Three days. That’s how long James Wiseman was on top.
After five weeks as starting center for the Warriors, Wiseman on Jan. 27 moved into the No. 1 spot in the NBA.com “Rookie Ladder, a weekly unofficial ranking of Rookie of the Year candidates. He tumbled out, literally and physically, three days later.
After spraining his left wrist on Jan. 30, trying to break his fall when shoved in mid-air by Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart, Wiseman dropped to No. 3. The No. 1 spot was reclaimed by Charlotte Hornets rookie LaMelo Ball, who has been there ever since.
Missing 11 games over roughly three weeks, Wiseman has a lot of catching up to do, and he’s going to need considerable help from the Warriors.
The No. 2 overall pick won’t have a better chance to get back in the race than on Friday night, when Ball and the Hornets face the Warriors at Chase Center.
The No. 3 pick in the draft, Ball is the most familiar member of this rookie class, partly because his older brother, Lonzo, entered the league in 2017 but mostly because their father, LaVar, spent two solid years as the most visible dad/promoter in league history.
LaMelo was good coming off the bench, but since moving into the starting lineup on Feb. 1, he is averaging 19.6 points, 6.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds. The 19-year-old has scored in double figures in all 11 games, shooting 44.4 percent from the field, including 40.8 percent from deep, and 92.3 percent from the line. The Hornets were 6-5 during that span.
The 6-foot-6 point guard has, make no mistake, been dazzling.
The No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the rookie ladder generally have gone to Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton (No. 11 overall pick) and Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (No. 1 overall). The ladder runs 10 rookies deep. Wiseman fell completely off the ladder during his absence but returned this week and has been OK. He shook off some rust in the first half against the Knicks on Tuesday, but he was better in the second half. He was uneven against the Pacers the next night, targeted on defense, making a couple nice plays on offense but fouling out in 18 minutes.
His two-game totals: 25 points (11-of-17 shooting) and seven rebounds.
"I just had to be patient," Wiseman said after the game in New York. "In the first quarter, I was rushing my shot a little bit ... I'm just listening to my teammates telling me to take my time and just go out there and play my game, getting comfortable."
Wiseman, 19, has expressed a desire to be voted Rookie of the Year and become the first member of the Warriors to win the award since 1994, when it went to Chris Webber.
But Ball has such momentum. He has the edge that comes with pulling a largely irrelevant franchise toward the spotlight. He usually has the ball. He plays with a joy and flair that is captivating.
That is why, despite impressive runs by Haliburton, LaMelo has been No. 1 on every ladder except that of Jan. 27.
Wiseman has 39 games – four more in this half of the season, 35 in the second half – to make his push. If the Warriors, who have yet to win three consecutive games, put together a few weeks of winning basketball, say, win 10 of 13 games, his candidacy gets a bump. There is time; the regular season runs until May 16.
But Wiseman’s campaign must begin Friday night, his first and last chance to share the stage with the favorite. Outplaying Ball on Friday likely won’t be enough to put Wiseman back on top, but it immediately makes the race more worthy of watching.