“What new toy did you get for Christmas,” asked broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald toward the end of the second quarter on Wednesday.
For the Golden State Warriors offense, the answer to that question is rookie center James Wiseman. At the moment Fitzgerald asked it, Wiseman had just been fouled while trying to catch a lob for a dunk, after a series in which he’d scored on four of the Warriors’ previous five possessions against the San Antonio Spurs.
With 3:45 left in the quarter, Draymond Green delivered a pass to him inside for a dunk. Then Andrew Wiggins did the same. Steph Curry then hit a three of his own, but the next time down he found Wiseman for a lob. On the following possession Curry drove inside and dumped it to Wiseman again, forcing the Spurs to foul to avoid another dunk. Then they did it again, resulting in another foul to stop a lob from Draymond, which inspired Fitz’s comment.
Six possessions, five of them involving a Wiseman dunk or a foul to stop him, all within about two minutes of clock.
By the end of the night, he’d hammered home seven dunks and a layup, with three more chances at the rim that were stopped by fouls. Tack on four made free throws in five tries, and he totaled 20 points for the first time in his career.
San Antonio simply had no answer for Wiseman in the paint. If the Dubs got the ball to him near the hoop, it was automatic — literally, he didn’t miss once from close range — and he did well to consistently make himself available.
Granted, the Spurs aren’t packed with big man defense, even if backup center Jacob Poeltl did a good job shutting down Eric Paschall off the bench. But Wiseman also didn’t get bigger or stronger since last month. Rather, he did a better job flowing with the team’s offense, and getting into positions where Steph and Draymond and the others could feed him. The whole squad was playing a game of “Where’s Wiseman,” as Fitz put it on the broadcast, and immediately finding him on each page.
It also helped that he stayed out of foul trouble on the other side of the floor, allowing him to log his third-highest minutes total of the season. When he got hot he was able to keep rolling, instead of sitting down because he committed a silly foul 30 seconds later.
For context: In his first 13 games, Wiseman made 32 field goals at the rim. He made seven on this night alone (the one layup qualified as a 3-10ft shot).
Of course, that’s not to say he can’t also hit jump shots. He’s got a good stroke and has already drilled 6-of-15 three-pointers this season (40%), and even more of his deep twos (43%). He can stretch out to the arc and beyond, but when you’re 7’0, 240, and hyper-athletic, you don’t always need to.
On Wednesday, we began to see what Wiseman can do when he takes over the paint like a proper bully. The result was the rookie piling up points in bunches with high efficiency, and if he can learn to do that with regularity then it’ll be the first time during the Curry Era that the Dubs will have a serious inside scoring threat at the center spot. And that’s all before factoring in the defensive ability he’s flashed, as a sturdy but mobile rim protector and shot blocker.
When the Warriors drafted Wiseman with the No. 2 overall pick, it was easy to dream about how perfectly he could fit on this team if all goes well. He’s not a finished product yet as he continues to develop his game, and there will be more rough stretches along the way as he learns on the job, like we saw when the Lakers silenced him on Monday. But his performance against the Spurs was an exciting preview of what his lofty ceiling might look like on offense.