After a nearly six-week interval, James Wiseman returned to the Warriors' starting lineup Thursday night, and coach Steve Kerr implied the move could be being permanent.
Which is, if Wiseman is indeed the future of the franchise, as it should be.
"Where we are right now, he needs to play more. There’s no doubt,” Kerr said, announcing the move shortly in a video conference before tipoff against the Suns in Phoenix. “We’ve got to develop him. The last couple weeks, he has not played as much as he will going forward.
“Whether he starts coming out of the [All-Star] break or not, we definitely need to get him more time.”
Wiseman started the first 16 games at center before being replaced by veteran Kevon Looney on Jan. 25. Five days later, in his fourth game off the bench, Wiseman sprained his left wrist trying to break a fall and missed the next 11 games. In five games since being activated Feb. 23, mostly with the second unit, the 7-foot-1 teenager averaged just under 18 minutes off the bench.
His offensive efficiency since returning has been very good, as Wiseman averaged 10.4 points per game while shooting 60.5 percent. His effect, however, has been uneven. He averaged 4.2 rebounds, with only one total block and 18 fouls, and twice fouled out -- much to his consternation.
It’s also apparent that the rookie is not as comfortable as he was prior to the injury, and confidence could be an issue.
“It’s perfectly natural for every player to go through peaks and valleys within the season, but especially as a rookie,” Kerr said. “You find a groove and you think ‘OK, I’ve got it.’ Then you have a tough game and it feels like the end of the world.”
Even at such a young age, Wiseman is particularly valuable to the Warriors. He’s a lob threat. He’s four inches taller than anyone else on the roster but athletic enough to dribble the length of the floor and soar in for a dunk. He also has made 10 of his 25 3-point shots.
Put simply, he gives the Warriors something nobody else can offer. He’s going to make mistakes, as all players, especially rookies, tend to do. But in this season of lowered expectations, it should be a priority to give him minutes with the core of the roster.
“It’s all just part of the development,” Kerr said of Wiseman’s growing pains. “You can’t just say, ‘Let’s throw him out there for 35 minutes every night.’ That doesn’t constitute development. It just constitutes playing time. Finding the balance and helping him through the ups and downs of a long season is the biggest part of that development.”
So, J-Wise is back. Starting him against the Suns, with Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Kelly Oubre Jr. all out of the lineup, is intriguing. Starting him with the regular starting lineup is the right thing to do.