Just 15 games into his tenure with the Detroit Pistons, there's already one thing we know for certain about James Wiseman: He is not a bust.
The "B" word was thrown around all too often during the first two and a half seasons of the 7-foot center's career, as he struggled to carve out a role and stay on the floor for the Golden State Warriors after being selected No. 2 overall in 2020. After much consternation, the Warriors made the difficult decision to part ways with the soon-to-be 22-year-old prospect, sending him to Detroit in a multi-player trade before February's deadline that ultimately yielded them a familiar win-now piece in Gary Payton II.
Having played three games in college before logging just 60 in the pros, Wiseman simply could not thrive in the defending champions' ecosystem that lacked the necessary tolerance for mistakes a player of his experience level required.
"It was just difficult for me to give James the runway that he needed," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the trade. "He was great every single day, came to work with a great attitude, a positive spirit. He's everything you look for in terms of his approach and his talent. But the timing was difficult, just given what he needed and where we are as a franchise."
Wiseman has been given ample opportunity with the rebuilding Pistons, and the early returns are encouraging. With bigs Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren and Marvin Bagley III in and out of the lineup with injuries, Wiseman has averaged 13 points, nine rebounds and a block in just over 26 minutes per game, while shooting 55 percent from the field. Perhaps his best game as a pro was a 22-point, 13-rebound effort against the Miami Heat, in which he shot 10 for 13 from the field and knocked down his only 3-point attempt.
Even this small sample should eliminate any discourse around Wismean being a bust. He's proven that he can, at the very least, be productive if given adequate minutes -- something that could not be said for notable NBA disappointments like former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and No. 2 selection Hasheem Thabeet.
|First Three NBA Seasons||PPG||RPG||FG%|
"He's athletic as heck," Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said of Wiseman. "He runs the floor and rebounds in his space. He knows how to use his length to deter shots around the rim. He has a good feeling with the ball. ... There are some things that seep out of his game every now and then that surprise you."
The bust conversation is over -- it frankly never should have started. But the other prominent conversation, about whether the Warriors made a mistake by giving up to soon on a 21-year-old 7-footer with upside, merits discussion.
If the Warriors fail to win another title and Wiseman blossoms into a multiple-time All-Star, the transaction will endure unending scrutiny. One thing we should not do, however, is use Wiseman's production with the Pistons as evidence that the Warriors made a mistake.
Wiseman has always put up numbers. That's never been the issue.
Even in what were considered disappointing seasons with the Warriors, he averaged 10 points and five rebounds in fewer than 19 minutes per game. His per 36-minute averages with Golden State were almost exactly on par with what he's done in his first 15 games for the Pistons. With the majority of Warriors starters sitting against the Brooklyn Nets in December, Wiseman scored 30 points in 27 minutes, going 12 for 14 from the field.
The Warriors surely knew that Wiseman's numbers would look good if they gave him enough playing time. But there simply weren't enough minutes to go around, and Golden State was downright awful with him on the floor.
In 262 Wiseman minutes this season, the Warriors' net rating dropped by a massive 19.3 points per 100 possessions. It's hard to overstate how bad that metric is, even factoring in that he generally played with the second unit. Perhaps the most telling stat is that when Wiseman was on the floor with Steph Curry -- basically a guarantor of an above-average offense by himself -- the Warriors mustered just 100.6 points per 100 possessions, nearly 10 points lower than the NBA's worst offense this season.
It just wasn't working on either end, and the sage Draymond Green thoughtfully helped explain why.
"Those types of guys usually are on teams that suck, and they can do whatever they need to do to improve," Green said in November of the team's three recent lottery picks -- Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. "That's not their situation. They're expected to contribute at a championship level."
Wiseman was a step slow on defense and had trouble finding his place in Golden State's read-and-react, quick-hitting offense, which has flummoxed players of all ages since Kerr took over in 2014. To acclimate he needed time, the one thing the Warriors could not provide with a rapidly closing championship window for their aging core of Curry, Green and Klay Thompson.
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Trading Wiseman not only brought in Payton, who played a prominent role in last year's championship, but it also saved Golden State roughly $37 million during this season and next, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, which can be used to improve the roster in any number of ways. With Green set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, perhaps some or all of those savings could be thrown in his direction.
Wiseman having success in Detroit is a tremendous development for a young man who has gone through some difficult times, including a knee injury that cost him the entire 2021-22 season -- but that doesn't mean the Warriors made a mistake by trading him. There's a universe in which Golden State wins another title or two while Wiseman evolves into an All-NBA talent with the Pistons. Given the way that Golden State glowingly discusses him, that scenario would likely bring his former franchise nearly as much joy as Wiseman himself.
"I did go to therapy a lot, just to express my thoughts and my feelings and how I felt," Wiseman said on Media Day before this season. "It was a hard time for me, especially going through that injury, because I love basketball so much and I just wanted to be out there with my team. When I wasn't out there, it was very hard for me.
"I just pushed through. I've just got that resilience to keep going. It's in my DNA. I'm not gonna ever give up, no matter how hard the situation is."