Not long before the opening of the NBA season, Warriors center James Wiseman stood in a tunnel at the Chase Center and reflected on the path of his basketball career. His time on the court had been defined as much by what had not happened—to wit, Wiseman playing a lot of games—as by what had happened.
He played just three games at Memphis before a run-in with the NCAA ended his college career. He was drafted by the Warriors with the No. 2 pick in 2020, but played only 39 games as a rookie, injured his knee and did not play at all in his second year. In all, that meant Wiseman played 42 games in three seasons heading into his third NBA year.
There was ample criticism, both of Wiseman, of his mysterious knee injury and of the Warriors for choosing him ahead of point guard LeMelo Ball in the draft. He knows it, and has done his best to shrug it off.
“I have been through a lot of hard times,” Wiseman told Heavy Sports. “I have seen the negative side of social media in terms of myself. I don’t entertain that stuff anymore because it is negative and it is all gossip. I just focus on my priorities, getting in the gym and get better, working on stuff so I can be ready for the games.”
Has Wiseman Been ‘In Over His Head’?
But 11 games into this season, the Warriors have determined that Wiseman is not quite ready for the games. Coach Steve Kerr just was not comfortable playing Wiseman big minutes, and he was demoted, after averaging just 6.8 points in 11.5 minutes, to the G League. The Warriors hope he can get some playing time, reset his season and come back a useful member of what has been a very disappointing Golden State bench.
“He has looked (like he’s) in over his head,” one Western Conference coach told Heavy Sports. “You can’t have him on the floor with Draymond (Green) because they get real easy to guard with them together. And you can’t have him out there with a big role with the second unit because he is not good enough to carry that group. What do you do with him? I don’t think they know, so he is going to be down there (in the G League) because at least you know he will be on the floor.
“What’s tough for him is that it is a tough position to play for that team. You’re doing so much screening, you have to be constantly aware of your position on the floor and when you need to make your roll (to the basket) and when you need to go set another screen. You have to unlearn some of what you know about being a center.”
That echoes a concern in the Golden State organization that Wiseman was given too much responsibility in his first season, as the Warriors hobbled through an injury-ravaged season and Wiseman played 21.4 minutes per game. Kerr himself has worried about it publicly, and watching Wiseman’s struggles now in limited minutes, it’s fair to wonder if maybe he was on to something.
Wiseman, though, does not see it that way. He noted that his primary responsibilities are to set hard screens, dive to the basket and rebound.
“I can handle it,” he said. “I don’t think it was too much when I was a rookie. I feel like in terms of my inexperience, in terms of playing the NBA game, it probably was a little too much. But I feel like I can do anything, though, I am confident in myself.”
Wiseman’s Future: To Trade or Not to Trade
There has been chatter in NBA circles about the possibility of the Warriors trading Wiseman, with more experienced big men—swapping Jakob Poeltl of the Spurs for Wiseman is one trade possibility that has made the rounds—coming back in the deal.
The Warriors also could look to move Wiseman for general depth, which is a need for a team that ranks last in the NBA in bench net rating (minus-7.2). The likes of Toronto’s Gary Trent Jr., Utah’s Malik Beasley or Memphis’ Dillon Brooks would be ideal, though the Warriors might have to give up too much (some combination of Donte DiVincenzo, Jonathan Kuminga and/or Moses Moody) to make salaries match for a deal to work.
Knowing what a good fit Gary Payton II was before leaving for a payday in Portland this summer, the Warriors even could look to swap Wiseman to the Blazers to bring him back.
But before purchasing Wiseman his Greyhound ticket to elsewhere, remember it will take a lot to push Golden State to deal Wiseman. Team owner Joe Lacob is one of Wiseman’s biggest backers, and the organization has appeared dead-set on proving that picking Wiseman ahead of Ball was the right choice.
Wiseman knows he has the backing of the boss. But he also knows that won’t matter much unless he defines his mostly nebulous place within this team.
“It is a great feeling,” Wiseman said of Lacob’s support. “But I don’t believe in none of the hype stuff. I just want to get better and be the best version of myself. All the hype stuff is good and all but I just want to focus on getting better.”