As the Warriors flamed out of the NBA play-in tournament, James Wiseman could do nothing more than watch. In so doing, he came to believe something his skeptics do not.
That he could have helped.
“Especially on the defensive end,” he told NBC Sports Bay Area this week.
Wiseman was a spectator as the Los Angeles Lakers wiped out a 12-point third-quarter deficit, outscoring the visiting Warriors 43-28 over the final 17 minutes of the play-in game to decide the No. 7 playoff seed. Los Angeles was plus-8 in paint points.
Two nights later, with the No. 8 seed at stake, Golden State’s season ended with a 117-112 loss to the Grizzlies at Chase Center. Memphis was plus-10 in points off turnovers and plus-8 in second-chance points.
Just like that, the Warriors, who finished seventh in the Western Conference, were done. It was a rough week for the franchise, perhaps rougher for the 7-foot-1 rookie restricted to the sideline after tearing the meniscus in his right knee five weeks earlier.
For the second consecutive year -- he came to the Warriors after his freshman season at University of Memphis ended after three games -- his season ended prematurely.
“Man, it was hard,” Wiseman said. “I was livid almost every day. Even when I was working out, I was pissed off.”
Wiseman missed 33 of Golden State’s 72 games. He missed 11 games in February with a sprained left (shooting) wrist, missed three games in March due to health and safety protocols and missed the last 19 games with the torn right meniscus.
So, all he could do was make judicious use of his crutches while observing the Warriors play their best basketball of the season, winning 14 of the last 19 regular-season games to secure a berth in the play-in tournament.
It was there that they came undone, mostly because of unforced turnovers.
“It was fun watching the games and actually seeing it,” Wiseman said. “But I actually wanted to be out there and actually feel the atmosphere of it. I was kind of mad seeing the games and watching, but I still supported my team."
As rehabilitation continues, Wiseman has been watching the NBA playoffs, paying particular attention to the big men, specifically the two most talented: Denver’s Nikola Jokić and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.
“Man, I’ve seen a lot of moments, especially from Embiid,” he said. “In terms of the offensive end, his footwork is crazy. I’ve been watching everything he does, so I can improve my game as well.”
Wiseman’s footwork last season was, well, elementary. If he wasn’t taking himself out of position or being whistled for traveling, he was dribbling into a turnover.
His studying goes deeper than footwork, though. Wiseman is getting a visual tutorial, whether it’s from Jokić or Embiid, or Utah’s Rudy Gobert, or Atlanta’s Clint Capela or Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton.
“Really, just (seeing) how they get to the dunker spot, the pick-and-roll game and offensive rebounding, because that’s something I have to get better at, especially after my first year,” Wiseman said. “Most definitely, offensive rebounding. Like how they position themselves and just get stronger. And now that I’m getting stronger throughout the offseason, that’s going to help me out a lot, too.”
The next step for Wiseman is getting back on the court, which is on target to happen in late summer. The Warriors hired a coach, Dejan Milojević, who specializes in working with big men. Also, prior to the meniscus injury, team president Bob Myers had arranged for Wiseman to spend time working out with Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.
Surgery put that on pause, but there still is a chance the connection could be made before training camp opens in late September.
“We should,” Wiseman said. “I’m getting better rapidly, at a high rate. I’m getting better each day because I’m taking care of myself. It should still happen. For sure.
“I would be super excited. KG is one of my favorite players. KG, his intensity is crazy. I most definitely would love to work out with KG. That’s one of my dreams.”
The Warriors anticipate returning to the playoffs next season, when five-time All-Star Klay Thompson is scheduled to rejoin Stephen Curry and Draymond Green as the core. Andrew Wiggins, coming off a solid season, also is expected back.
The biggest question mark is at center, and that can’t be answered until Wiseman reveals how much he learned in the months after surgery.