This was supposed to be the year James Wiseman justified the advertising campaign.
Newcomer Memphis entered the season as the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft, but questions were wrapped around his approach to the game and his placement in the modern NBA. We now know that these questions will not be answered.
After just 69 minutes of action to start the season, Wiseman officially retired from Memphis after an NCAA suspension that would have kept him sidelined for 12 games.
“I did not expect what I expected to be my time, but I am grateful to everyone who supported my family and I during this process,” Wiseman said in an December 19 Instagram post. “I want to thank the coaches and staff for all their support and my teammates who pushed me daily into practice. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be a Tiger and to have the honor of playing with this special group of people.
“I can’t wait to see what they accomplish this summer. Tiger Nation fans and fans will always keep a place in my heart.”
NBA MOCK DRAFT 2020: Where’s Wiseman?
Since talent evaluators won’t see Wiseman again, it feels like a good time to recap what we’ve seen so far from an NBA prospect with an eye on where he might end up coming in June.
Wiseman’s profile starts with the enormous size of his frame. On the day of the Tigers’ championship earlier this year, he measured 7-5 wings and 9-6. These numbers mean Wiseman as one of the biggest prospects in recent memory, placing him somewhere between Myles Turner and Rudy Gobert.
The defender, his length only means the 18-year-old is capable of patrolling the interior like some other college students. Here, for example, blocks a shot near the top of the platform behind Illinois Chicago:
Opponents made just 32.8 percent of the two markers with him on the floor this season, per Hoop Lens analogue. On its own, Wiseman averaged 5.2 blocks per 40 minutes with a blocking rate of 15.0%. Freshmen don’t tend to keep those numbers all season long – so that could be a special defensive outlook.
These block numbers are important because they help highlight the Wiseman floor. If he had continued his career in Memphis, he probably would have hit benchmarks indicating a successful NBA career.
Suppose Wiseman posted a more reasonable blocking rate of just over 10.0 percent while continuing to post a 20.0 percent defensive rebounding rate throughout the season. Only 15 youngsters 6-10 or older have hit those numbers since 2008. This team includes Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Turner, along with Nerlens Noel, Larry Sanders and Hassan Whiteside.
Wiseman is still obviously an incomplete defender. He’s young and greedy. He likes to chase blocks, wanting to put a ball in the crowd for the highlight play. It may lead him to look quite silly in imitation of the pump:
He’s not there yet as a defender. It is never clear that he will ever be a big one who can steadily shift to smaller keepers.
Wiseman struggles to turn his hips to match the movements of opposing guards. He is able to compensate against smaller athletes with his length, recovering to challenge the shot from behind. It is less likely to do so with the advantages:
Given the success of several NBA teams that have been dealing with fall coverage, Wiseman’s inability to be a fully variable big on the perimeter is probably worth more than a side note rather than a definitive concern. He seemed logical in covers that didn’t require him to change and his reputation for playing in high school didn’t seem to travel to college.
For the moment, protecting his lip and bouncing mean that his overall defense potential includes some elite.
However, in order to be a franchise center and one of the best in the league – a fair hope for a team that picks him in the top three – Wiseman should be more than just a defensive player. Using ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus from last season, it’s easy to see the most aggressive centers in the NBA usually contributing on both sides of the ball:
This is where it becomes more difficult to justify Wiseman as a top choice. Certainly not close to owning Jokic’s past grade. He finished with an assist in three games in Memphis. During the last year of the Nike EYBL game, he recorded 14 in 21 games.
Embiid’s dominant post-game is also missing, and not because of lack of opportunities. Many of Memphis’s offensive possessions involved Wiseman in the block with his hand raised. When he gets the ball, there aren’t many signs of an advanced postseason game like the one that hit Embiid in Kansas. Remember Shake Dream?
Assuming he is willing to embrace a smaller role, Wiseman may still have a positive impact on the offense largely thanks to his running lip. It runs the floor well in transition and understands that there are strips that need to be filled and that can lead to easy noise:
At half court, Wiseman’s best offense comes from the bullets. It can occasionally relax with its screen. When engaged, it is able to set space-generating screens and force defensive adjustments. The result is often an open dunk for him on the rim:
If there is a criticism, it is that Wiseman is a 2-foot leaper who can take time to load for his tack. The good news is his long hands means he doesn’t have to go very far.
Beyond the rim running, Wiseman may also have some untapped potential as a jump shooter. He’s not someone who is likely to hit under sophisticated action in the future, but seeing his upside as a player capable of hitting 3-pointers, 3-pointers and some 3-pointers pick-and-pop doesn’t require much glance.
He had some impressive mid-range chips and is comfortable taking these types of shots:
They may be a little too comfortable with them. Concerns about the role arise because Wiseman too often jumps to his feet and in some cases does so early on in the watch at the expense of the offense as a whole.
Ejecting similar shots with eight seconds off would drive everyone crazy:
The young Memphis evolving into an All-Defense player of the future is in his fields. The Wiseman that becomes the focus of an offense in the mold of Jokic, Towns or Embiid probably isn’t.
Centers that produce the majority of their defense value can continue to make a significant contribution to victory. Consider this list from last season:
For now, Wiseman sits behind the best offensive creators in the class on my board. The rise of dominant guards such as Cole Anthony, Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Maxey are valuable than the archetype Wiseman represents, even if it is a safer bet.
Maybe the offense comes faster than expected with the NBA training. She is only 18 years old.
Unfortunately for Wiseman (and college basketball fans everywhere), he won’t have the opportunity to tell the criticism at the collective level.