James Wiseman’s “clean opportunity”; DubNation’s farewell
[+notes/quotes/video from Detroit Pistons debut]
It seems James Wiseman is about to be a key cog in the Detroit Pistons’ rebuilding machine. The team’s beatwriters, James Edwards III of TheAthletic and Omari Sankofa of the Detroit Free Press wrote that how many minutes Wiseman can go “is on him” and “dictated by his conditioning” (see below), per head coach Dwane Casey. And then starting center Jalen Duren sprained his ankle and missed the festivities last night at the Rising Stars games at All-Star Weekend.
The LetsGoWarriors YouTube community got together last Wednesday night to essentially bid farewell to James as we don’t plan on doing another “second screen” for a Pistons game any time soon. And he delivered a solid and, quite frankly, expected 11-and-5, pretty much showcasing everything he showcased during his stint in the G League earlier this season.
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There was the force inside, the grace running 94 feet, the physical presence, but there was also the 0.2-seconds-late to rebounds, sticking out like a sore thumb whenever slow to or with the ball, the threes by the undeterred Celtics on switches and hopeless but well-intentioned close-outs, and the hunting of James on pick-and-rolls. So, same old same old, but still promising, which was also “same old”.
Below is a collection of our coverage. The notes at the bottom are a more refined version of those I took during the livestream which are available in the Description and Comments of it. A lot of the closing thoughts on Wise are contained there, way below near the bottom of this post.
But I’ll just end this foreword of sorts by saying, looking back at the bkref.com game logs to 2020, basically Wiseman got Wally Pipp’ed by none other than Kevon Looney. I welcome you to check my math, but my calculations show that Looney was averaging 4.3 rebounds per game up until Wiseman’s injury. After that? In the 19 subsequent games including the play-in loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Loon averaged 8.2 rebounds.
When Wise went down, the ensuing loss to the Houston Rockets dropped the Warriors to 25-28. But they finished the season 39-33. Kevon stepped up. Big time. And then, of course, the incredible 2021-22 season he had.
Steve Kerr did give Wiseman a chance in 2020-21, especially in the absence of Klay Thompson. James’ meniscus tear was just circumstances. Remember Kerr started Kent Bazemore? In a shortened 8-man rotation at the time, hunting a playoff spot but vulnerable to the play-in, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Jordan Poole and Mychal Mulder were the only guys who checked into games; ironically, Gary Payton II hardly saw any action, his biggest stints of 13 and 9 minutes coming in 30-point blowouts.
In the 2021-22 championship run that followed, Looney was obviously jaw-dropping good, Klay came back, the Warriors evolved on both ends, and proved that small-ball could win a championship (again).
As far as the 2020 Draft itself, Looney wasn’t fully healthy yet and the starting center, right before when the pandemic ended the season, was Marquese Chriss with Dragan Bender as the backup. No one else was taller than Eric Paschall. The consensus from all the Draft experts — and our own perusing of highlights, workout videos and so forth (watch the clickable embedded video above on Wise being the “no-brainer” at No. 2) — was that there was a big drop-off in talent after Anthony Edwards, Wiseman and LaMelo Ball.
With the huge void in the frontcourt we certainly weren’t picking what would’ve been a backup point guard in Ball and we weren’t trading down due to the consensus cliff after No. 3. Btw, Tyrese Haliburton was indeed on our radar but only with a ceiling of “Shaun Livingston 2.0” plus a three-point shot instead of Sdot’s reliable jumper — again, you don’t pick a backup point guard at No. 2 when your frontcourt is basically empty with no one knowing Looney would become as good as he’s become.
It’s nobody’s fault, guys.
