There are few prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft class that are more polarizing than former Memphis center, James Wiseman. Wiseman played three games as a Tiger before being ruled ineligible for accepting improper benefits (reminder that the NCAA stinks and needs to pay players), and most of his film from high school came against less-than-stellar opponents. His talent as a basketball player is kind of an enigma right now, but his unquestionable physical tools have him near the top of some draft boards, while his lack of polish has him in the mid-teens on others.
Height: 7’ 1”
Wingspan: 7’ 4.5”
Weight: 237 pounds
Strengths: size, athleticism, rim-running, rebounding
Wiseman is impressive without even having to play basketball. He’s well over seven feet tall, and his 7’ 4.5” wingspan is rare even amongst NBA bigs. He seems to have put on some solid muscle since he departed Memphis to train for the draft, too. Lateral quickness isn’t a “strength” per se, but it’s good enough, and his straight-line speed is top-tier for a center. Even if the skill portions of his game don’t develop smoothly, he could carve out a long-term role in the NBA as a rim-running big that hogs boards and plays with pace; that’s how physically gifted he is at 19 years old.
Mentioned above was his potential as a rim-runner if he doesn’t develop well; I also think this is his ideal role as a rookie, too. If the team that drafts him is expecting him to be able to create his own shot and be a catalyst for the offense, it probably won’t go well. If Wiseman can just focus on protecting the rim, learning how to anchor a defense, cleaning up missed shots on the offensive end and using his speed to finish in transition, it probably will go well. His physical tools are the best skill he has right now, and until the rest of his skills come along, it’s best to maximize the ones he does have instead of forcing his development.
Wiseman only played three games at Memphis, but his aggression and talent as a rebounder was evident. Being an absolutely massive human helps, but he knows how to time when he jumps and has good hands. He averaged 18.6 rebounds per-40 minutes, and even though it was against two mid-major teams and Oregon, that’s still an astronomical number. At the least, Wiseman is going to be able to catch lobs, finish in transition and on put-backs, and rebound the hell out of the ball in the NBA.
Question marks: feel for the game, shooting, fundamentals
This is where it gets interesting. For the amount of hype Wiseman’s getting as a potential No. 1 overall pick, he has a fair amount of question marks in his game. What sticks out the most is his lack of polish or “feel” while he’s on the court. Some players look more natural on a basketball court or with the ball in their hands than others, and Wiseman just doesn’t look natural sometimes. He isn’t effective in any way out on the perimeter, especially as a shooter or ball-handler. It can’t be understated how much those two skills would add to his game; he’s already got the speed and strength, and if he could force defenders to step out to him on the 3-point line and tighten up his handle, a new level for him as a scorer would be unlocked.
The following clip is an example of the points in the paragraph above; Wiseman has 6’ 1”, 190-pound Payton Pritchard in front of him in a late-game situation. It would’ve been awesome to see him body up Pritchard and bury him in the paint, or immediately rise up after the catch and show some touch from the mid-range rather than hesitating, fading away, and ultimately turning the ball over with a travel.
"It's not what you want -Joe Girardi" -me about Wiseman taking a fadeaway and turning it over late-game instead of ripping a mid-range jumper or backing 6'0" Payton Pritchard into the paint pic.twitter.com/Djpbt9fWwI— Chase Whitney (@chasewhitney_) August 12, 2020
Wiseman’s shot form looks workable, and he shot 70.4 percent (19-for-27) from the free throw line at Memphis. There’s potential for him to become somewhat of a floor-spacer, but his style of play doesn’t really lend itself to the perimeter (0-for-1 3PT at Memphis). He seems to prefer to do his work in the paint and use his size to his advantage, although that advantage is much smaller in the NBA than in high school or college. Even if he never develops a 3-point shot, though, a mid-range game of some sort will be necessary for him to be more than a one-dimensional offensive player.
Currently, Wiseman offers very little in the form of playmaking, which isn’t a huge deal for a center, but with the attention he draws near the rim it’s important for him to be able to read the floor. That’s a skill that should develop as his feel for the game gets better, though.
It wouldn’t be the least-bit surprising if Wiseman ends up a Hornet on draft night, provided he’s available when they pick. The team needs athleticism and rim protection in the front court, and Wiseman offers the potential to fill those holes. He could play a lot right away, giving him the opportunity to play through his mistakes, and he shouldn’t feel pressured to contribute because the Hornets will be a bad team. Having a pick-and-roll maestro such as Devonte’ Graham at point guard will help him get clean looks as a rookie. Wiseman’s floor is substantially lower than other big man prospects in this draft, but some team is going to fall in love with his size and potential.