There’s no questioning that James Wiseman has been thrown into the fire quickly in his rookie season with the Warriors. After missing almost all of training camp, Wiseman’s first two NBA games saw him lined up against two near-certain title contenders led by former MVP winners in the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.
Now with 11 games under his belt in the league, the 19-year-old faces a pair of elite centers in back-to-back games, as he’ll match up with Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night, followed by his first clash with reigning NBA champion and MVP candidate Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns would have been another difficult cover between the two, but Friday’s Warriors-Suns game was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
From DeAndre Jordan in the opener to Myles Turner in Tuesday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers, Wiseman has gone up against a number of talented big men -- but the next two certainly stand above the rest. .
Jokic was second-team All-NBA in 2019-20, and presents a unique skillset for the position. The Serbian is a crafty player inside and one of the NBA’s best passers regardless of position, known for his trademark water polo-style dimes in transition.
Wiseman and the entire Warriors lineup has struggled with fouling in 2020-21, as coach Steve Kerr’s team is tied for second in the NBA in fouls committed per game (23.3). Jokic is averaging a career-best 6.1 free-throw attempts per game this season, so look for him to try and use his veteran savvy against the young Wiseman early and often on Thursday night. Denver is coming off a three-game stint on the East Coast that wrapped up on Tuesday night, so perhaps the Warriors could benefit from some jet lag in Denver’s locker room.
Wiseman nonetheless will have his hands full, and it doesn’t get any easier with Davis and the Lakers on Monday.
Davis arguably is the NBA’s best overall big man, and has evolved his game to include a 3-point shot he is making at a 39.4 percent clip. With four all-NBA and four all-defensive team honors over his career, Davis will give Wiseman fits when the two are matched up.
Los Angeles might also have the most depth in the frontcourt of any team in the NBA, as reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol present their own challenges for Wiseman. Harrell plays with incredible energy and is a physical presence in the paint, and Gasol is another cunning veteran who will make Wiseman work on the defensive end.
He went four straight games playing under 20 minutes, but Wiseman was on the floor for 26 minutes Tuesday night, indicating that we could be seeing his playing time ramp back up as he continues to acclimate to the pro game.
After making just four of his 12 shots against Turner and the Pacers’ frontcourt, Wiseman will be eager to get back in a groove against a Nuggets team underperforming through the early part of the season.
"This is a real challenge for James and for our team to piece all of this together on the fly with teams throwing a lot of different defenses at us,” Kerr said of Wiseman after Tuesday’s loss. “There's a lot going on for James for somebody who has only been in the league for a few weeks. Great experience. It can be frustrating at times, but he's going to get better as a result."
It will be just another in a long season of “insane” asks from Kerr and the Warriors’ coaching staff, but Wiseman has proved to be a sponge and will be vastly improved from all the trials by fire 2020 and 2021 have provided.