• Dwane Casey pregame Pistons at Celtics: “We want to give him minutes. That’s why we traded for him… Clean slate. Letting him know this is a start-over. I don’t care if he was drafted one or 60. Let’s start from scratch. It’s a clean opportunity.” Said how many he can go is on him. Wiseman’s minute load tonight will be dictated by his conditioning, since he’s been off for a week. (James Edwards, Omari Sankofa)
• Dwane Casey postgame on Wiseman: "Even if he didn’t block shots, he was there. He was a big body at the rim and deterred some shots… He's going to be a good fit for us -- his length, his size -- once he gets good condition and used to playing basketball again." (Omari Sankofa, James Edwards)
• Casey said Wiseman got more minutes tonight to spell Duren, who tweaked his ankle. Didn't rule out the possibility of Wiseman playing with Stewart or Bagley down the road. (Omari Sankofa)
• Isaiah Stewart on Wiseman's debut: "He looked like the Wiseman I played against in high school. Offensively, he can do it all, and defensively just being a presence in the paint." (Omari Sankofa)
• Stewart said he has welcomed Wiseman with open arms. "We're on the same team now. I got his back." (James Edwards)
• James Edwards, Pistons beatwriter for TheAthletic, postgame locker room interview: https://theathletic.com/4209860/2023/02/16/james-wiseman-pistons-debut-celtics/
“It’s just different names,” Wiseman said of adjusting to the new plays he has to remember. “Same offenses, but just different names. I was out there hesitant, trying to figure out what to do. I’m going to get it.”
“I could do better,” Wiseman said when asked about his defensive performance. “My wind got to me a little bit. I’m going to do way better when I get my conditioning up.”
“Once he gets the feel for what we’re doing offensively with spacing — where to be, where to go — he’s going to contribute on both ends of the floor,” coach Dwane Casey said.
• Steve Kerr weekly radio interview with 95.7 The Game on what led to the end of James Wiseman's time with the Warriors: “Basically it just came down to his inexperience and where we are organizationally, trying to win a championship.”
• On Wiseman’s tenure with the Warriors: “I think, first of all, everybody here loved James, and I know that’s been a common theme and our affection for him because of what a hard worker he is and what a great young man he is. Just how much he wants it and how committed he is and just what he’s been through with the injuries, but I think between the injuries and the inexperience, coming to a team like ours, that’s fighting for championships and playing with a group that has been playing together for a long time, it was just difficult for me to give James the runway that he needed. He was, like I said, great every single day. Came to work with a great attitude and a positive spirit. He’s everything that you look for in a young player, 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. I think this will be good for him to hopefully get a chance to play and make the mistakes that he needs to make and have a runway and grow and develop into the player he can become because he’s got a lot of ability and we know he’ll work for it.”
• Dwane Casey after practice: “Talked to Steve (Kerr) yesterday, and they were just in a different mindset there as far as trying to win another championship, even though they wanted to develop their young guys, they worked with him. To get the opportunities he’s going to get here wasn’t there. He had to go play in the G League. Here he’s getting real minutes in the real league since we’re rebuilding and in development mode right now.” (Omari Sankofa)
• On integrating Wiseman: “It’s always a challenge when you have a new member come in and you lose a guy that was as significant as Saddiq. But it’s a challenge, a good challenge, to take a guy with the ability of Wiseman to try to plug him in and see where he fits in with us and how to play him as a five man in our league, and again to see if he can expand out away from the basket. Our challenge is to be creative and see what he can do away from the basket, to use his skills. He has a lot of skills even though he is seven foot. He gives us some length and some size at the rim as a shot-blocker. A lot of tools that we gotta see how we can plug in and fit in and try to make it work as far as him being a five man, or a four, to see who he is or what he is along with Bags and Duren and Isaiah.”
• James Wiseman (embedded clickable video above) at Pistons practice on the emotions of the GP2 issues with the trade: “Man, last few days have been crazy for me, just getting off the plane, doing my physical and stuff. Man, it was a lot and then what happened with the trade situation, but… just trying to take it one day at a time, praising everything.”
• On if he was confident during the Gary Payton II decision by the Golden State Warriors that he would stay with Detroit: “Yes, I was super-confident. I’m just embracing all the opportunities here, just a new start for me so I’m just embracing everything.”
