With most of the NBA’s notable free agents having been officially signed with a club; and, since training camp doesn’t begin until a month from now, it’s a perfect time to speculate the future endeavors of the Charlotte Hornets.
Today, we are going to look one year in advance to analyze one prospect the Hornets should consider selecting in 2020.
As Vegas projects the team to win just 24 games this upcoming season, a number that’s tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for last place, it’s safe to assume that Charlotte will be positioned towards the top of next year’s draft board. Of course, a combination of overachieving play and traditional bad luck in the lottery process could derail this from happening.
Nevertheless, there is one player that Hornets fans should be keeping an eye on this year in college.
Unconventionally, this player will not perform for a typical powerhouse like Duke or Kentucky. Nor will he play in a traditional basketball conference such as the ACC and BIG 10.
Five-star recruit James Wiseman will be playing college ball at the University of Memphis in the AAC this fall.
The Tennessee native has a chance to revitalize a program that has been on a downfall ever since head coach John Calipari left to Lexington, Kentucky. Since Calapari’s departure, the team was never to escape farther than the third round of the NCAA Tournament despite having a 61% total win-loss percentage.
Luckily, Wiseman will be well-equipped coaching wise as the university hired former NBA All-Star Alfernee (Penny) Hardaway for the head coaching gig last season. Hardaway has experience coaching Wiseman as he was part of his ‘Penny’s Team’ AAU team in the summers before his commitment.
Having this personal connection with his coach is certainly a boost for not only Wiseman’s game but the program at large. Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis and DJ Jefferies are all four-star and above recruits who followed Wiseman to Memphis. This demonstrates that securing 2019’s top ESPN recruit is a major selling point for future talents to play under Hardaway’s system for years to come.
Now, as to why Wiseman should be worthy of a high draft pick next season, there are many tantalizing features that he brings to the table.
Standing at seven feet with an uncanny 7’6” wingspan, Wiseman has the measurables that make him a true physical threat, even at the age of 18.
Wiseman’s exceptional frame allows him to play at a level that not many college and pro players can accomplish. This tool is the wherewithal to play above the rim. From alley-oop finished to tenacious slams, the big man is a nightmare for opposing defenders in the paint.
One of the more overlooked aspects of his game is his soft touch near the rim. Having mastered the hook shot, Wiseman has continued to craft his sense of timing and space needed to score without having to drive inside every time. But, if he’s given enough space to work with, Wiseman’s quick and mobile frame sets him up to blow by his defender, allowing for with great shot attempts near the cup.
Playing this close to the basket has allowed more time to develop his rebounding game. At Memphis East High School, Wiseman secured a very impressive 14.8 rebounds to go along with his 25.8 points per contest. This willingness to crash the class makes him a second-chance threat nearly every time he gets a box out on offense. Fortunately, this determination is found on both sides of the ball as Wiseman solidified being an above-average class cleaner in high school ball.
Fortunately, Wiseman has adapted to the modern style of basketball as he has a candid ability to knock down shots from deep. His lefty shot is very fluid and consistent as there is not a single hitch throughout his entire jump shot form. Take a look at this video and you can see Wiseman’s confidence and tfhe poise he has when taking outside shots. Although these points may not be falling as consistent as those in the paint, showing this sign of an outside shot is certainly a positive so early in his career.
Flipping over to the defensive side, Wiseman has the capabilities of being a two-way freak.
In the painted area, he’s able to both alter and block shots close to his vicinity. This makes him an ideal rim protector if he continues to develop his craft from there. Although he showed this ability in high school, coming away with highlight-reel rejections, it’s important to see if this play will continue against players who will better emulate his height in college.
The one noticeable weakness in Wiseman’s game is one I call “RJ Barrett Syndrome.” Barrett, the third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, uses his dominant left hand in nearly all of his shot-creating moves. This trait has been Barrett’s bread and butter since high school and is the primary reason why he’s such a gifted scorer with the ball in his hand.
However, when opponents block that left side, it puts Barrett in a real predicament. He finds difficulty in making drives and shots off-the-dribble using his weaker right hand, which may cause erratic play if given the circumstances. This reliance on one side is also mirrored in Wiseman’s game as although he’s able to create shots well off his left side, his lack of ambidextrous moves makes it difficult for him to become comfortable in any offensive scenario.
Another small note is the lack of Wiseman’s upper-body strength. Despite standing at 240 lbs, he needs to continue to work in the weight room to better position himself on the boards and near the rim. If he does complete this process, and his body is where it needs to be, then Wiseman has the physical tools needed to stand his ground against bigs in the association.
Barring injury, Wiseman looks to be a one-and-done prospect at Memphis. He will most likely to declare for the draft shortly following the 2019-2020 college basketball season. He’s already projected to land in the draft’s top five selection despite playing a position that doesn’t have as much value as it’s received in the past.
Fit with Charlotte
If the Hornets were able to snag him early in the next year’s draft, it would an ideal fit.
Heading into another iteration of a revamp mode, the Hornets are looking for players who first, possess the most experience and upside. This means players who have a proven track player while also displaying signs of future growth. One example is Dwayne Bacon, who has continued his success from Florida State onto the NBA stage.
Second, the front office should look to find players who fit well into their culture and scheme. It seems like coach Borrego and his staff are establishing a new culture, as I highlighted in this piece. Miles Bridges’ ability almost every position is a perfect example of how Borrego wants to run a modern style approach to the game.
Looking at the Hornets current roster, there is one underlying position that needs to be addressed.
At point guard, the team invested $58 million to Terry Rozier while maintaining the services of former lottery pick Malik Monk. Although these two may never be the player that Kemba Walker was at this position, having these two players under contract demonstrates that the front office is “locked-in” at that role for the foreseeable future. Of course, they may be so intrigued by North Carolina guard Cole Anthony or France’s Theo Maledon that they do pull the trigger on this prospect based solely on talent. But that’s a story for another time.
At the forwards’ spots, the combination of Bacon, Miles Bridges and rookie PJ Washington looks to negate the need to invest heavy draft capital on these positions.
This leaves one final spot open for discussion: The center.
Cody Zeller, although an excellent screen-and-role player, has not lived to the hype of being selected fourth overall back in 2013. His lack of a jump shot, though is still steadily improving, is still a major setback in his game. For a team like Charlotte who’s looking to reshape its identity over the next three to five years, looking at a two-way five should be one of or if not the priority moving forward.
As such, plugging in Wiseman would virtually solve that need in a big way.
Wiseman is athletic enough to run with the young wings on the team, opening up for enticing transition opportunities off a fastbreak. His improved box-out ability should allow the Hornets to receive more rebounding chances, a category which notched them a second-to-last place in the league last season. Combine this with his flashes of interior defensive superiority, and you have a player who can help become the anchor in a new area of Hornets defense.
Offensively, Wiseman would be a great pairing with Borrego’s style of play. The Hornets have increased the tempo since his arrival, and have put up more shots per game as a result.
Putting Wiseman at the five would allow the team to pursue a ‘five-out’ offense, which a scheme that puts all offensive players out on the perimeter. Doing so would dramatically increase the amount of space to work with inside the three-point line, a facet that would result in a lot more cutting action to the basket.
With comparisons being made to both Chris Bosh and Anthony Davis, the hype is certainly there for the 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year. If he continues to show his talent at Memphis, there is no question he would be deserving of one of the top picks in next year’s draft.
Wiseman will be 19 years old heading into the 2020 NBA Draft. For an upcoming Hornets season that will inevitably experience heavy losses, this young man may be the sign of hope for the team moving forward.
If picked a year from now, James Wiseman has all the characteristics you want in a franchise-changing big man.