James Wiseman has had an up-and-down rookie season with the Warriors. The No. 2 overall pick has shown flashes of his tremendous potential but also has a long way to go to reach his ceiling.
Wiseman isn't the first teenager to come into the NBA and struggle, and Steve Kerr is preaching patience with his young center while pointing to a couple Hall of Famers who took time to become great after making an early jump to the NBA.
"What we've learned is we can't rush it," Kerr told reporters Monday. "We can't force-feed him. It's just going to take some time. That's really par for the course for players who have been in James' shoes in the past. I've mentioned some of their names. Highly-touted prospects who didn't have a college experience, whether it's Kobe or Kevin Garnett or guys like that. It was the same thing.
"I don't know that after Kobe's couple of airballs in the playoffs against Utah in his rookie year, I don't know that we could have said that guy is going to be a top-five player of all-time. So all this stuff, it just takes time and reps and we just have to be patient and keep working with James every day and he's going to get better as he goes."
During Bryant's rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers, the young guard averaged just 7.6 points per game while only seeing the floor for 15.5 minutes per game. Then, with the Lakers facing a must-win game in the 1997 Western Conference semifinals against the Jazz, an 18-year-old Bryant put up four airballs in five minutes and the Lakers lost the game and the series.
The late Lakers legend believed those four airballs were a turning point in his career.
“It was an early turning point for me in being able to deal with adversity, deal with public scrutiny and self-doubt,” Bryant recalled to The Daily News in 2016. “At 18 years old, it was gut-check time.
“I look back at it now with fond memories of it. Back then, it was misery,” Bryant said. “It helped shape me.”
For all intents and purposes, Wiseman, like Bryant, went straight from high school to the NBA. The 20-year-old big man played in just three games for Memphis before withdrawing from school after the NCAA deemed Wiseman's family received improper benefits from coach Penny Hardaway while Wiseman was still in high school.
Kerr noted that due to Wiseman's lack of college games and missing training camp, the Warriors have been learning as they go while trying to develop a guy they believe can be a transcendent talent.
"I think when you get a guy, especially someone who didn't play much -- I mean we watched three games of tape and then no Summer League as I mentioned, and then no training camp, so we throw him out there on Opening Night and really have no idea what to expect," Kerr said. "He goes out and I think he had 20 points in Brooklyn and made a bunch of shots, that was literally our first look at him. This process from the very beginning has been so convoluted because of COVID and because of James' situation at Memphis."
In 36 games this season, Wiseman is averaging 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.0 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from the 3-point line. Wiseman has been juggled between the starting lineup and the bench unit as the Warriors try to find the right lineup mix to fuel a late-season run.
Perhaps the biggest flag with Wiseman is that he hasn't fit well alongside Steph Curry. In 30 games played together, Curry and Wiseman have a net rating of minus-seven, and in the three games since Wiseman was reinserted into the starting lineup, the Curry-Wiseman tandem has a net rating of minus-4.1.
The Warriors know it will take time for Wiseman to reach the David Robinson-esque ceiling they believe he has. Bryant's playoff failure spurred him to work harder and become the second-best shooting guard in NBA history. Kerr and the Warriors hope that Wiseman's rocky rookie season can send him to similar heights.