that can develop as he becomes more assertive and comfortable in the pros. He just turned 20, let’s let him grow on his own timeline.
Daniel: I felt like it was an adventure with him defensively. He was either going to make a preposterously athletic block, or foul somebody trying to make up for poor positioning. How’d you feel about his defense and his rebounding?
Dr. Tom: His rebounding numbers aren’t great either, fairly middling. I went back and looked at some of the scouting reports on him coming into the draft and you’d see a lot of talk about how his rebounding is good-not-great.
You also saw flashes of him as a solid defensive player. Looking at the Warriors’ win in Indiana, Wiseman played well and also kept Myles Turner from doing much of anything Also he played well in a March 14th win over the Utah Jazz.
I think his rebounding will get better as he gets even more aggressive/less tentative. But I think that could have a negative impact on his defense, as the aggressiveness will lead to more mistakes because he’s trying to do more. Defense is where he needs to make even bigger strides but if you told me a 20-year-old big man who only played 3 games in college was going to initially struggle on defense I would not be surprised.
Daniel: Towards the end of the season we did see an improvement in his spatial awareness and timing on the defensive end. Unfortunately Wiseman’s knee injury kept him from getting more reps to get consistency.
So all that brings us to the conclusion of this review, which begs the question “is Wiseman worth the patience or should be be shipped out?” Let’s bring in the HQ’s blogfather Nate P….
Nate P: So this is the core argument to trade wiseman: “With Curry on the tail end of one of the most electrifying careers we’ve ever seen, they owe it to him to go for broke, even if it means sacrificing their future to do it”.
What incentive does a team have to compromise their future so they can hope to win another title when they’re just coming off a five year title run? Aside from Wiseman or how we feel as fans, that’s just terrible business and then some random blog boy will be complaining 10 years from now about how going for broke in 2021 screwed the Warriors for a generation.
Anyway, underlying all of this is a weird belief that teams should expect to win every year forever … and that is objectively absurd. I’d be more sympathetic to the argument if I felt like we saw our team at their best this year … but we obviously did not … so why all the desperation? I think you have to see what Klay looks like … see what they can do with their big three in place … then make moves from there.
Dr. Tom: As with so many things, I think the context matters with Wiseman. It's worth noting big men don't really thrive/win Rookie of the Year unless they're polished 4-year college players or are really unconventional players who don't play like a “true” big man. It takes time and Wiseman is young both in age and experience. I know a lot of people won't like hearing that but those are just the facts.
Taking a chance on the kind of player the Warriors have not had during this recent run is the smart move to make. What you want to have is as many ways to beat a team as possible. If an opponent is able to slow you down in one area, then you can lean on the other. Wiseman has the skills and potential to be a dominant big man in the modern NBA so using that draft pick and then taking the time for him to develop is the smart play, especially to extend Curry’s prime in addition to remaining a contending squad.
What Wiseman showed, admittedly in flashes, this past season makes me think he can be that player (and in a way that does line up with Steph's more extended prime). He's not that player yet and probably won't be for the next few seasons but taking the chance on him and staying the course is always the right move.
Daniel: NOW THAT’S HOW YOU BLOG! Okay folks, how’d you feel about the rook’s season?