Warriors: James Wiseman is a risk, but some arguments are disingenuous

Warriors (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Warriors (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

James Wiseman remains one of the most unknown prospects among the Golden State Warriors targets in the 2020 NBA Draft. However, some critiques are unfair.

Since the Golden State Warriors have been jostling for space in the standings cellar this season, Ethan Strauss of The Athletic has dived headfirst into the 2020 NBA Draft. While not a draft analyst by trade, Strauss has produced great content chronicling his approach to the process.

He’s made compelling cases for French point guard Killian Hayes and USC center Onyeka Okongwu to move up draft boards and been notably critical of former Memphis center James Wiseman. I am not particularly high on Wiseman myself.

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I was all-in on Mo Bamba a few years ago and his combined athleticism, length, and shooting potential, but he’s been unable to develop his frame to play a substantial role since the Orlando Magic drafted him in 2018.

Wiseman gives me a lot of Bamba vibes.

A lot of the arguments justifying his place at the top of the draft board is based much more on what he could be than what he is. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an impact player but might undersell how far he has to go.

With that said, in Strauss’ “Word of Warning On James Wiseman” that was published on May 8th, he focused on Wiseman’s status as the highest-rated prospect out of high school.

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He makes the case that prospect rankings have not adjusted for the changes in the modern NBA. Even as bigs have become more obsolete, they’ve remained overrepresented atop rankings from what he believes is a false perception that they are less risky propositions.

Before I get into the crux of my disagreement, I’m not trying to rip into Strauss. He’s one of the best reporters around the NBA and hosts one of my favorite podcasts. This isn’t an attempt to spark some Twitter spat with clickbait, simply a small critique of Strauss’ assertions.

He begins his article listing “the top big men entering college ball, as determined by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index,” which looks like this:

  • 2006: Greg Oden
  • 2007: J.J. Hickson
  • 2008: Samardo Samuels
  • 2009: Derrick Favors
  • 2010: Enes Kanter
  • 2011: Anthony Davis
  • 2012: Nerlens Noel
  • 2013: Dakari Johnson
  • 2014: Jahlil Okafor
  • 2015: Skal Labissiere
  • 2016: Harry Giles
  • 2017: Marvin Bagley
  • 2018: Bol Bol
  • 2019: James Wiseman

But, looking through the RSCIs, Strauss seems to work with inconsistent criteria. He appears to define players by the position they played as professionals, not how they were classified in high school.

However, to me, that includes a level of retrospective that we lack with Wiseman. If you go by RSCIs positional classifications and consider anyone listed as either a power forward or center a big man the list looks like this:

  • 2006: Greg Oden (overall rank: 1)
  • 2007: Kevin Love (2)
  • 2008: Samardo Samuels (4)
  • 2009: Derrick Favors (1)
  • 2010: Jared Sullinger (2)
  • 2011: Anthony Davis (1)
  • 2012: Nerlens Noel (2)
  • 2013: Julius Randle (2)
  • 2014: Jahlil Okafor (1)
  • 2015: Ben Simmons (1)
  • 2016: Harry Giles (2)
  • 2017: Marvin Bagley (1)
  • 2018: Zion Williamson (4)
  • 2019: James Wiseman (1)

Obviously that list makes Wiseman far from a guarantee, but also makes his status much less dire. If Strauss’ argument is that high school recruiting rankings are not prospect oracles, then I have no qualms.

However, there just doesn’t seem to be evidence that post player rankings are any less predictive than guard or wing rankings. Here are the top-ranked wings per the RSCI over the same time period:

  • 2006: Kevin Durant (2)
  • 2007: O.J. Mayo (1)
  • 2008: Jrue Holiday (2)
  • 2009: Avery Bradley (4)
  • 2010: Harrison Barnes (1)
  • 2011: Austin Rivers (2)
  • 2012: Shabazz Muhammad (1)
  • 2013: Andrew Wiggins (1)
  • 2014: Stanley Johnson (3)
  • 2015: Jaylen Brown (3)
  • 2016: Josh Jackson (1)
  • 2017: Michael Porter Jr. (2)
  • 2018: R.J. Barrett (1)
  • 2019: Anthony Edwards (4)/Cole Anthony (3) if you classify him as a wing

The results for top-ranked guards are even uglier:

  • 2006: Wayne Ellington (8)
  • 2007: O.J. Mayo (1)
  • 2008: Brandon Jennings (1)
  • 2009: John Wall (2)
  • 2010: Kyrie Irving (3)
  • 2011: Austin Rivers (2)
  • 2012: Shabazz Muhammad (1)
  • 2013: Andrew Harrison (5)
  • 2014: Emmanuel Mudiay (2)
  • 2015: Malik Newman (8)
  • 2016: Josh Jackson (1)
  • 2017: Trevon Duvall (5)
  • 2018: Cam Reddish (2)
  • 2019: Cole Anthony (3)

It seems here that big men have been consistently ranked the highest, but actually have been the safest bets. This sample size is of course absurdly small and my guess is you’d find no statistical association between position and the predictive power of recruiting rankings on pro success.

Properly valuing prospects is an impossible task. Since Wiseman only played a couple of games at the collegiate level, teams are left with even less information to evaluate him.

I tend to agree with Strauss’ overall sentiment that pundits seem to be viewing unknowns as a positive when we really don’t know.

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However, his status as a big shouldn’t devalue how we view his recruiting hype.