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What we learned about Wiseman during up-and-down rookie year

NBC Sports
James Wiseman

What a number of skeptics and much of the chatter on social media didn’t seem to consider about James Wiseman’s rookie season is that it was going to be a massive undertaking from the first moment.

And thereafter, as challenges kept coming, the young man who reached the NBA at age 19 never had a chance to maintain anything resembling a developmental arc.

So, now that Wiseman’s season is over after 39 games, it defies classification. It was neither revolution nor revelation. It is best represented, as letter grades go, a thoroughly unsatisfying “I,” for Incomplete.

From start to finish. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s a realistic outcome.

“If you look at the reality of it, he’s had the hardest transition of a rookie season of anybody, maybe in NBA history,” Damion Lee said Thursday.

“Obviously, dealing with the COVID stuff. The three games played in college, coming right into getting ready for his season. He missed the first couple weeks of training camp, getting thrown right into the fire, playing, hurting his wrist, coming back, starting to make strides, another protocol, then starting to get some stride, and then this.”

Lee nails it. There was always something. Each time Wiseman showed signs of progress, there was another obstacle. Actually, three pandemic-related entanglements, the first before training camp. The sprained wrist. And, oh, the partial benching as a result of missing a COVID test.


Wiseman wasn’t as much making his way through a season as he was navigating a maze as various voices offered input.

There were dazzling highlights, such as Wiseman unfurling his 7-foot-1 frame and going on a couple solitary coast-to-coast fast breaks that ended with buckets.

There were cringe-worthy lowlights, such as fouling out in 18 minutes at Indiana in February and, four nights later, fouling out in 25 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers.

There were moments when Wiseman seemed locked in and moments when he looked completely lost.

“He had some ups and downs,” Draymond Green said a couple of days ago. “And that’s quite common for a rookie.”

It’s particularly common for someone in Wiseman’s situation. Any 7-foot teenager that enters the NBA historically requires lots of care and feeding and, above all, consistent playing time. They need those things before, during and after signing their first contract.

Wiseman got the care. He needed it, as multiple MRI examinations revealed.

He got the feeding. He got some Mom time, as she visited. He’s going to need more of that.

The playing time, however, was inconsistent, largely held hostage by his availability. Wiseman missed roughly three of every 10 games.

“This has been a very tough season for everybody in terms of not having Summer League and, in James’ case, no training camp and then the COVID protocol,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Every team has gone through similar trials and tribulations. So, within that context, James had a really productive rookie season. For a guy who never played in college to come out and show the promise that he did. He’s got a great future.

“But it’s clear that he’s very raw. That’s obvious. How could he not be, given his inexperience?”

RELATED: Wiseman's injury gives pause to Warriors' 2021-22 plans

Consider Wiseman’s total minutes in college: 69. Wiseman’s total minutes with the Warriors: 836. His total minutes since high school: 905. That’s fewer than most one-and-done college draft picks. Overall No. 1 draft pick Anthony Edwards, for example, played 1,057 minutes last season at the University of Georgia.

All rookies require time, none more than centers. And Wiseman happens to be both a big man and greener than the average rook. Even in his best moments, when he was making a positive impact, the deck always was stacked against him.

We don’t know where his career is heading. Nor does Wiseman. Nor do the Warriors.

What all parties know is that it’s going to take a few years to get there. After all, Wiseman remains the largely blank canvas he was when he arrived in December.

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