James Wiseman's rocky rookie season officially came to an end Thursday when the Warriors announced the 20-year-old center would miss the remainder of the season and playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his knee.
Wiseman, a key part of the Warriors' bold two-dynasty vision, entered the NBA as a 19-year-old who only played in three college games at Memphis. He had no Summer League and missed part of training camp due to COVID-19 protocols. Wiseman had flashes of brilliance and moments of frustration, all to be expected from a talented but raw center who, for all intents and purposes, made the leap straight from high school to the NBA.
Steph Curry knows the important role the Warriors need Wiseman to play in order to get back to the top of the NBA, and gave the rookie some words of advice to focus on as he attacks his rehab and prepares for Year 2.
"Honestly, it's tough," Curry said Thursday night after the Warriors' win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. "He was headed in the right direction and showing signs of progress, and, like I said before, every time he got a good rhythm, either it was COVID protocols or his wrist, and now the knee.
"I hit him earlier today to let him know, he has to think big picture in terms of, he's 20 years old, he's got a lot of basketball ahead of him, and he has an opportunity now to flip a terrible situation on its head and really work on his body, work on his mind in terms of what it's like at this level and take in as much as he can watching us play, and then come back stronger and healthy whenever that time is. That's the perspective you got to have. Easier said than done when injuries take you out and you want to play. Hopefully, he understands that and he's going to be patient with it."
A 20-year-old center who has only played 42 games since graduating high school, Wiseman still is very much a ball of clay that can be molded into the generational talent the Warriors believe he will become.
It always takes longer for big men to transition to the NBA, and Wiseman, given his youth and relative inexperience, will have an even longer developmental arc.
Of course, the longer development period doesn't perfectly match with the Warriors' plan to return to title contention while Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green still are in their primes. They need Wiseman to soak up all the lessons from his first 39 NBA games, process them and find a way to make a leap when he returns to the court at full health.
Expectations should remain tempered, but Curry and the Warriors know they need more out of Wiseman in Year 2 if they plan to make a move at the title once Thompson returns.
It's all about perspective, but for the Warriors, that perspective still includes a vision of Curry hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy again, and Wiseman is a big part of that dream.