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Warriors' Wiseman coping with high expectations as rookie

NBC Sports

Karl-Anthony Towns had one year, 39 games, of college ball. Shaquille O’Neal had three years, 90 games. Emeka Okafor had three years, 103 games. Tim Duncan had four years, 128 games. Pau Gasol had two years of professional ball in Spain.

Patrick Ewing was 23, as was Ralph Sampson. David Robinson was 24.

Eight centers, all NBA Rookies of the Year, none entering the league as a teenager with a résumé as thin as that of 20-year-old Warriors rook James Wiseman. His path to the highest level of basketball on earth was appreciably shorter than theirs.

Which is why any chance of Wiseman reaching the level of the only centers named Rookie of the Year over the last 50 years requires, above all, patience. Even then, there is no guarantee.

"What we’ve learned is we can’t rush it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Monday. “We can’t force-feed him. It’s just going to take some time."

Though Wiseman acknowledges his weaknesses, he is not short on confidence.

"I know that if I keep working that I will be a great player,” he said. "I’ve just got to keep working, just keep getting better each day.

"Mind you, I didn’t play in college -- I only played three games -- so I’m really still trying to figure stuff out. I’m still behind the 8-ball, but I’m most definitely getting better exponentially each day. I feel the growth every day."

Over the course of Wiseman’s first 36 NBA games, there have been times, when despite his immense physical presence, he is lost on the court, a colt struggling to navigate the frequent traffic jams created by stronger physiques in the paint.

 

On some possessions, he’s trying to be in six places at once. On others, he surrenders to gridlock.

That’s life in the NBA, and after 36 games it’s apparent the physical challenges are no less daunting than those swirling about his head, via his ears.

Wiseman says he has gotten advice from, among others, Kyrie Irving, who stressed work ethic. He met Kevin Durant while in high school and the two communicate regularly, with ex-Warrior KD offering tips on deciphering Kerr’s offense. Wiseman’s teammate Draymond Green has been a willing defensive tutor.

And then there are various members of the Warriors coaching staff. Kerr and Wiseman have gotten together before and after games to review video. Player-development coach Theo Robertson is a daily voice in Wiseman’s ear, with assistant and team defensive coordinator Jarron Collins also offering counsel.

After Wiseman performed poorly in successive games at Miami and Toronto (in Tampa, Fla.) last week, several members of the Golden State staff felt the need for a meeting. 

“Just keeping it simple,” Wiseman recalled of last Saturday's meeting. “They’re trying to help me out to become more effective.”

Taking note of Wiseman’s coast-to-coast forays, his proclivity to resort to 1-on-1 scoring moves in the post -- without seeing the rest of the floor -- and his tendency to bite on pump fakes, the staff urged Wiseman to narrow focus on things currently at his command.

The message to Wiseman, according to Kerr: “‘A few years from now, you’re going to be able to do anything you want. Right now, you’ve got to sort of limit some of the things you’re trying to accomplish. Keep things simple.’”

Wiseman is averaging 11.4 points (on 51.0 percent shooting from the field, 33.3 percent from distance) along with 5.8 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game. He’s averaging one block per game and fewer than one assist.

Understand, it’s not as if he has been a non-factor, nor unproductive. It’s that he has been profoundly uneven. In 26 of 36 games, Wiseman has posted a minus number in the plus/minus column.

"There are moments when he looks like a future superstar,” Kerr said. "And there are moments when he looks like a young rookie who is trying to figure things out. That’s perfectly natural at this point."

A look at the numbers indicates Kerr is on target. Rookie centers rarely post big numbers, and the same applies to rookies at any position entering the NBA without college experience. Both apply to Wiseman, so he is bound to have more moments of frustration than contentment.

As are those Warriors fans with unrealistic expectations because Wiseman was selected with the No. 2 overall pick.

RELATED: Dubs' Wiseman 'very surprised' by limited minutes vs. Hawks

As for Wiseman, he knows he needs to get better, particularly on defense. He’s often out of position. He’s having trouble shedding the typical young jumper’s habit of falling for pump fakes. His rotations are late, and sometimes not at all.

 

But Wiseman willingly accepts the grind, the inconsistent minutes and the knowledge to come, perhaps because he knows it’s the surest path to his potential.

“Being smarter, more disciplined,” Wiseman cited as two weaknesses. “But that’s because I just came into the league and I’m still trying to learn a lot of stuff. Once I start picking up on a lot of stuff and seeing the pictures on the floor and being way more attentive, everything is going to be easy.

“Right now, it’s just learning.”

Which means more waiting for the Warriors, more noise from the fan base and more traffic traveling the intersections of the rookie’s mind. 

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