“Situational Analysis” is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
James Wiseman is a 19-year-old center from Nashville who averaged 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 3 blocks in his three collegiate games for the Memphis Tigers. He is expected to be selected among the top-five picks in the upcoming NBA Draft and as high as No. 1 overall. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 4.
“Upside” isn’t a skill. By definition, it’s the potential of skills to come. But it’s that upside that has had scouts drooling over Wiseman since his freshman year of high school.
The 7-foot-1 Wiseman is the runaway winner of the “eye test” competition among this year’s prospects. It doesn’t take long to understand why he won every imaginable accolade after his senior year of high school. When a player with his height, length (7-6 wingspan), and athleticism takes the floor, he immediately becomes the center of attention.
He is already an elite lob threat, and his straight-line speed makes him a devastating trailer in transition. He gives an offense “vertical spacing” with his ability to snag passes near the top of the backboard.
He has excellent hands. Not only does he show nice touch on turnaround/face-up jumpers, he is able to snag nearly every errant entry pass or rebound in his vicinity.
The most encouraging aspect of his game? Even though he can simply out-leap almost any non-NBA player, he shows terrific rebounding instincts and fundamentals on both ends of the floor. As his body matures, Wiseman has the potential to lead the NBA in rebounding.
His greatest defensive asset lies in his rim protection. Not only does Wiseman rack up impressive block numbers, his presence on the floor deters would-be layups before they happen.
Despite the NBA’s push toward a smaller, more perimeter-oriented game, there will always be a place in the league for an athletic, agile big man who can dive to the rim and block shots.
On a scale from 1-10, Wiseman’s upside rates at a 9.5.
What concerns me most about Wiseman’s game is his subpar lateral quickness and defensive awareness.
Wiseman’s entire professional livelihood will depend on his ability to develop into a Rudy Gobert-style defensive anchor. Centers – even good centers – struggle to stay on the floor in high-leverage moments if they are foul-prone liabilities on defense.
For all of Wiseman’s gifts as a rebounder and shot-blocker, he currently struggles defending high pick and rolls in space. He’s prone to picking up ticky-tack fouls when he gets beat, which happens far more often than it should. He “plays high,” which throws off his center of gravity and obliterates his lateral quickness.
Worst-case scenario: Wiseman fools casual fans and bad general managers into thinking he is an “impactful” defensive player due to consistently inflated rebounding/shot-blocking numbers, but his team’s defensive metrics suffer mightily when he sees significant playing time (see: Whiteside, Hassan).
Even though he shows nice touch on his jumper, he likely won’t become a high-volume 3-point threat, and he doesn’t possess the passing/playmaking ability to become a high-post offensive hub like Nikola Jokic.
Strength should come with added years and an NBA weights program, but it isn’t necessarily bulk that Wiseman needs to add. Added core strength will allow him to get into better defensive positioning, which will improve his ability to read, recover, and react on high screens.
If those defensive instincts don’t kick in, however, we’re left with a lob threat on offense who bites on pump fakes and racks up cheap fouls on defense. It’s tough to win at a high level in the NBA if that’s what your starting center contributes.
On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Wiseman’s defensive lapses rate at a 9.
I don’t care that Wiseman played only three college games. Whatever asinine rules kept him in the NCAA’s doghouse have no bearing on his professional potential. It would have been helpful, however, to see Wiseman square off against players of comparable talent and athleticism.
It’s a bit more instructive to judge him by his exceptional high school career (25.8 points, 14.8 rebounds, and 5.5 blocks as a senior at Memphis East), where he was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year award and participated in every meaningful All-Star competition.
He left high school as either the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect on nearly every major recruiting service, and there was no doubt that he would be an impactful collegiate player, had the NCAA not thrown a fit over whatever it is they throw fits about.
On a scale from 1-10, Wiseman’s high school career rates at a 9.5. His collegiate career is a N/A and the NCAA rates, as always, a zero.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Draymond Green has already weighed in on the topic.
Of course, the Golden State Warriors are the best landing spot for any 2020 draft prospect. They’re a title contender that hit pause for a year due to a variety of factors, and anyone lucky enough to land there will spend their formative years with an incredible coaching staff and multiple All-Stars, including the best shooting backcourt in NBA history.
If Wiseman lands in Golden State, he’ll have no excuses. He fills exactly what the Warriors are missing (youth, length/athleticism at the 5, rim protection) and he’ll have the best available mentors to show him the ropes in the NBA.
Elsewhere? It’s hit or miss.
It’s hard to envision Minnesota drafting him, unless the T-Wolves are already preparing to move a clearly unhappy Karl-Anthony Towns (not likely after adding his best pal, D’Angelo Russell). Atlanta already has John Collins and Clint Capela. The Knicks are the Knicks.
Cleveland is still working out whether Andre Drummond fits into their future plans, and the Bulls are still figuring out whether the Markkanen/Carter pairing will work out long term.
Outside of the Warriors, the only other high lottery team that makes sense for Wiseman is the Detroit Pistons, where he would slide in next to Blake Griffin in an updated “Lob City” dynamic similar to what DeAndre Jordan brought as a frontcourt partner with Griffin. But the Pistons don’t exactly scream “franchise stability.”
On a scale from 1-10, Wiseman’s need to land in the right situation rates at a 9.