Everything You Need To Know About James Wiseman

Since day one, James Wiseman's size, athleticism, and defense have made him a top prospect in this year's draft.

Since he emerged on the high school and AAU scene, James Wiseman has been considered a top 2020 NBA Draft prospect despite the declining reliance of the big man. Wiseman’s size, agility, and athleticism make him an appealing blend of the traditional rim protector and modern big man.

The NBA offense continues to move farther away from the hoop, but having a great rim protector has never been more critical. With teams continuing to spread the floor, they are taking more threes, but this change in philosophy also creates more uncontested paths to the rim. If a team can’t protect the rim anymore, their defense will be in shambles.

When looking at some of the best NBA defenses like the Bucks, Lakers, and Jazz, a common thread is that they all have some elite rim protectors. Sure, they also have some versatile wing defenders, but those wings are given a longer leash because of the safety net they have supporting them at the rim. This skill is how Wiseman proves that he is still worthy of being an early lottery pick.

At 7’1 with a 7’6 wingspan, Wiseman has an ideal frame for a traditional rim protector. When you include his explosiveness, agility, and instincts, it’s challenging to construct a more intriguing prototype for a young center.

One of the essential traits of rim protectors is their ability to rotate and affect a shot even if their man is away from the ball. In the below clip, Wiseman displays his awareness and explosiveness. The play begins with Wiseman defending his man near the free-throw line. Wiseman has an open stance that allows him to keep an eye on his man but also keeps him in a position where he can easily rotate to the rim. As the ball enters the post, Wiseman knows the opponent is going up for a shot once he makes the power dribble. Wiseman leaves his man and explodes to pin the ball off the glass.

Wiseman may get away with goaltending here, but it shows how quickly Wiseman can react when he’s defending off-ball and how explosive he is as his head is at the rim.

A major knock on many weak-side rim protectors is that they chase blocks and aren’t that great of defenders because their lack of discipline is exploitable. There are some examples of this in Wiseman’s tape because what young, athletic freak doesn’t want to block everything? The majority of the time, though, Wiseman has excellent discipline and timing. While this is great for his weak-side rim protection ability, he is equally effective when he is defending in the post.

Even though we see fewer and fewer post-ups in the NBA, there are still centers that have a highly advanced post-up game that can give opponents problems. Below, Wiseman shows off his patience and agility against this season’s PAC-12 top-scoring freshman, Isaiah Stewart. Wiseman initially does an excellent job of bodying up Stewart, which forces him to pick up his dribble. Wiseman then proceeds to adjust to but not overcommit on multiple up-and-under moves. Instead of going for the block right away, Wiseman uses his length to contain Stewart and then eventually force him into taking a more difficult shot that ends up getting blocked. 

The NBA has plenty of solid post defenders, but many of them don’t have the agility to move on the perimeter, which forces them off the floor in crucial spots. While Wiseman’s explosiveness and rim protection are intimidating, his coordination and ability to defend on the perimeter are the most promising aspects of his defensive upside.

As we can see here, Wiseman knows how to use his length and positioning to contain quicker opponents. Wiseman knows that if he tries to cut off the drive, he will likely commit a foul, and if he tries to switch back to his man, the opponent will get an easy layup. Instead, Wiseman funnels the drive towards the baseline. This decision gives the ball handler a path to the rim and allows Wiseman to stay in proper defensive positioning where he can use his length to time his jump and block the shot.

Not all quality defensive plays have to result in a block or turnover either. Wiseman’s perimeter agility is also evident when he defends the pick-and-roll. The below example may not seem like much, but it is an example of the type of play we’ll more commonly see. Wiseman is playing drop coverage to perfection. As the ball handler comes off the screen, Wiseman doesn’t come up to meet him but instead stays at a distance where he won’t get blown by and can still contest a pull-up jumper. Wiseman proceeds to contain the drive long enough for his teammate to recover and then seamlessly drops back to his man rolling to the rim.

Again, Wiseman shows his ability to read and adjust to the pick-and-roll. As the screen comes, Wiseman hedges hard on the ball handler, which forces him to pick up his dribble. Then as the ball moves, Wiseman recovers on his initial man before again hedging hard and forcing the ball handler to pick up his dribble.

These may seem like inconsequential plays, but in the aggregate and flow of the game, they can make a significant defensive impact. Wiseman has proved that he won’t be one of the rim protectors who can be taken advantage of and played off the floor because of his perimeter agility and awareness.

The main selling point on Wiseman is his defense, but there are some exciting aspects of his offensive game. Wiseman has a high motor that is clear in transition. The below clips are a couple of examples of Wiseman’s eagerness to run and versatility in transition. With his speed at 7’1 237 pounds, there won’t be many defenders eager to get in his way. Even when they do, Wiseman has the agility to sidestep them if he doesn’t feel like going through them.

Similarly, to Wiseman running in transition, opponents will not be fond of getting in his way when he rolls to the rim. Wiseman not only has the frame of a good screener; he has the willingness to set solid screens. This trait may seem frivolous, but so many young centers set weak screens that are ineffective and essentially add nothing to the offense.

As we can see below, Wiseman is happy to make contact while setting a solid screen. This screen takes the ball handler’s defender out of the play and forces Wiseman’s defender to make the correct read. Wiseman then roles hard for an uncontested lob as the weak-side defender makes a business decision not to make his rotation.

One of the biggest concerns with Wiseman is his offensive versatility. He projects as a good rim runner, but that isn’t enough offensively anymore for a franchise center. We’ve seen some fluidity and finesse to Wiseman’s shot attempts from the post. Wiseman has said that he’s improving his outside shot and will be able to knock down threes. I am incredibly hesitant to buy into any of that propaganda, though.

I do believe that Wiseman will develop a solid midrange and turnaround jumper out of the post, but to expect him to develop an outside shot anytime soon seems like fool’s gold. Wiseman’s desire to be a center who can stretch the floor leads to him taking too many ill-advised shots.

I like the fact that he wants to improve; the problem is that he is trying to implement skills he doesn’t have into games. By doing so, he can disrupt the offense, take bad shots, kill the offensive flow, and misread the floor.

In this clip, Wiseman shows his longing to be a finesse scorer by taking an unwarranted turnaround jumper. As Wiseman gets the ball in the lane, all he needs to do is take one power dribble towards the rim and finish with a dunk or floater over the smaller defender. It is a remarkably simple scoring opportunity. Instead, Wiseman is deterred by the smaller defender and opts for an off-balance, contested fadeaway that misses badly.

Wiseman has the skills to be more than just a rim runner, but instead of trying to add these complex fadeaways to his game, I’d much rather seem him develop a consistent mid-range shot. This skill would allow him to face up in the post and diversify his scoring threat as a screener.

Going forward, James Wiseman will be a lock to be at least a strong rim protector, rebounder, and rim runner. He has the foundation of a more skilled DeAndre Jordan but has the potential to develop a much more varied skill set. The concern is if that is worth one of the top picks in the draft. If Wiseman is unable to be more than just an at rim threat, he will likely be viewed as a disappointment despite being an active defender and rebounder.

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