Note: This article was originally published in preparation for the 2020 NBA Draft
Long considered to be one of the top prospects for the 2020 NBA Draft, James Wiseman is finally ready to make the leap.
After dominating the high school and grassroots basketball circuit Wiseman was set to showcase his talents at the NCAA level but his opportunity was stripped away only three games into the season. Eligibility issues stemming from a prior relationship with Memphis coach and former NBA star Penny Hardaway resulted in a 12-game suspension, one that Wiseman decided he wasn't going to return from. Instead, he decided to put all his focus on the draft.
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Despite playing only 69 minutes in three college games there is a healthy sample size of Wiseman playing against top talent over the last few years. NBA front offices, particularly ones that show great confidence in their team's developmental program, are going to be awfully interested in him due to the fact he is arguably the most physically talented player in the class.
As with any center prospect, the question must be asked-how valuable is a big man in the modern NBA and where should you look to draft one? Teams are still figuring that topic out, but as plodding centers go away big men like Wiseman are on their way in. He's got the length and leaping ability to lock down the paint and allow his teammates on the perimeter to run opponents off the line, and his offensive game is as 2020 as it gets. Instead of a post-up game, he uses dribble moves and instead of a hook shot he's got a pull-up jumper. Instead of relying on brute strength, he relies on finesse. Understanding what the ceiling for a center could be in the modern NBA is a challenge but when you look at the ones that are currently having success, they look a lot like James Wiseman.
Wiseman's physical tools are impeccable. Standing at 7'1" with an outrageous 7'6" wingspan he's got all the length you could ever want and his 9'6" standing reach is among the NBA's best.
Coupled with those dimensions is athleticism that is unrivalled by any other big man in the class. Whether it's in transition where he runs like a gazelle or in the paint where he can leap out of the gym he's a tremendous athlete, a skill which has cemented him as a lottery pick.
This mix of length and athleticism at the center spot has helped brand him as a defensive anchor. When stationed down low Wiseman owns the paint and takes great pride in protecting the rim. In today's NBA game defence is all about taking away the three and with Wiseman's shot-blocking ability teams will be able to run shooters off the line knowing they have him to mop up any messes. His length and ability to recover to shooters will work exceptionally in the "drop" pick and roll coverage employed by nearly every team in the league and he's going to thrive with some of the more cutting edge schemes too. We're seeing more and more zone defences rolled out every year and a pillar like Wiseman in the paint could allow a coach to draw up some fascinating defences.
Considering the role of centers in today's game Wiseman's defensive potential is going to garner a lot of attention but he brings some offensive tools to the table that you don't normally see from that position. It's not uncommon to see him grab a defensive rebound and lead the fast break using a rather smooth looking handle and in the half-court, he'll break down slower defenders with crossovers and in and out dribbles. Will he be in a system that will allow him that freedom? We'll have to see, but if you're looking for outlier skills in this draft Wiseman's ball-handling abilities at 7'1" have to be made known.
Rebounding isn't stylish but the fact of the matter is that the best teams in the NBA routinely take care of the glass and Wiseman is one of the best rebounders in the class. Not only does he have size but he has the desire to chase the ball in traffic. Whether it's ending a defensive possession by securing a missed shot or creating a second chance opportunity on the offensive end with a back tap Wiseman always makes his presence felt on the glass. While it's not something you see on a highlight reel it's something that coaches notice and love.
Wiseman can block shots, sure, but there are still holes in his game defensively. Moving side to side isn't a strong suit of his and for that reason, he's not a player that's comfortable switching out to guards. A lack of muscle is also a concern for Wiseman and playing for USA Basketball he struggled with some physical international bigs that would get into his body and use lower centers of gravity to push him around.
Offensively Wiseman wants to play like a wing and while that offers some intrigue it also makes him tough to project. Coaches aren't going to give him too many opportunities to isolate on the wing and demonstrate his ball-handling abilities and for that reason, one of his main skills is at the risk of being rendered useless. Throughout his high school career there was evidence of Wiseman trying to be a stretch big that would shoot threes but those shots never really fell for him, including in his final EYBL season where he shot 10% from deep.
Another area of concern is Wiseman as a playmaker. Whenever he got the ball on a short roll and was in a position to distribute he struggled to read defences and make the right decision and even when he recognized the right pass to make, he struggled to execute it.
The problem could lay with his hands. He seems to have little touch which makes passing difficult and also leads to him fumbling a lot of lobs or worse had entry passes ricochet off his hands. His struggles to catch the ball in traffic and be a passer off the short roll make him far less effective in the pick and roll than you'd like to see from a 7'1" run-and-jump big man and that also hurts his NBA projection.
Generally speaking there seems to be a disconnect between what the basketball world wants from Wiseman and what he sees himself as. Scouts view him as a potential defensive anchor who will block shots defensively and sit in the dunker spot offensively. Wiseman, on the other hand, seems to see himself as a ball-handler worthy of taking on the role of a volume shooter. If he's willing to fit the mould of what teams want from their five-man he could have a long career but if he continues to try to be a 7'1" guard there is going to be some bust potential.
Projected NBA Draft Range: 3-8
NBA Comparison: Hassan Whiteside
Projected NBA Role: Defensive anchor.
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