• On what the expectations were of him, communicated to him by the Pistons: “I’m super-excited. At the end of the day, basketball is basketball wherever I go, wherever anybody go. So really, I’m just being humble, just putting in work, staying true to myself and really just trusting the process for everything.”
• Steve Kerr pregame Wizards [video will be posted when we post the super-long catch-up notes from Lakers, Wizards and Clippers] on the end of the James Wiseman era: "Everybody here loved James… I think between the injuries and the inexperience, coming to a team like ours that's fighting and playing for championships and a group that's been together a long time, it was hard for me to give James the runway he needed… I was all in on (drafting) James when we did. I was part of the group, loved the ability, loved everything that we saw." (CJ Holmes, Anthony Slater)
• Wiseman is not starting tonight but Detroit Pistons head coach said in the pregame that James will get as many minutes as he wants (based on conditioning, as he hasn't played in a week in an NBA game).
• Commenter William Dean: “We should've stashed Wise in the G.” The Warriors are in a mental funk, the hunger is missing, and what's not really talked about is that the roles of Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga have been heavily increased and so they're going to make a lot of mistakes (their focus won't always be there), plus you have new guys like Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green. Trading for Gary Payton II was the one move that would undoubtedly improve the team and so it had to be done. Therefore the Warriors could not stash Wiseman in G League and had to use him as a trade asset.
• At the 3min45 mark of Q1, Pistons starting center Jalen Duren tweaked his ankle vs. Al Horford. Wiseman checked in after the timeout to look at Duren. After the game, Duren was deemed unable to attend the Rising Stars game of All-Star Weekend. The return of Marvin Bagley III (hand surgery) is unknown, which means we could see Wiseman possibly start after the All-Star Break, should Duren not be ready by next Thursday.
• James wore No. 13 and began his debut with the Pistons by setting picks left and right and rim-running. At the 1min11 mark, he got his first bucket, a lefty banker.
• Notching a quick six points, the last field goal a jump hook over two guys, reinforced my belief that James is definitely serviceable long-term in the NBA, which means you never know, he could come back to the Warriors some time in the future — anything is possible long-term in this league.
• At the 8min00 Q2 mark, Duren returned for Wiseman. Perhaps Duren was running on adrenaline? Anyways, it ended with the two subbing for each other all night for that 5-spot. Wiseman also returned at the 2min28 Q2 and 6min57 Q3 marks. The Celtics started to focus on Wiseman in their offensive PNR, forcing switches, which is what the Dubs’ opponents would do, too. At the 10min50 Q3 mark, Wise beasted Grant Williams on a post up! James even returned at the 3min10 Q4 mark with Boston’s main guys still in the game, i.e., not garbage time.
• Looking back to 2020 and James’ injury, he was playing a lot, but by the time he came back, we had found guys who could be super-mobile in our offense and hold up on defense in guys like Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter (playing bigger, remember Porter started Games 4, 5 and 6 in the Finals), so we discovered that there are power forward types out there who can hit the three. By the time James came back, that became a staple of our offense. And then also don't forget James was still injured for the better part of 2022. During the time Wise was injured, the Kerr system evolved even further, Kevon Looney also got so much better to fit that style. So did the NBA, in having more guys like J-Mike or Otto, and anyone 6’7” or taller playing bigger. And because we have guys like Dray, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole, it's even more warped with our style, not to mention complementary athlete Andrew Wiggins. When you run a motion offense, it's hard to sustain that if you were to all of a sudden slow it down and run traditional “slow” pick-and-roll (PNR) with a guy like Wise. Oh, and finding themselves in must-win mode, everything this season has become a complex, intertwined and evolving problem.
As such, Steve Kerr’s system was designed to maximize Steph-Klay-Dray, after already seeing how far standard PNR could take the team (2013 WCS ouster by the San Antonio Spurs), and we saw how far the new system could take them: four rings, although two of them were all-time scoring machine Kevin Durant, so I’d actually exclude those two from the small-ball analysis because KD was and is so special. But let's not forget that a motion offense is also enhanced by one Draymond Green. The mobility, reaction time and screening of Looney also cannot be understated.
