The Golden State Warriors selected center James Wiseman out of Memphis with the second overall pick.
By: Robert Quinn
For the last five years, athletic phenomenon James Wiseman has been on the radars of university scouts and potential NBA suitors, despite the fact he is only 19 years old. His organized basketball career began as a freshman at The Ensworth School, a K-12 private school, in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Wiseman stood at six-foot-nine as a freshman and was already beginning to receive national attention after ESPN ranked him in the top 25 recruits of the 2019 graduating class.
Wiseman’s height and skillest began to materialize at the high school level in 2017. In his sophomore season, Wiseman led Ensworth to the TSSAA Division 2 semifinals until ultimately losing to the Brentwood Academy, led by current Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Darius Garland. This was the end of Wiseman’s tenure at Ensworth after receiving honorable mention considerations for Sophomore All-American, finishing behind players such as Lamelo Ball and Isaac Okoro, who were both selected in the top five of the 2020 NBA Draft. Former NBA All-Star Point Guard Penny Hardaway recruited Wiseman to transfer to East High School in Memphis to play out his junior and senior years. In his senior year, Wiseman was selected as both the Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year and the Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging a dominant 25.8 points, 14.8 rebounds, 5.5 blocks and 1.3 steals in 32 games.
Coming out as the number one ranked high school prospect in his class, Wiseman opted to play at the University of Memphis for his high school coach, Penny Hardaway. In just three games, Wiseman averaged 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and an incredible three blocks per game on 76.9% from the field. A lawsuit regarding coach Hardaway supplying Wiseman’s family with $11,500 to aid them in moving from Nashville to Memphis was brought up by the NCAA. Penny Hardaway was considered a Memphis booster as he made donations of up to $1 million to the school and under NCAA rules, boosters are prohibited from providing financial assistance to prospective players and their families. Although he did not play for the rest of the season, there was a consensus around the NBA that Wiseman was going to be a top three pick in the 2020 draft. After an unfortunate injury-riddled 2019-2020 season for the Golden State Warriors, the team finished with the worst record in the NBA. Many fans and Warriors GM Bob Myers kept a close eye on Wiseman for the entire year as they expected to have a very high draft pick due to their poor record. The draft came and he fell into Golden State’s arms at second overall.
So what does the acquisition of James Wiseman do for the Warriors moving forward?
Wiseman brings exactly what the Warriors need and more. At just 19 years old, he stands at seven-foot-one with a reported seven-foot-six wingspan and a nine-foot-six standing reach, which would rank among the league’s best. Wiseman’s length and athletic capabilities will be especially important in rebounding, contesting shots with his long reach, and finishing around the rim with great efficiency. A player of his skillset addresses a need for Golden State as for anybody that watched the 2019 Finals should’ve noticed that they were missing a true center that could contest shots in the paint, set hard screens, and run the floor. Trotting out a 35-year old Andrew Bogut and hobbled Demarcus Cousins was clearly unsustainable for the future of the dynasty. This year the Warriors seemed to have found a diamond in the rough with Marquese Chriss fitting very well into that role, giving them quality minutes as a rebounder and lob threat. However with players like Chriss and even Kevon Looney, they are a bit undersized for the center position, with both of them standing at six-foot-nine with just seven-foot-one and seven-foot-four wingspans respectively.
The Western Conference is incredibly competitive with about seven legitimate contenders this upcoming season. Looking at the two teams that made the Western Conference Finals last year, the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets both had something in common- an elite big man. Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic will wreak havoc in the Western Conference for years to come so drafting a player like Wiseman gives Golden State a seat at the table when it comes to teams with talented frontcourts. The need for a reliable center was proven true by the shortcomings of the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics in this year’s playoffs, despite having a talent advantage over their opponents. The Clippers had no answer for Nikola Jokic and the Celtics could not stop a dominant Bam Adebayo. Wiseman’s physical tools are perfectly suited to defend the likes of Adebayo and Jokic due to his long reach, quickness, and defensive IQ that will only get better as a Warrior.
Wiseman’s fit in Golden State will be virtually seamless and he’ll have a lot of room to grow under head coach Steve Kerr’s system. As a rookie, I expect the Warriors to utilize him the same way they did with Javale McGee a few years back; set screens, contest shots, catch alley-oops, and run in transition. However, where I think Wiseman excels is in his defensive prowess. In the last five years, the Warriors have prided themselves on defensive versatility; the ability to switch any player on the court onto the ball handler without the fear of a mismatch. Golden State’s iconic “death lineup” consisted of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. This gave them ultimate defensive versatility which is why they’ve had a top 10 defense for the last six years (not including this past season). Having a true center that can guard multiple positions is a tremendous advantage in the modern NBA and Wiseman’s length and agility will potentially allow him to stay in front of perimeter players as well as big men down low.
While Wiseman is not completely polished as a defensive stopper just yet, his awareness and defensive discipline will only improve under head coach Steve Kerr and the mentorship of former Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green. Even if he’s never able to fully develop into a player who can hold his own against guards on the perimeter, there is no doubt that he will be amongst the league’s best in shot blocking as he’s averaged at least three blocks per game in both high school and college. A center that can completely lock down the paint allows perimeter defenders to chase three-point shooters off the line, funneling them inside where they’ll meet Wiseman’s seven-foot-six wingspan ready to send their shot into the fifth row.
Being a left-handed big man has earned him comparisons to NBA legends such as David Robinson and Chris Bosh. While I don’t think Wiseman is as skilled of a shooter as Robinson or Bosh, he does possess the shooting form and offensive skills needed to develop into a consistent 20 point, 10 rebound per game player. Wiseman shot 50% from three-point range during a short stint with the Bluff City Legends, an AAU team he played for during his senior year of high school. Shooting mechanics are very telling of whether a player will be a good shooter and unlike other big men who have struggled with jump shooting such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Wiseman has a smooth stroke with great mechanics, leaving a lot of room for him to improve moving forward. If the Steph Curry effect holds true, Wiseman will have more wide open looks than he was accustomed to getting at Memphis or in highschool.
At seven-foot-one, Wiseman can handle the ball like a lanky guard, often utilizing dribble moves to make finesse plays rather than rely on brute strength, a playstyle that is almost synonymous with the Golden State Warriors. The ability to grab rebounds and push the ball down the court with his ball handling ability will allow for easier layups, dunks, and open three pointers for Steph Curry in transition, an area in which the Warriors have been lethal the last seven seasons.
James Wiseman was the safest pick in the draft because he has the highest floor and the highest ceiling. Given his physical profile, he can be an absolute force as a shot-blocker and a rim-runner similar to DeAndre Jordan in his prime. Compound this athletic ability with the organizational structure, coaching, and teammates, he’ll be able to take his game to the next level. Under Kerr’s system, paired with high-IQ teammates, Wiseman will become a smarter player. With the availability of all-time great shooters in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (when he returns), he'll be able to refine his shooting touch which could add a new layer to an already prominent Warrior offense. If Wiseman is able to unlock his vast amount of potential, the end to the Golden Dynasty will not be for a very very long time.