Following the breathless reports of NBA pre-draft workouts means you’ve likely been aware that the Warriors were impressed with LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman, were blown away by Deni Avdija and that they loved Anthony Edwards before they didn’t.
Though all four of those players are projected to be picked at or near the top of the 2020 NBA Draft, conceivably to the Warriors, who own the No. 2 overall selection, only one addresses an immediate need while also possessing gifts they’ll need for the next generation.
That’s Wiseman. Should the Warriors keep their pick -- trade discussions are ongoing -- the defensive-minded 7-foot-1 center, with a wingspan measuring at least 7-foot-5, likely will be available and certainly is the most logical choice.
“If he had played 30 games,” says former Warriors and Kings executive Chris Mullin, “there’s no doubt he’d be the No. 1 pick.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves hold the No. 1 overall pick but haven’t observed a single Wiseman workout. With 7-foot Karl-Anthony Towns entrenched as their franchise center, Wiseman would be a dubious choice, unless there’s a plan in place to trade him.
So, Wiseman, who doesn’t turn 20 years old until next March, should be available at No. 2.
His length and penchant for defense have massive appeal to the Warriors, who have needs in both areas. During their minicamp last month, the big men were Kevon Looney and Marquese Chriss, both of whom possess useful skills but measure 6-foot-9 and are not natural rim protectors. Draymond Green can be effective, but at 6-foot-6 his minutes in the middle should be and will be limited.
Such a size deficit is a liability in the Western Conference, which has so many impactful 7-footers. There’s Deandre Ayton (Suns), Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Jusuf Nurkic (Trail Blazers), Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks) and Towns. And it’s advisable to put a long body on 6-foot-10 Anthony Davis, who is expected to re-sign with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Former NBA star Penny Hardaway, Wiseman’s college coach for his three-game career at Memphis, recently told NBC Sports Bay Area that the big man “is determined to protect that rim and do it on a nightly basis.”
Moreover, Hardaway added that Wiseman is capable of switching out to the perimeter and being effective. That might be a stretch -- college coaches tend to talk up their stars -- but it’s also something that can be addressed with good coaching and an agile athlete. Wiseman would bring the mobility, and the Warriors can do the teaching.
Aware of the emphasis on defensive switching in today’s NBA, Wiseman says Hardaway prepared him for the challenge at both ends.
“The modern-day big has to play-make and put the ball on the floor,” Wiseman told Sports Illustrated. “(Hardaway) really trained me as a guard.”
Consider this, though: Wiseman wouldn’t be much of a consideration for the Warriors had they struck gold with the last natural center they drafted. Damian Jones was available at No. 30 in 2016 because he’s a good athlete. The Warriors discovered he has no instincts and that his “love of the game” score also was fairly low.
Wiseman, by contrast, is a five-star recruit who feels the game and lives for it. He reportedly was devastated for a month after the NCAA suspended from the Memphis program last November for “recruiting inducements his family received” from Hardaway before he enrolled -- and before Hardaway was the coach. Wiseman dropped out and didn’t recover until announcing on Instagram his decision to turn pro, after which he signed with Excel Sports Management and began working out at the Miami Hoop School.
That’s where the Warriors got a good look at him and, according to league sources, liked what they saw.
“Everybody has seen enough film, not necessarily the three games with Memphis but just the way he looks when he’s on the court with the other top kids, to know he can be special,” says one Western Conference scout.
Hall of Fame guard Gary Payton describes Wiseman as “a talent,” saying he stood out during the Nike 2018 Elite Camp in Thousand Oaks, where Payton was a member of the coaching staff. There were times, however, when Wiseman was not fully engaged, which was attributed to the influence of others. It’s typical for a player generally considered the No. 1 prep in the country to struggle coping with so many voices in his ear.
“He didn’t want to get hurt,” Payton says of Wiseman, who grew up in a modest home in Nashville and realizes what his earning power can do for his family.
To listen to scouts and other longtime basketball observers, Wiseman’s potential approaches that of what David Robinson brought to the Spurs. Wiseman not only dives into the game on the court but also studies it off the court, watching old-school big men like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone, as well as the late, great wing Kobe Bryant.
Yet he also was an honor student in high school, flashes an impressive vocabulary in interviews -- also present in an NBA-arranged Zoom chat Monday -- and reportedly has decent command of Mandarin. And, yes, he also interviewed with the Warriors.
“They just talked about my contribution to the team, what I’d bring and how I’d affect the team with my abilities, like how would I use it properly,” Wiseman recalls. “And they talked about my character off the court. They asked me questions like, ‘Would I be willing to go in there and work my tail off?’ Which I will, because I have a great work ethic.”
How would he fit with accomplished veterans Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Green? Hardaway, who oversaw much of Wiseman’s development over the last three years, believes he has the right combination of humility and confidence.
“He’d continue to be a listener and continue to do whatever the team needs him to do to get better,” he says. “Continue to study film. Stay in the gym working on all the little things. They’re going to help him out, no matter who drafts him but especially if it’s Golden State. If he goes there, he’ll need to learn how to play off of Steph and Klay and Draymond and those guys.
"And I believe he would.”
Understand, it’s not that the Warriors don’t like other draft possibilities. They do. They have six or seven that they’d happily welcome to the Bay.
There’s 6-foot-9 forward Obi Toppin, a polished scorer from Dayton that projects as the ideal small-ball center for the Warriors’ scheme. There’s 6-foot-9 forward Onyeka Okongwu, the USC product whose intensity and defense jump off the screen. They like 6-foot-9 forward Deni Avdija and 6-foot-5 combo guard Tyrese Haliburton. All four are projected in the 4 to 8 range, making them solid options if the Warriors trade back.
But if they stay at No. 2, and Wiseman is on the board, it makes too much sense to not overthink the options and simply call his name.