On defense and, in particular, JaMychal, was the Wizards game a showcase for J-Mike? As Cholo A. in our comments said, “The bulk of our defense is below the rim,” or “switchability”, as Bob Myers and Kerr like to say. Ergo, the template for any buyout candidate is, at a minimum, Looney.
Some might wish Kerr had a system he could deploy that was more multi-faceted than just “small-ball”. Without the ability to do a sit-down with Steve to probe all of those elements, I would first say that small-ball itself is already multi-faceted. A lot of it involves developing read-and-react habits which just can’t be messed with if we threw a traditional pick-and-roll set, which iirc we actually tried with Wiseman and Poole early in the season — again, a process that started shakily then simply got derailed by suddenly having to chase wins. That was my response to a commenter who suggested, “Coach gotta mix it up.” I’m just not sure it’s possible to have multiple systems especially when one of them is the most complex in the NBA and designed to maximize the weaponry and longevity of Steph-Klay-Dray.
As for Wiseman, he probably wins a 1-on-1 competition against all other centers in the NBA not named Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic. James does have a bag, but that’s not what’s needed in a gravity-based motion offense. It’s like if you were on the playground playing pickup, you’d probably pick Wiseman first. But constructing an NBA roster trying to repeat a run to the Finals, that ain’t happening.
And in the context of this season, don’t forget we also didn't have Wiggins for a month, one of the primary reasons the team has still been chasing wins on the scale of months.
Of course, the casuals on social media like to bully an easy target, so their anger is aimed at throwing Kerr or Myers under the bus. It should be noted that, aside from the continuation of “parade hangover” with the preseason sojourn to Japan, the Draymond punch of JP, JP and Wiggs signing extensions, the Opening Night Ring Ceremony — which if not for a vastly inferior LA Lakers roster at the time — they should’ve lost, what had not been acknowledged is Steph’s carelessness with the ball in the opening 0-5 road trip and subsequent key moments throughout the season. Dray is also guilty of this and, as leaders by example for GSW, this has been a problem all season long. The two have played down to the competition multiple times and the team has played unfocused, like they are in the pool play of an AAU tournament, tossing the ball around and making middle-school-like mistakes, such as throwing the ball into the stands down one with two minutes to go against the Minnesota Timberwolves. There are many, many lead passes by Dray to a cutter that we wish could be re-decided upon in hindsight, too.
And so there is a lot of blame to go around. We haven’t even talked about Poole’s lack of point-of-attack defensive fundamentals, the turnovers and indecisiveness with his bag, JK’s poor defensive game against the LA Clippers, which is an indication of the roller coaster ride of inconsistency inherent with the young guys, and Moses Moody’s fouling too much, just to name a few.
• Audience regular Percy Bedford mentioned that Anthony Slater said on a podcast last month that the vets didn't want to play youngsters, said it changed after the Warriors started the season 3-7. Looking at the bkref.com game logs for Moody and Wiseman, it can be deduced that the veterans meant they wanted to buckle down the roster a la Game 6 Boston and those particular individuals had to include Moses and James.
• As far as the “two-timeline” narrative, you can’t really judge how the second timeline has done until, well, you’re well into the second timeline! Diving into the history of the Spurs’ dynasty, there were many years where they got knocked out of the first round of the playoffs. As such, just making the first round of the playoffs should be considered the demarcation point of “not rebuilding”. I definitely do not want to sacrifice playoff appearances for a five-year-plus rebuild. Wiseman may have been a casualty of the current championship quest, but the roster as-is should be good enough, plus Kuminga, Moody, JP and Wiggs for the future.
• But the one thing that this season has done is crystallized the fact that here at LetsGoWarriors, we are having a great time coming from a position of abundance and not lack. The strength of the positivity of certain regulars in the live chat, spread out to newcomers, reinforces to me that what we are building is the correct thing to do.
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