There is a lot to like about an athletic 7-foot-1, 240-pound teenager with a 7-6 wingspan, which is about all the NBA knows of James Wiseman’s basketball credentials. It’s enough, according to league sources, to intrigue the Warriors.
It’s also why Wiseman’s college coach, former NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway, believes the Warriors -- who are exploring trades for their first-round pick, No. 2 overall -- have good reason to retain the pick and select their center of the future.
Wiseman can be the bridge from the Stephen Curry-Draymond Green-Klay Thompson nucleus -- each has passed his 30th birthday -- to the next iteration of the franchise.
“He can easily keep up with the game and the pace,” Hardaway told NBC Sports Bay Area this week. “He’s very athletic, very fast. He’d instantly be one of the better rim runners in the league. He’s also a rim protector; he is going to protect the rim. His skill set is good enough now, and it's going to get better, especially because he’d be playing with veterans like Draymond, Klay and Steph.
“Also, he can space (his shot) out to the 3. He’s been working on his jump shot and his understanding of studying film and what a team wants and needs. In their system, with those guys, he would be spectacular.”
Wiseman is perhaps the most scrutinized of all players eligible for the 2020 draft. There’s not much video. He’s the only 7-footer expected to go at or near the top of the lottery. His size/length is appealing. His athleticism is mesmerizing.
“Put Wiseman on the court with any nine other players in this draft, and he’s going to stand out -- and not just because of his height,” a Western Conference assistant coach recently told NBC Sports Bay Area.
But there is this: With traditional low-block centers being somewhat devalued in today’s NBA, can Wiseman be effective outside the paint? Put another way, would he be as vulnerable in space as, say, Utah’s Rudy Gobert?
“He’s pretty good at both ends, but if I had to say where he’s further ahead, I’d say defense,” said Hardaway, preparing for his third season at Memphis. “He is determined to protect that rim and do it on a nightly basis. I’m not saying he’s going to score 15 or 20 points a game, but I’m going to say he’ll protect that rim and rebound the ball every night.
“As far as switching, absolutely. He can do it. I had him doing that for a while. I know the league is the highest level, but he has the foot speed and the quickness to switch out onto point guards and actually play them.”
Wiseman doesn’t have the smooth shooting stroke of Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, lacks the innate playmaking ability of Denver’s Nikola Jokic and is not as thirsty for contact as Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams. Is Wiseman more like Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid or Phoenix’s DeAndre Ayton?
None of the above, says Hardaway.
“Parts of his game remind me of Chris Bosh. I know that’s a stretch for a lot of people. But when I see him, the way he’s been able to work his way out to the 3-point line, there are similarities to Bosh. But he’s way more athletic.”
Most of the skepticism surrounding Wiseman is related to his short college résumé. He played only three games at Memphis before dropping out last December after being hit with a 12-game suspension by the NCAA. Hardaway, then coaching a Memphis high school, was found to have given Wiseman’s family $11,500 in moving expenses in 2017.
Hardaway is the best player produced by the University of Memphis and, because he has provided previous financial support, was considered a booster, therefore making his payment illegal. Wiseman, 16 at the time, insists he was unaware.
The episode prompted Wiseman to turn pro (via Instagram) and sign with Excel Sports Management, headed by Jeff Schwartz.
Hardaway says he still speaks regularly with Wiseman and believes the youngster is prepared for what lies ahead, despite the paucity of high-level experience.
“I get it. When you take a full year off, most people are afraid that you don’t have enough basketball under your belt,” Hardaway says. “Not enough of the intensity of it, running up and down the court every day, with the spotlight on you.
“But he works at it. He’s always felt he had something to prove every time he steps out onto the floor. That’s what I love about him. Even though he could have taken plays off, or taken days off, he just pushed through and wanted to be great. He would come to me during water breaks and ask me what he could do better.”
The Warriors will continue to weigh trade options, which by all accounts is their preferred route. But if nothing materializes and they stay at No. 2, Wiseman might be the sensible call -- if he doesn’t go No. 1.