Beat The Draft: James Wiseman, Draft Him or Not?

What history tells us about James Wiseman's prospects

I’ve invented a game called Beat The Draft.

It was inspired by the difficulty of projecting James Wiseman’s NBA career without any real college track record (69 minutes).

This began by my realizing that lots of smart people (including many LGW fans) are a lot higher on Wiseman than I am. The Warriors themselves are very interested in Wiseman. So to educate myself, I started a dry analysis of similar draft prospects in NBA history. However, to make it more interactive and fun(?) for you, I’ve converted it into a game format.

James Wiseman Types

For our first few rounds, I decided to focus on past draftees that had similar mystery profiles to James Wiseman. I looked up every NBA draft pick that was:

  • an American high school student (thus with similar lack of college track record)

  • an NBA first round draft pick (since the Lottery was introduced in 1985)

  • 6’ 11” or taller

This is your last chance to play before we reveal all the answers. The players’ pre-draft scouting reports and other stats and honors are provided in each Game.

Game #4 Answers

Okay this was a bit of a trick question. C was Jermaine O’Neal (see below for the career thumbnail) and H was James Wiseman himself. But maybe that gave you a chance to look at Wiseman again with new eyes.

The Secret Identities

This little study has made me feel much better about the idea of a James Wiseman draft pick. Out of seven similar players you have:

Here they are in descending Career Win Shares order.

  • D. Kevin Garnett (1996 #5). Report 1, Report 2. 9x All-NBA. Already in the Hall-of-Fame. Rookie year was an adjustment period, but was outstanding starting his second season.

  • G. Dwight Howard (2005, #1). Report 1. Report 2.. 8x All-NBA. A sure Hall-of-Famer and a very good player from his rookie season.

  • F. Tyson Chandler (2002 #2). Report 1. Report 2. 1x All-Star, 1x All-NBA, 3x All-Defensive. An excellent player, but didn’t really come on-line until his fourth season. To be fair, he was drafted onto the post-Last Dance Chicago Bulls with newbie coach Tim Floyd and chaos all around.

  • C. Jermaine O'Neal (1997 #17). Report 1, Report 2. 6x All-Star, 3x All-NBA. Barely used in his first four years in POR, which is certainly not what GSW would need out of Wiseman. In his defense, this was during the chaos of the Jail Blazers era. When JO went to IND, he had 8 solid years as an All-Star center, then fought injuries, then was a veteran role player, including a memorable stint for GSW for the 2014 Playoff run. 17 years in the league, 1011 games played, a very solid NBA career.

  • A. Andrew Bynum (2006 #10). Report 1, Report 2.. 1x All-Star, 1x All-NBA. Made big contributions to the Kobe Bryant - Pau Gasol Lakers Dynasty starting with the middle of his second season. Could never shake injuries, possibly related to weight challenges, which limited him to 418 games and made him a disappointment for PHI. CLE and IND.

  • B. Eddy Curry (2002 #4). Report 1. Report 2. Widely regarded as a bust. Drafted into the same post-apocalyptic Bulls crapshow as Chandler (in the same year as Chandler and Kwame Brown!!) Didn’t break into the Bulls starting lineup until his third year. He managed to stick in the league for 7 total years of playing a lot of minutes for bad teams at around a replacement level (~ 0.0 Value Over Replacement Player). His weight was a constant issue and in 2009, he had some terrible personal tragedies which he described in a heart-rending Players Tribune article. These knocked out his faltering NBA hopes.

  • E. Kwame Brown (2002 #1). Report 1. Report 2. He managed to play a lot of NBA minutes for a legendary bust. He was so legendary, he gets brought up as the Worst Case Scenario in any discussion of a high school to pro prospect. 607 NBA games, 281 starts, even got the Warriors to throw $6.75M at him in 2011, so we’re not talking about a Hasheem Thabeet level bust. Also, he famously came into the league under the psychological torture, I mean mentorship, of Michael Jordan. One wonders if his career could have gone differently if he’d been drafted late lottery to a team that nurtured him.

  • H. James Wiseman … time will tell. Report 1, Report 2.

I came into this with a prejudice against players who were scouted as having maturity issues or not caring. But Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett got tagged with these labels and they turned out great. I would have missed them in the draft.

So this is a crapshoot indeed. I hope you learned something along the way. I sure did.

The Wiseman Mystery

Everyone agrees that drafting James Wiseman is a risk. The debate is how much of a risk. Here is my summary from the recent big Warriors 2020 Draft Pick Tournament.

James Wiseman is the most famous mystery big now, with essentially no college track record. His physical dimensions (7’ 1”, 7’ 6” wingspan, 240 lbs) and mobility have people comparing him to David Robinson. He flashes some skills with a jumper and post game, but it’s raw enough that multiple scouts are begging him on offense to embrace the JaVale McGee life of being a rim-running dunk machine and not a Pau Gasol finesse life, at least early. 

We have a thorough scouting report on Wiseman collecting reviews by lots of draft experts, as well as smart LGW comments.

Here are clips from a recent take by Anthony Slater

Seventy minutes… James Wiseman didn’t even get that many. He received 69. After that, because of an inane NCAA rule violation, his college career evaporated. 

Will he be receiving those tests as a member of the Warriors? We’ll see. There’s certainly a level of interest. They interviewed Wiseman over Zoom a couple of months back. They still hope to be involved in some sort of a draft combine and, if permitted, have several top prospects come to their facility for a private workout.

Wiseman is high atop the list of guys they’d want to scrutinize in person. They aren’t alone….

A veteran, acquired via free agency or using the trade exception, would be the safer one-year Band-Aid. But Wiseman, if he cracks anywhere near that high ceiling, could be a decade-long eventual All-Star answer. I’m not too sure how many prospects in this draft you can say that about.

What Do Past Scouting Reports Suggest About Wiseman?

After digging through these historical comparisons, I’m now a lot more comfortable if the Warriors draft Wiseman, assuming due diligence. The three lowest performers on our list were

  • Two players (Eddy Curry and Andrew Bynum) who fought weight-related issues that derailed their careers. Both of them had scouting reports that warned about their weight issues and listed them as 280+ lbs.

  • Kwame Brown, who was brought into the league in an soul-crushing, low-nutrient environment.

Eddy Curry and Kwame Brown have somewhat similar profiles to JaVale McGee pre-Warriors, so at worst, one can imagine a solid backup big role for a player like them. Bynum had spectacular peaks and played a key role to a dynasty, but was brought down by injuries.

As for the others, we have:

  • two Hall-of-Famers

  • a slow-starting, elite defender

  • a slow-starting, multi-year All-Star and All-NBA

James Wiseman is a US-high-school-to-pro, weight-stable player. Curry and Bynum had massive weight related issues and came in to the league at 280+ lbs. All the other prospects were listed below 240 lbs, including Wiseman, and they did great except for Kwame Brown. Wiseman has very similar “high school player of the year” type awards and national HS ranking to the other players and similar senior season team success.

So I’m not sure I’m all the way to “let’s draft Wiseman at #2”. I still love the unicorn dreams of trading the pick. But if we use the pick on Wiseman, I’ll have hope. At worst, he will be a disappointing but serviceable rim-running big (Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry), will probably be decent (thinking JaVale McGee with endurance), and you are buying a lottery ticket that you get an All-Star (Jermaine O’Neal, Tyson Chandler, Andrew Bynum) or maybe even an MVP candidate (Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard).