What did James Wiseman show the Golden State Warriors in his first NBA game?

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images /

James Wiseman made his NBA debut for the Golden State Warriors, assembling an impressive box score line in just 24 minutes.

For a depressing and injury-ravaged season, the Golden State Warriors were rewarded with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The assumption was that they would try to flip it for a veteran star who could help them reload for another title run but in the end, they took ultra-athletic and ultra-raw big man James Wiseman.

Wiseman was one of the highest-ranked prospects in his high school class but ultimately played just 69 minutes at Memphis because of eligibility issues, before withdrawing to prepare for the draft. With such a small sample of tape for scouts and draftniks to obsess over concerns rose about Wiseman’s decision-making at both ends and ability to translate his elite athleticism into functional production.

The book on draft night was that he was immensely talented but much rawer than some of the other prospects and potentially a much bigger risk.

The Warriors didn’t get a chance to see Wiseman in game action during the preseason, as he recovered from a COVID-19 infection. However, he was healthy enough to play on Opening Night and with Draymond Green out of the lineup, Steve Kerr opted to throw his rookie big man into the starting lineup.

What did the Warriors see from James Wiseman?

By virtue of a game that got quickly out of hand — Brooklyn led by 18 at halftime and 30 at the start of the fourth quarter — Wiseman was on the floor for 24 minutes and put up some impressive numbers. He finished with 19 points on 7-of-13 from the field, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, a turnover and 2 personal fouls.

The highlight you’ll see most often is this one, of Wiseman knocking down a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from above the break.

It’s an exciting shot for a 7-footer, especially one who attempted just one 3-pointer in his 69 minutes at Memphis and just six long 2-pointers. But that wasn’t the only important jumper he hit. Later in the fourth quarter, Wiseman also hit a pair of long 2s after catching in isolation and sizing up his defender.

In all, Wiseman was 3-of-6 on shots outside the paint. Obviously, this is a sample of one game and six shots, but it’s instructive as a vision of what Wiseman’s ceiling looks like. If he can hit those shots consistently, he’s drawing a big man defender out of the paint and creating opportunities for himself to use his quickness to attack off the dribble (like he did in the first quarter with what was arguably his most impressive play of the game).

Wiseman is left-handed, so he’s finishing with his dominant hand, but it’s still impressive touch on the move, through traffic. And the player he’s initially beating with his first step is Jeff Green, not exactly a plodding big man.

As good as Wiseman looks on this handful of plays, we’re probably still a long way away from him consistently making these kinds of plays in meaningful situations. But, again, it’s good to know what the ideal looks like and seeing it, to any degree, in his very first game is encouraging.

The rest of Wiseman’s performance was bit more conventional and closer to expectations. He looked lost on defense at times, including losing track of DeAndre Jordan on a back cut lob. But he also broke up a lob in a similar set and finished with a pair of steals to just two personal fouls. As a rookie big man, his ratio of steals and blocks to personal fouls is going to be a huge indicator of where he is on his defensive developmental curve and going even is a good sign, even if it was at least somewhat random.

Wiseman also rebounded in his area and filled space with cuts and rolls to the baskets, finishing some easy baskets off sharp passes from Stephen Curry. This is Wiseman’s floor and probably closer to what the Warriors should expect for most of his rookie season — a mixed-bag on defense with some space-eating in the paint at the other end.

In terms of what this first game tells us about what to expect on Christmas against the Bucks and for the rest of this season, not much. Wiseman showed some highs, some mediums and some lows, in a game that was probably closer to a preseason level of intensity (at least in the second half) than what he’ll see over the next few weeks. But he didn’t look as raw as some doom-and-gloom scouting reports may have implied and if he’s able to simply stay on the court with rebounding, finishing and being an enormous body between the basket and opposing scorers, it could speed up his development.

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