James Wiseman: Great Player, Not a Great Fit for the Timberwolves

Photo Credit: Joe Rondone / The Commercial Appeal via USA TODAY NETWORK

Anybody who claims to know exactly what James Wiseman’s NBA future will look like is trying to sell you something.

Wiseman, the athletic seven-footer who sat atop ESPN’s recruit rankings for the 2019 class, was supposed to make the University of Memphis appointment viewing during the 2019-20 season, but the NCAA had other plans. When the self-pointed gatekeepers of “amateurism” got wind that in 2017, Wiseman’s future college coach Penny Hardaway had given the family an act of charity (and this was before Hardaway was even employed by Memphis), Wiseman was ruled ineligible for the rest of the season. Though Wiseman initially tried to fight the ruling, the end result was that his time in college was over after three games.

In those three games though, Wiseman flashed a vision of what a dominant pro career could look like. He finished 20 of 26 from the field (77%), averaged 11 rebounds and 3 blocks a night, and all of this only came in an average of 23 minutes played per game.

These gaudy numbers were mostly compiled in buy games against South Carolina State (who finished 8th in the MEAC) and University of Illinois at Chicago (4th in the Horizon League), however. Chicago’s starting center was only 6’10”, while South Carolina State’s was 6’8”. The only time that he played against high-level competition was Wiseman’s game against Oregon. He picked up two early fouls, and therefore basically only played a half and change.

But what Wiseman showed during his 69 minutes on the court was, for lack of a better word, nice. He’s every bit as advertised at 7’1”: very fluid in both his movements around the court and his mechanics when handling the ball, and he would definitely be an above-average athlete for his position immediately upon entering the NBA. His preferred skillset, diving to the rim after strong, wide screens and aggressively attacking the offensive glass with above the rim play, is precisely what NBA teams are looking for out of their centers offensively.

After entering the year the presumptuous No. 1 overall pick, Wiseman’s stock appeared to stagnate after the NCAA forced him out of sight and therefore out of mind for NBA teams. When the Wolves landed the first overall pick in the lottery, it was further presumed that Wiseman wouldn’t be considered for that spot. Given that the league’s current style of play makes playing two centers at the same time simply untenable, drafting Wiseman when the Wolves already have their franchise cornerstone at center would be a luxury that a 19-45 team can’t afford.

But all of the sudden the Wiseman news front exploded last week. Wiseman has been long linked to the Charlotte Hornets, who hold the No. 3 pick, and has appeared to fall in and out of favor with the Golden State Warriors, who pick second. So, when reports surfaced that Wiseman might actually be in play for the Wolves selection, citing a Jonathan Wasserman report, the internet was abuzz with belief that it had to be a negotiating tactic to drive up the value of the first pick.

There’s basically three scenarios that involve Wiseman. Let’s run through them, briefly:

The Wolves take Wiseman and keep Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Wolves take Wiseman and trade Towns.
The Wolves use Wiseman as leverage to execute a draft day trade, with either Charlotte or Golden State.
The first scenario would be a disaster, in this humble author’s opinion.

If you think Towns is bad on defense now (and he definitely is), wait until you see Towns trying to step out onto quicker, more skilled power forwards.

If your idea is to put Wiseman at the 4, why on earth would a team draft a defensive upgrade whose natural position is center, just to slide him over to power forward and then continue to trot out the worst pick-and-roll defending center in the NBA anyways?

If your idea is to draft Wiseman and potentially flip either Towns or Wiseman at a later date, the situation I just described is a recipe to tank both players trade values, and further alienate a potentially already unhappy KAT.

The second idea is far, far more appealing, as I’ve already outlined in a previous article. However, the timing of the deal would be far trickier. The Wolves can’t exactly openly shop Towns because that would tip their hand, and in less than a week they have to use the first overall pick, it’s not a can that could be kicked down the road.

If the right trade materializes, however, and the Wolves are absolutely enamored with Wiseman, they have to pull the trigger. I can see it now: On draft day, Towns is picked up by Gersson Rosa in a silver, 1981 Buick Lesabre, and told that he’s going to be a made man. Towns is feeling great, his friends are all excited for him… then, BAM, he’s dropped off at an empty airline terminal with his bags packed for New York, and the Wolves own the Knicks’ entire future on mortgage.

Actually, come to think of this, that situation would be nothing like Tommy getting whacked in Goodfellas (spoilers!), I think it would leave all parties quite happy.

Finally, the last idea is that one that I think is currently the most likely explanation for all this Wiseman-to-Minnesota noise: It’s all just a smokescreen.

But, who would be biting?

Although Golden State is considered a potential landing spot, I simply don’t see it. For starters, the Warriors have thrived playing small and spreading the floor. Though Wiseman might have more range than he was able to show in three college games, drafting Wiseman for his spacing ability would be like bidding on an original Van Gogh because you need another placemat.

Wiseman and Draymond Green’s fit would be problematic, and Green’s massive long-term contract would be viewed as a negative asset if the Warriors were looking to free up that non-shooting logjam.

Also, what assets do the Warriors even have that would make sense for the Wolves to take back for a first overall pick? The second overall pick and… who? Eric Paschall, the 23-year old rookie who shot 29% from three as a 6’6” power forward on a 15-50 team last year?

The Warriors are a well-run team who understand that they can pluck a replacement-level center out of thin air at basically any moment. Why spend capital to move up to the first pick and select a center, when every year there seems to be a young center on a minimum contract who turns into a starting-level player? Plus, veteran stopgaps are a dime a dozen.

The team that figures to be the most likely trading partner is Charlotte, but this is where the deal gets tricky. Charlotte has a stable of young players, but very few of them fall into the sweet spot between inspiring confidence in their upside, and being available.

Asking for the third pick and Devonte’ Graham for the first would result in the Hornets laughing while hanging up the phone. Asking for the third pick and P.J. Washington might be a hard bargain to drive, but it’s likely to be the only deal worth making with Charlotte. Instead of taking a flier on the older, worse-shooting Miles Bridges, the Wolves could land a sophomore forward who can knock down threes off the catch and finish at the rim.

If that deal is available for the first overall pick, and no can’t-miss stud like Ben Simmons becomes available, the Wolves could do far worse than trading down only two spots and grabbing a young, valued scorer in the process.

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Photo Credit: Joe Rondone / The Commercial Appeal via USA TODAY NETWORK

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