The Golden State Warriors defeated the Washington Wizards, 96-87, in the first of their two preseason games in Japan. The result is immaterial — that goes without saying, considering the context.
Said context: It’s the very first preseason game of the new season, and both teams are probably jetlagged as heck. It showed — the halftime score was 41-37 in favor of the Warriors, in what was an eyesore of a first half.
What did catch my eye — and probably several others’, as well — was James Wiseman’s performance: 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting —all from two-point range — with 9 rebounds and a single block in nearly 24 minutes. Once more, the caveat is that it’s the preseason, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything of value to take away from his performance.
Knowing his shortcomings in terms of self-creation, Wiseman’s role on offense is largely limited to being a play-finisher as a scorer, while providing value as a screen-setter and roll-gravity generator. Much was made of Steve Kerr making the mistake of overcomplicating Wiseman’s role during his rookie season, in the form of trying to turn him into a vintage playmaking hub in the spirit of Andrew Bogut, Zaza Pachulia, and David West.
Kerr realized his mistake mid-season and began to simplify Wiseman’s role by turning him into a screen-and-dive big. Considering how defenses tend to cover Stephen Curry around ball screens, partnering Curry with Wiseman was arguably the lowest-hanging fruit dangling in front of the Warriors’ faces.
We saw that low-hanging fruit once more against the Wizards, in the form of a Wiseman drag screen for Curry:
Spread the floor, James Wiseman drag screen for Steph, lob, the dunk. It's that simple. pic.twitter.com/1AQxpjLKDw— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) September 30, 2022
Another form of low-hanging fruit: rim-running and leak-outs after stops and turnovers. Wiseman’s mobility for his size allows him to outrun most of his matchups, which was the case against Kristaps Porzingis:
JAMES WISEMAN POSTERIZES KRISTAPS PORZINGIS pic.twitter.com/FVdMD9k66v— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) September 30, 2022
If Kerr did decide to insert Wiseman into more complicated half-court sets, it would be to take advantage of his nature as a roller and lob catcher. For example: Drawing up after-timeout (ATO) plays has always been an underrated and understated strength of Kerr’s; realizing the importance of putting his young center in better positions to score, he concocted an ATO set that worked to perfection:
Nifty ATO drawn up by Steve Kerr. Zipper get into "Chicago" action (pindown into DHO). Donte DiVincenzo with the well-placed pass to the rolling Wiseman. No tag from the roll man because of Jordan Poole. Brilliant play design. pic.twitter.com/4J0pkzmiqq— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) September 30, 2022
The positioning and spacing during the play above worked to Wiseman’s advantage. With Donte DiVincenzo acting as the ball-handler around the handoff, Wiseman rolls unhindered to the rim — part of which is due to Jordan Poole providing spacing relief, which eliminates any sort of tag on Wiseman from the weak-side low man.
(DiVincenzo as a secondary ball handler who can run pick-and-roll and make precision pocket passes intrigues me. While he may not provide the same kind of value on defense as Gary Payton II did last season, providing at least 70-80% of that value while also moonlighting as an occasional playmaker on offense might make him a steal of a pickup.)
While the set above was devastatingly effective, the play involving Wiseman that most caught my eye resulted in a turnover. The result wasn’t ideal, but it was the process the most intrigued me:
By listening closely to the play above, you hear someone yell out “OPEN!” repeatedly. “Open” is the term most NBA teams use for 5-Out Delay; “Delay” simply refers to a big man handling the ball at the top of the arc, with the rest of the players on the perimeter running all sorts of screening actions.
An example of the Warriors calling out “Open” and running actions through 5-Out Delay:
Another "5-Out Delay" possession from the Warriors.— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) August 20, 2022
The versatility of Delay plays into the strengths of Draymond (as a playmaker and decision maker), Steph, and Klay. Virtually turns into 3-man action that throws the Nuggets for a loop. https://t.co/pX3fcwVGZO pic.twitter.com/um7zrqmLOq
In the Wiseman-centered action, the play called for Curry to feed the ball to Wiseman at the top of the arc, with Jonathan Kuminga setting the backscreen for Curry to cut to the rim — highly reminiscent of an action that comes from the “21” series, also known as “Pistol” action.
Wiseman had the right idea, made the correct read, and had a brief but viable passing window. What was lacking was the pass itself: overthrown and too high for Curry to catch.
The important thing, however, is that Wiseman was able to identify the read itself. There’s precedence for him being able to make these kinds of reads as a passing big; one instance occurred during Summer League, also out of 5-Out Delay:
One way to keep Wiseman engaged in the half-court is to make him a facilitator up top in "Delay" sets. They run "Chicago" (pindown into DHO), two go to Moody around the downscreen, Kuming slips into space. Nice recognition by Wiseman to pass it to the cutter. pic.twitter.com/g8LKxe3pdz— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) July 13, 2022
Being able to make advanced reads and executing them perfectly will go a long way toward Wiseman’s development as the quintessential Warriors big man. The need for Kerr to simplify his role will take precedence because of the Warriors’ unique situation, that of a team contending for another championship with a unique mix of a roster: a title-proven core with young pieces full of promise but lacking in experience.
But it wouldn’t hurt to give Wiseman some playmaking reps here and there — maybe not to the same degree and license as he was given during his rookie season, but enough to get his feet wet.
A final word on Wiseman — particularly when it comes to the Wiseman-Kuminga pairing.
Kerr is still clearly in experimentation mode, and he heavily experimented with the Wiseman-Kuminga duo against the Wizards, to mixed results. On paper, two highly athletic and explosive talents — one a wing and one a big — would work well together on the floor. In an ideal situation, Kuminga would be a ball handler running tons of pick-and-roll with Wiseman; empty the corner during those situations and defenses might as well throw their arms up in disgust.
The reality, however, paints an incomplete picture. Due to both Kuminga and Wiseman providing almost zero shooting value, the spacing when both of them are directly involved in an action leaves a lot to be desired:
To be fair, the play calls for Wiseman to set a downscreen for Kuminga to turn the corner and drive downhill, in what is essentially empty-corner pick-and-roll action. If Wiseman set a more solid screen, Kuminga probably would’ve been set free on a drive, which would’ve placed the Wizards in a bind.
Instead, Wiseman is forced to roll in the paint, while Kuminga is forced to drive baseline against a bunch of bodies. The possession is saved when Wiseman gets ahold of the loose ball and goes up for a dunk.
Suffice to say, this particular duo may need a lot of refinement; expect the early portions of preseason to be a proving ground for both Wiseman and Kuminga — not only as individual contributors, but as a cohesive and mutually beneficial partnership.