The Warriors have a handful of question marks coming into the season and James Wiseman is one of them. The talented, yet raw big man is just one year removed from being a highly touted #2 overall pick and fairly high expectations. Those expectations were a bit unfair for a guy who was drafted mostly based on his high school career as he played just 3 games in his time at the University of Memphis. But fair or not, that’s what comes with being the #2 overall pick.
Wiseman played in just 39 games last season averaging 11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game in 21.4 minutes while shooting 51.9% from the field and 31.6% on three-pointers. While those numbers don’t look bad on paper, he struggled to make a positive impact at times.
So, How Exactly Can Wiseman Improve?
Taking On A Lesser, More Defined Role
For starters, Steve Kerr and the rest of the Warriors can help him out by giving him a clear and defined role, which should involve less post-up action and more pick-and-roll action.
For Wiseman to really make a positive impact night in and night out, it’s less about Wiseman expanding his game and more about utilizing him properly and him buying into such a role. Wiseman had a usage rate of 23.8%, which for comparison is similar to but actually higher than that of Jusuf Nurkic and Jonas Valanciunas last season, according to basketball-reference.com. That’s a little bit too high for my liking. Ideally, that number is in the 17-19% range, which is comparable to the usage rates of Richuan Holmes and DeAndre Ayton last season.
Nurkic and Valanciunas are some of the better back to the basket centers across the league and while Wiseman may develop into that one day, he’s not right now and shouldn’t be utilized as such.
I’d like to see Wiseman try and be a mix of what Andrew Bogut and JaVale McGee were in their time with the Warriors. Be the athletic, rim rolling, and shot-blocking big that McGee was but also be a high-level screen setter and facilitator that Bogut was. Aside from facilitating, all those qualities have one thing in common- they just require effort. And I know Wiseman had more turnovers than assists last season, and he often becomes a black hole with the ball because he’s rarely looking to facilitate but he has shown flashes of being able to make the right pass and hit open cutters.
He doesn’t need to be Nikola Jokic or Vlade Divac manipulating the defense with a series of pass fakes or dribble moves, he just needs to make the easy dribble handoff or easy skip pass to the open man; and all that really takes is Wiseman being more aware when he’s out there.
Focus On What You’re Good At
I do like Wiseman’s potential as a back-to-the-basket big, but right now he’s just not super effective on post-ups, however, he is effective in the paint in general. He shot 79.4% from 0-3 feet according to basketball-reference.com but just 40% on post-ups.
Now, as a giant seven-footer post touches are going to happen throughout the course of the game, but the Warriors shouldn’t come down the floor and be looking for that in their half-court sets. With his size and athleticism, they should be looking to run pick and rolls with him.
Particularly, I’d love to see more empty-side pick and rolls with Wiseman as the roller. Meaning that the pick and roll is technically run on the “weak side” with the “strong side” (opposite the ball) overloaded. It creates more space for the two-man game between the ball handler and the screener and makes it difficult for the defense to help on the big diving to the hoop. The Warriors already run it some and not-so-coincidentally, the Warriors actually ran it quite a bit with Curry and McGee, when McGee was with the Warriors.
As noted above, Wiseman is close to, if not already, an elite finisher around the rim. He has a soft touch inside the key and as a lob threat his catch radius is probably as large as anyone across the league, so utilize it!
The shooters in the Warriors’ offense draw so much attention from opposing defenses that Warriors’ screeners are often open when making hard, purposeful cuts after setting a screen. Stephen Curry in particular, as the focal point of the Warriors offense consistently draws double teams whether he’s the pick and roll ball-handler or coming off an off-ball screen and I think if Wiseman spent more time headhunting to set screens for Curry, not only would the team benefit from it but individually he’d absolutely reap the benefits. Plus, when you’ve got passers like Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, the ball is going to find you more often than not when you’re open.
One thing that I believe is extremely underrated when it comes to James Wiseman is his motor. Wiseman is kind of the anti-Draymond as far as his personality goes out there on the court and I think that oftentimes overshadows just how hard he’s playing. Wiseman doesn’t show a ton of emotion when he’s out on the floor and can come off as a guy who’s nonchalant but he’s constantly running the floor and hustling- he just doesn’t have the typical demeanor of a high motor player.
Wiseman is going to be battling Kevon Looney for minutes and while Wiseman is clearly the more talented player, Looney has proven he can provide what the Warriors are looking for at the center position and he’s going to have to earn just about every minute he gets.
The easiest way for a player to earn minutes is by simply outworking his opponents. And there are bigs around the league that make a living on doing just that.
It may not be Wiseman’s calling card five years down the road to be an energy, rim running big but right now the Warriors could most certainly use one and with Wiseman’s physical tools, all he has to do is change his approach to the game.
Returning From Injury
Unfortunately, Wiseman didn’t get to use the off-season to work on his game and hone in on his skills as he was rehabbing his right knee following surgery to repair his meniscus. His return date is still unknown at this time, but he’s been seen doing some individual drills in training camp and appears to be on track to return in the earlier part of the season.
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