James Wiseman is a potential contender for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and appears to be at least top-three bound.
By far the best centre prospect in the draft -- drawing comparisons to the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, DeAndre Jordan and Rasheed Wallace because of his natural length, athleticism and ball skills for a man his size -- Wiseman looks to be the perfect modern five because of the variety of skills he brings to the table.
Unfortunately, like just about every other prospect in this year’s draft, there are holes in his game that he’ll need to shore up.
Here’s a little more on Wiseman and why, despite reservations, he’s expected to be taken high in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Height: Seven-foot-one | Weight: 237 pounds
2019-20 stats: PPG: 19.7 | RPG: 10.7 | BPG: 3.0
A lost year
The most important thing to understand about Wiseman and the main reason why there’s so much consternation with him is that he played just three games as a freshman at the University of Memphis this past college season.
Wiseman was ruled ineligible to play for Memphis after the NCAA found that Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway had acted as a booster when, according to the team, Hardaway paid $11,500 to Wiseman’s family to help them move to the city.
In the aftermath of the ruling, Wiseman’s lawyers went back and forth with the NCAA, which allowed the centre to play a single game before getting suspended again until on Dec. 19 of last year he finally decided to leave Memphis, hire an agent and prepare for the NBA draft on his own.
Because of the mess he found himself in with the NCAA’s wonky student-athlete eligibility rules, Wiseman was denied a season of collegiate basketball to show NBA talent evaluators what he can do against bigger, stronger and better competition than in high school.
But when you look at Wiseman’s numbers in the three games he played at Memphis, they absolutely jump off the page -- while its admittedly a minuscule sample size. That's not to mention his performance in high school where he was an absolute monster, being named the Gatorade national player of the year, Tennessee Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American selection.
Still, not playing for a year can hurt Wiseman’s stock as there’s just not a lot known about him even if he’s looked impressive in workouts. But playing in empty gyms doing drills is simply no substitute for the actual high-level competition of a full season with Memphis.
Has all the raw tools to be a great NBA centre
Despite the lost year, Wiseman is still considered a top prospect because he’s absolutely spectacular.
Standing seven-foot-one at a lean, chiselled 237 pounds with a seven-foot-six wingspan and possessing the ability to run the floor like a gazelle, handle the ball and shoot it with good form -- plus he's a lefty to boot -- Wiseman has all the raw talent to become a legitimate NBA star at centre. His versatile skillset when combined with his natural athleticism should allow him to do just about anything on the floor.
The modern NBA demands a lot of its centres with guys being required to keep up with guards when defending pick-and-roll and then recover back in time to protect the rim, while on offence they have to act as a rim runner and be a threat in pick-and-pop actions. Teams usually have guys that can do one or two of these, but the guys that can do all of that are the best centres in the league and Wiseman has that kind of potential.
Bit of a wild-card pick
Wiseman’s raw ability is undeniable but he still has question marks as a prospect, and this goes back to the fact he lost a year before the draft.
As mentioned off the top, Wiseman has a variety of NBA comparables because of his versatile skill set, but if we’re going to pick just one based off what’s best known of him, it would be Jordan on the Brooklyn Nets.
This is because, while Wiseman can turn into a good shooter as he appears to have pretty good mechanics, like many young players his shot selection is abysmal and he likes to settle for far too many early clock jumpers from all over the floor.
Perhaps if he played a full season of college it could've helped him develop some discipline, but from what we’ve seen of him, he’s a bonafide chucker and he would be best utilized as a rim runner rolling hard, catching lobs and protecting the rim like Jordan.
Wiseman’s potential is immense but like most big men, he’ll probably take a some seasoning to fully tap into it at the NBA level. He'll likely need a team that can afford to be patient with his development and won’t require him to be a do-everything star in order for him to reach his ceiling. The team in the range to draft him that would be the best fit is the Golden State Warriors. But the Dubs have never prioritized a big-time centre in the Stephen Curry era and it’s unclear whether that would start now.