By all accounts, the Golden State Warriors are a dynasty. Across the past eight NBA seasons, they’ve appeared in six NBA Finals, and have won four of them. Led by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and at times Kevin Durant, the Ws were the team of the late 2010s and now early 2020s.
As they’ve aged, the Warriors have tried to validate their “light years ahead” mentality by mixing their veteran core with younger prospects, with the hopes of having a two-timeline approach to team construction. Their highest selection, James Wiseman, was just traded to the Detroit Pistons in a four-team deal, even though the team was in on other centers.
He was the 2nd overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, despite NCAA bylaws getting in the way of him playing more than three games in his freshman season. He was a monster in high school, ranking as the top recruit in RSCI in the whole 2019 class. With those massive expectations coming out of high school and college, the narrative around Wiseman
Why the Warriors were right to give up on Wiseman:
When the Warriors drafted James Wiseman, they had just suffered a nightmare season right after Kevin Durant’s departure from the Nets. Stephen Curry broke his hand and missed the majority of the season, while D’Angelo Russell, meant as a recoup free agent, didn’t fit well enough with Golden State and found himself shipped off to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins.
As a rookie, Wiseman was somewhat productive but didn’t totally fit into the Warriors’ scheme. As a big designed to play in the drop on defense and as a pick’n’roll rim runner on offense, Wiseman didn’t fit into the switchy scheme on D and the ball movement scheme on O.
Wiseman had some bright moments, including a few standout scoring performances where his length, mobility, and touch were on full display:
Unfortunately, Wiseman wasn’t able to consistently contribute on the glass or on defense, leading to a streak of DNPs before an unfortunate meniscus injury ended his season prematurely. After missing the entire championship 2021-2022 season, Wiseman suffered some nagging injuries and similar development setbacks as his rookie year.
With the Warriors wanting to maximize their championship window and duck under the tax, they had to make a trade at the deadline. All of Jonathan Kuminga, Patrick Baldwin Jr., and Moses Moody showed enough flashes to keep them from being traded.
Instead, Wiseman was the odd prospect out, given he had the largest rookie salary and had fallen out of the rotation. Although it’s stark to see a former #2 overall pick leave in a glorified salary dump, especially for an injured player, the Warriors made the best move for them to pry their championship window open for just a bit longer.
Why Wiseman has a shot to succeed in Detroit:
The team that decided to take a flier on James Wiseman was the Detroit Pistons. After some early optimism about bouncing back from a lottery year, most of the goodwill was sapped from the team when Cade Cunningham had early season shin surgery. When they traded for Wiseman, the team was last in the East.
On the surface, it’s a puzzling fit. The crown jewel of the 2023 NBA draft is Victor Wembanyama, a generational center. They traded for Jalen Duren on draft night last year, drafted Isaiah Stewart a few years prior, made a deal for Nerlens Noel, and acquired Marvin Bagley III in a deadline deal.
With five true centers on the roster, either the Pistons believe the NBA is about to institute a “must be 6’10” to ride this ride” rule, or there are future moves to be made to streamline the roster. Despite Troy Weaver’s belief in the need for size in the East, the skillsets of each big don’t mesh well enough.
For Wiseman to succeed, he needs a few key team ingredients: a willing passer at point guard, 3-and-D wings to space the floor around him, and the space to roam down the lane. When he has that, it’s clear how impactful he can be on the floor:
There’s some reason to believe he’ll get that in Detroit in the near future. Noel and Bagley won’t be long for a rebuilding roster, while Stewart’s floor spacing should allow him to play in true two center lineups. The biggest roadblock is Duren, who looks like a more defensive-minded version of Wiseman, and it’s unlikely the two can play together.
Having only played 63 games over the past four years due to COVID, fit, and injury, Wiseman is much younger developmentally than many young NBA players. If he starts to get in a rhythm, there’s a chance that he could play his way into a starting or key backup role on the team as early as this year.
The Final Verdict:
When evaluating the decision that the Warriors made, it feels like there are two equally relevant perspectives to take.
On one hand, giving up on a #2 overall pick with that much upside is a tough pill to swallow. It’ll get tougher if Wiseman develops into a franchise piece for the Pistons, especially with an improving Western Conference.
On the other hand, this was a move Golden State had to make. To keep a dynasty alive, you have to make tough decisions for the betterment of the team. By trading James Wiseman for a player who may help them in the playoffs, the Warriors inched closer back to the mountaintop.