The Warriors have a long list of offseason priorities, and somewhere near the top is establishing a coherent plan to utilize the intrinsic talents of James Wiseman while also guiding him toward his potential.
This is going to require patience from the franchise and the fan base and willful disregard of the keyboard gangsters that labeled the youngster a failure in the NBA after 39 games.
Wiseman during his rookie season exhibited a naturally soft shooting touch, a good handle for someone standing 7-foot-1 and the ability to explode in transition. Those elements were NBA-ready.
Not up to the NBA standard expected of someone drafted with the second overall pick was Wiseman’s awareness and reaction on both ends, his discipline on defense, his adherence to the game plan and his unfinished physique – none of which should suggest he is on the path of, say, Hasheem Thabeet, a No. 2 overall pick (2009) whose NBA career lasted just 224 games.
What was concerning was Wiseman’s lack of court chemistry with teammates, most notably Stephen Curry. For someone new to the uniqueness of Curry, the learning curve is steep. The big man sometimes looked new to basketball, with no idea how to coexist.
Which is why examining the pros and cons of Wiseman’s rookie season requires nuance and perspective. He came to the Warriors after a 69-minute college career, more than a year after his last game and couldn’t participate in his first NBA training camp. This is a blueprint for failure for any teenager.
By any rational standard, though, Wiseman did not fail.
Consider that Deandre Ayton’s per-36-minutes averages as a rookie, after 1,172 collegiate minutes, were 19.1 points and 12.0 rebounds. And DeMarcus Cousins, after 893 collegiate minutes, posted per-36 averages of 17.8 and 10.9 in Year 1. Bam Adebayo after 1,145 collegiate minutes: 12.6 and 10.0.
Wiseman’s per-36 were 19.3 and 9.7.
Overall, he averaged 11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds in 21.4 minutes. This was despite numerous setbacks due to injury or health and safety protocols. He missed five games in the first month, and then the first three weeks in February, and then another week in early March, returning for three weeks before losing the last five weeks to knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
The Warriors, across the board, are emphatic in stating that Wiseman, now 20, won’t be dangled in trade because he is part of their future.
“He's a tremendous talent and he was put in a position where, again, the guy is taking hopefully all of his lumps early in his career,” team president Bob Myers says. “But I think he can be very helpful to us in the future. I think he can be helpful in the present.
“We plan on him being on the team. We plan on him helping us. Maybe that's because we have seen a lot of things – I know you guys watch the games and that's a good indicator, too – but we're very confident he's going to be a good player and help us win next year.”
Wiseman projects to be Golden State’s starting center. Nowhere else on the roster is there his combination of verticality and shooting touch. The Warriors believe he’ll be cleared to participate in training camp, scheduled for September.
He needs it more than anyone else under contract.