The only way 7-foot-1 James Wiseman and 6-foot-5 Anthony Edwards ever will be in direct competition is through a defensive switch that puts the big man against the shooting guard. That will not stop the comparisons.
As the first two players taken in the 2020 NBA Draft, they’ll be compared Monday night at Chase Center, when Wiseman and the Warriors face Edwards at the Timberwolves for the first time this season.
From statistics to development to overall conduct, the comparisons likely will follow them throughout their careers.
Five weeks into the NBA season, both have exhibited spectacular flashes – and both have had moments when they looked very much like 19-year-old rookies. But the No. 2 overall pick, Wiseman, is slightly ahead of the No. 1 pick.
Wiseman has a respectable jump shot and provides, naturally, a lob threat and a degree of rim protection on defense. His playmaking ability has been slow to surface but shows signs of coming along. His hands have been, um, iffy, though that’s not atypical for teenage big men, who often struggle with the speed of the NBA game.
The biggest indictment might be that he at times is reluctant to engage in traffic with the big boys, perhaps due to the physicality required of his young, slender frame. That needs to come, and maybe it will. He’s averaging 6.1 rebounds and 21.4 minutes. Kevin Garnett, for example, averaged 6.3 in 28.7 minutes as a 19-year-old rookie.
“KG is someone I've always admired and if I ever get the chance to connect the two of them, I would do that," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said recently. "KG was one of the best defensive players in the league. Like James, he came into the NBA without any experience basically; he went straight from high school. James basically went straight from high school; he only played three college games.”
It’s encouraging for the Warriors that Wiseman is a fan of Garnett and seeks to emulate much of his game.
“KG was one of my favorite players,” Wiseman said. “I'd just ask him (about) the tenacity to the game, the approach, how he approached the game, how he approached each game. How did he get better as a rookie coming into the league? Because he came straight out of high school too.”
Edwards at his best offers a lethal combination of strength and quickness to attack; imagine Russell Westbrook with another 20 pounds of muscle. But “Ant Man” has not developed the art of finishing at the rim and is searching for the rest of his game.
"The way he brings the basketball up, going from low to high, to his finishing motion, he naturally plays with force," Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune last week. “He’s somebody who gets a lot of attention around the basket. But no matter what happens, you have to play through it. Good or bad. I just told him to go up and dunk it."
It’s excellent advice for an explosive athlete weighing 225 pounds and featuring a 40-inch vertical leap.
Among NBA rookies, Wiseman’s 14.42 player-efficiency rating is seventh, Edwards’ 6.60 is 23rd. Wiseman’s true-shooting percentage of 54.2 is 13th, Edwards’ 43.4 is 26th. Wiseman ranks 29th – dead last – in assist ratio (5.2), Edwards is 26th at 9.6.
Though Edwards leads all rookies in scoring, averaging 12.1 points per game, his efficiency has been abysmal. He’s shooting at 34.7 percent from the field, 27.2 percent from distance. His offensive stats are similar to those of Warriors guard Kelly Oubre Jr., whose struggles have been a huge factor in the team’s inability to find consistency.
The most visible difference between the rookies, however, is on defense. Wiseman makes mistakes. Edwards has been invisible.
For now, the Timberwolves say they have no regrets with their selection of Edwards. The Warriors are delighted to have Wiseman. Given the needs of each team, they made logical choices.
Check back in a few years. And once more when they both retire.