The hardest thing for anyone to admit is the necessity for cutting losses.
That goes for most walks of life — especially in professional basketball. Investments can engender hope. Belief can be enduring, but with it comes monumental risks.
Admittedly, I had plenty of patience when it came to James Wiseman. Young big men take time to develop, more so than other positions. The reality of the modern NBA — where pace-and-space reigns and small-ball has carved a non-insignificant role — has compounded that reality.
It would be perfectly fine for a young big man to make mistakes, be given plenty of reps, and learn on the go in a relatively low-stakes situation. But the Golden State Warriors are anything but a low-stakes situation.
Not with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson on the team. Not when the Warriors are nearly five months removed from a championship, with the kind of top-heavy core than can most certainly do it again this season.
This is where the crux of the two-timeline conundrum rests. The Warriors won the championship last season because of Curry’s greatness; Green and Thompson also had their parts to play, as is their wont. But the process to get to that point mostly involved a supporting cast of steady veterans, dependable rotation pieces, and lineups that decently survived without Curry on the floor.
Virtually replacing Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., and Nemanja Bjelica with Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody was an audacious and unprecedented decision for a team looking to repeat and continuously contend — and the reasons for it being unprecedented have been justified so far.
Wiseman has been a huge part of that justification. He’s not the only problem — to lump it all on him is unfair — but there’s no denying that he’s been a significant factor behind the Warriors’ woes.
This tweet by NBA Twitter mainstay Div B says a lot about how much the Warriors are struggling during Wiseman’s minutes:
Warriors are giving up offensive rebounds on 35.3% of opponent misses when James Wiseman is on the court.— Div B (@statcenter) November 3, 2022
To put that in context, the Nets this season are the worst def reb team in years, and they're giving up off rebs on "only" 34.8% of opponent misses. https://t.co/fFNEIfhasZ
The factoid above was apropos, given what happened during a particular possession against the Orlando Magic:
The human element of this predicament is oft ignored, and you have to feel for Wiseman here. The frustration over having to deal with lots of things on the floor — having to process what do on defense and having to carve a productive role on offense, among other things — must be weighing heavily on him.
Wiseman played in only three college games, didn’t complete his rookie season due to injury, and missed all of last season. There may be a good player in there somewhere — the athleticism and size combination is too good of a base for it to not materialize — but one has to wonder if that good player is going to surface within this specific window.
Nine games still aren’t an ideal sample size for on/off metrics to be completely indicative, but it’s also hard to ignore the patterns and trends that are slowly surfacing.
The Warriors are being outscored by nearly 24 points per 100 possessions during Wiseman’s minutes on the floor. To put that into context, the team with the worst net rating in the league — the Detroit Pistons — are being outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions.
That, my friends, is not good, to say the least.
On offense, Wiseman is at his best when he’s setting screens and rolling to the rim, whether as a ball screener or on wide pindowns that generate empty-corner action:
Things get dicey when half-court possessions stagnate and the shot clock is winding down, but in such situations, he has to do a better job of knowing where to be to maximize spacing and driving lanes.
Although this particular possession ended in a made Klay Thompson three, the process from Wiseman has to be much better:
After Wiseman misses the hook and hauls in the offensive board, he posts up on the strong-side block with Curry aiming to create something for himself. Wiseman can’t expect to receive an entry pass here, so he has to be more cognizant of what to do: either set a screen for Curry, or clear to the weak-side and park himself at the dunker spot — instead of clogging Curry’s driving lane.
On defense, Wiseman on the floor organically limits the Warriors’ defensive versatility. The main coverage they can play with him on the floor is some form of drop. While he has shown some flashes of switchability, the Warriors prefer him closer to the rim and in the paint instead of being drawn out toward the perimeter.
There is no inherent flaw with keeping things strictly a 2v2 endeavor when it comes to drop coverage. It prevents the entire defensive machinery from being put in rotation; when executed to near perfection, inefficient shots are often the end result.
When in drop, the team counts on Wiseman to contest shots at the rim, discourage attempts, and above all, avoid fouling — the latter of which hasn’t gone all too well.
During his rookie season, he averaged 5.1 fouls per 75 possessions, which is itself a concerning number. That foul rate has gone up considerably this season: 6.6 fouls per 75 possessions.
In other words, if Wiseman was given starter minutes, he would consistently foul out at the rate he’s been committing them.
To be fair, some of the fouls he’s committed have been questionable calls. You appreciate his effort to go for the rebound and establish even a modicum of physicality underneath the rim, which he hasn’t been able to do consistently.
Being called for something like this just adds to his frustrations:
Wiseman was called for a foul on this play ... pic.twitter.com/J5OJoPiYyV— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) November 4, 2022
In turn, being called for fouls makes him hesitant to commit to contests. You can virtually hear his thought process as he defends in drop coverage: Do I try to block the shot? Or do I just keep my hands up straight because I don’t want to be called for a foul?
To reiterate, Wiseman hasn’t been the only problem. The Warriors’ failings on defense — especially at the point of attack and in terms of botched switches born out of miscommunication — doesn’t fall solely on his shoulders.
Fouling isn’t just a Wiseman problem — it’s a team-wide problem. The Warriors committed 32 fouls and sent the Magic to the line 46 times. They’re giving up 28.1 free-throw attempts per 100 possessions to opponents — the highest mark in the league.
From a big-picture perspective, Wiseman is but a symptom of a larger ailment. But that doesn’t mean the Warriors can’t take measures to solve it. Perhaps a reduction of Wiseman minutes is on hand in favor of smaller lineups — ironically, a philosophy that temporarily rendered the traditional big man ineffective during the heyday of their dynasty.
Kuminga minutes at the 5 may be at hand. Different lineup combinations that stagger the starters — all five of which, by the way, have been among the best 5-man lineups in the league — with the bench crew should be the standard moving forward (i.e., shelve the all-bench units!!).
Cutting losses and admitting that something isn’t working is a hard pill to swallow. Pride and egos are hard to overcome, but at this point, there must be a collective acknowledgement that there is something wrong.
After all, the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one.