In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we glance at Memphis center James Wiseman.
For NBA Draft enthusiasts, James Wiseman has been a well-known entity for a long time. Wiseman ranked as the No. 1 high school prospect in the country according to the 247Sports composite, and his commitment to play for Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers drew a great deal of attention. In fact, fallout from that decision actually led to NCAA scrutiny and, after just three college games, Wiseman’s collegiate journey came to an end, leaving NBA teams to rely on a (very) limited college sample, in combination with high school and AAU performance.
In those three college games, Wiseman posted impressive box-score numbers, averaging 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest. He was utterly dominant against South Carolina State and Illinois-Chicago and, while he had issues in his highly anticipated matchup against the Oregon Ducks, Wiseman finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. He did fail to establish himself on the interior at times in the game, and with foul trouble, observers weren’t blown away with the one-game sample.
In order to get a feel for Wiseman, one simply has to consume pre-college film. There is something to be said for what he was able to put on film at Memphis but, for vocal supporters and detractors, there is just enough there to fuel the fire. For a bit of background on Wiseman, who is widely projected to be a top-three pick in the upcoming 2020 class, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic wrote the following in projecting him to the Golden State Warriors at No. 2 overall.
I’ve slid Wiseman up to No. 2, not because I think the Warriors are necessarily likely to take him, but rather because I think he’s the most likely target for a team in a trade. Having talked to sources who have seen Wiseman work out in Miami, there is some real enthusiasm about his play. He’s looked dominant in workouts and in the runs with other high-level NBA Draft prospects. A lot of executives I’ve spoken with actually consider Wiseman to be among the safer players in the draft. Simply put, few executives doubt that his size, length and athleticism will translate into being a starting quality NBA center.
Where the disagreement comes is with whether or not he has star upside, something that is necessary for a team to be willing to take a center at the top of the draft in today’s day and age. Some think his defensive ability on the interior does bring that kind of upside. Others are less convinced. Ultimately though, I do think Wiseman is more likely to go somewhere in the top-five than just about any other prospect.
Vecenie’s assertion that the “star upside” is largely the point of diversion on Wiseman’s evaluation is appropriate. On one hand, Wiseman’s physical tools are undeniable, standing at 7’1 with a reported 7’6 wingspan, enormous standing reach and a chiseled physique. From there, Wiseman’s movements are breathtaking in a straight line and, when he can load up to elevate, the results are staggering. On the flip side, he does have weaknesses and, perhaps more importantly, the jury is out on “traditional” centers and their value in the modern NBA, particularly without dominant offensive skill sets.
On the offensive end, Wiseman sometimes fancies himself as a perimeter player and, as such, he tends to float in search of jump shots or even play-making opportunities. While it isn’t as if he can’t do those things, Wiseman is currently best-suited as a rim runner, putting pressure on the opposition by taking advantage of his frame and vertical athleticism.
As a lob threat, Wiseman doesn’t get off the floor with quick jumping ability, but that is mitigated by his physical stature. He does have impressive body control for a young player of his size, but there is some uncertainty as to how committed Wiseman is to the pick-and-roll game with the consistency needed to maximize his tools.
In the post, Wiseman isn’t a dynamic threat at present, at least when defended by like-sized players. On the positive side, that isn’t a trait currently emphasized in the NBA game outside of elite-level shot creators (a la Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid), but Wiseman could benefit from additional polish that he will undoubtedly seek in his development.
Shooting is a potential swing skill for Wiseman at the NBA level, even while acknowledging that he can absolutely be a positive offensive player, even without extending his range. Wiseman flashes solid touch for a 7-footer on film but, as noted previously, he is sometimes eager to settle for shots that are suboptimal in nature. Part of that could be the boredom associated with a thoroughly dominant player at the high school level and, if nothing else, the reports noted by Vecenie above about Wiseman’s dedication are encouraging. Still, he needs to translate his physical dominance to the court, and there is at least some concern that he hasn’t quite come to grips with his role as a rim runner and interior force, rather than a multi-faceted creator.
On the defensive end, Wiseman’s physical tools are enough to make him a tantalizing prospect as a rim protector. His post defense isn’t tremendous at this stage, though he hasn’t been tested in that way due to his physical advantages. He does have a high center of gravity, which could be a concern at the NBA level, but professional strength and conditioning staffs could also help to mold his frame to combat that vulnerability.
Wiseman is on track to being a defensive force, with his wingspan, vertical athleticism and impressive quickness when compared to players his size. At present, he is best utilized in a “drop” pick-and-roll scheme, with Wiseman not flashing the kind of switchable deployment that teams may like to use on the perimeter. That is a mild concern but, at the same time, it is possible that Wiseman is the kind of dominant rim protector — a la Rudy Gobert, though no one should be compared to him — that can lead a team to mold the scheme to his talents.
Part of the aforementioned divide about Wiseman’s upside as a prospect can be traced to just how good his defense might be. Virtually everyone agrees that he projects to be a plus defender, and that is a huge reason why he is a consensus lottery pick despite the lack of top-end competition in his past. However, Wiseman simply being a good defender, rather than an elite one, could swing his evaluation.
On the whole, Wiseman’s evaluation is incredibly interesting on a number of levels. There is consensus on his physical offerings and, in short, it would be a surprise if Wiseman “busted” as a result. He simply has too much to offer as a pick-and-roll center that can protect the rim defensively.
However, Wiseman is projected to be drafted in a range that dictates that he be more than simply a solid-or-better center in the modern game. Because of the NBA’s general pivot away from pure center prospects, Wiseman’s easiest path to dominance comes with high-end defense that can buoy his team’s overall performance on that end of the floor. Offensively, some view him as a potential game-changer but, in short, there is less clarity about that, especially given his previous reluctance to fully commit to the role of a rim-runner.
Comparisons run the gamut, from David Robinson on the (very) high side to Hassan Whiteside on the more skeptical side. How one views his offensive repertoire and defensive ceiling dictates that projection. For the most part, Wiseman is seen as a relatively “safe” pick, even in the top five, and that can be traced back to the fact that he is 7’1 with a 7’6 wingspan and high-end body control and physicality. Players with his measurements and physical tools have a low “bust” rate, all things considered.
For the Atlanta Hawks, Wiseman is likely to be off the board by the time Travis Schlenk exercises his first pick at No. 6 overall. Prior to the acquisition of Clint Capela in February, the Hawks were a very logical landing spot for Wiseman but, after that transaction and the lottery, Atlanta fell down the list of of potential suitors, simply because the Hawks already have a quality starting center and the team isn’t likely to be staring at Wiseman on the board when they make a selection.
Wiseman is a tantalizing prospect and, with the nature of the NBA Draft dictating that it “only takes one team” to make a move, it seems like a mortal lock that he will be a top-three pick. Whether he returns value on that investment remains to be seen but, at the very least, Wiseman will be a fascinating player to monitor after his pre-college success and lack of on-court deployment over the last 20 months.