Looking at the 2020 NBA Draft board, there is no real consensus on who’s the best player this year. The group of Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, and Deni Avdija most likely will go in the top five, and it’s very possible they end up being the top three selections.
The next guy on draft boards for many, going potentially at #4 — the pick the Bulls hold — would be center James Wiseman of Memphis. His talent, athletic ability, and potentially high ceiling have some NBA fans drooling over him.
At 7 feet tall and 235 lbs with a wingspan of 7-foot-6, Wiseman has an expansive frame. He also possesses outstanding leaping ability, long strides and explosiveness, making him a great weapon in transition and on the offensive pick-and-roll. His mid-range jumper form appears eerily similar to that of Chris Bosh. Although he is not a great shooter statistically, some observers believe that his offensive productivity could reach Bosh’s level.
His size enables him to be potent on the defensive and offensive glass. On the defensive end, his length and ability to disrupt plays make him an elite rim protector.
Don’t be fooled, however. He still needs to improve in several areas.
One major issue with Wiseman’s game is a lack of playmaking ability. In the NBA, players must be able to create their own shots if they want to be considered anywhere close to the top tier. Wiseman also has poor footwork in both the post and in space. On top of that, his relatively skinny build leaves him weak in the post, especially at the NBA level.
Another glaring negative factor in Wiseman’s game is a lack of awareness on the floor, as he is not very savvy at creating shots for his teammates. He possesses a bad habit of getting double-teamed and then forcing mid-range shots rather than passing to an open man or resetting at the top of the key.
His defensive mechanics aren’t all that pleasing, either. He frequently bites on pump fakes and displays a lack of body control, making him very susceptible to foul trouble. His length allows him to check ball handlers out on the arc, but his poor footwork will prove detrimental against better guards. The aforementioned issues often lead to help defense scenarios.
Additionally, a good NBA center needs to be more than a rebounder and scorer. He also needs to be able to dish assists. Look at Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, and Kristaps Porzingis. These guys are not only effective in transition but they also have the ability to start a break and distribute the ball to get a three. That’s worth a lot in today’s pace-and-space game.
Reviewing Wiseman’s college career provides further insight. Heading in, he was a 5-star recruit. However, he played in just three games due to a suspension, injuries, and then just choosing to sit out until the draft.
In those contests, he averaged numbers comparable to the 2018 overall first pick, Phoenix Suns’ center Deandre Ayton (19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds). On the surface, that’s fairly impressive. But when you look a little closer, you realize it’s actually nothing special. His numbers came against South Carolina State, UIC, and Oregon.
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He clearly dominated the two weaker opponents, but once he faced a Power 5 team in Oregon, the fouls and turnovers rose.
Wiseman’s college coach was NBA legend Penny Hardaway, who was assisted by Mike Miller, a one-time NBA finals hero. While this is a positive, both of those coaches also played in the backcourt, which isn’t as helpful as it could be for a big man like Wiseman. Hardaway also was Wiseman’s AAU coach, which means a new set of mentoring eyes might breathe some extra life into his game.
Wiseman’s NBA comp would be something like a DeAndre Jordan. Wiseman possesses a better shot, which could make his ceiling slightly higher. He needs to bulk up and gain better body control to play the post in the NBA, however. He also needs to develop better court awareness and playmaking ability, which is a much tougher task. This doesn’t mean that Wiseman has no future in the NBA, but the Bulls would be taking too much of a risk choosing him at the #4 spot.
All this said, his athleticism is still promising enough that a team may be comfortable trying to make him a project in the Kyrie Irving mold.
Ahead of the Bulls, potential landing spots for Wiseman could be Golden State or Charlotte, who hold the #2 and #3 picks, respectively. The Warriors need post depth and Charlotte (remember, Michael Jordan gets a say) seems to have a knack for picking underproducing big men early in the draft.
Arturas Karnisovas is going to be making his first draft pick as Bulls VP in 2020. He needs to use it on a player that will make an instant impact, not someone tagged as simply having a lot of potential or an athlete that will be a project for a while.
It’s worth noting that as Assistant GM for the Nuggets, Karnisovas took a big risk on drafting Michael Porter Jr., and that paid off nicely. Like Wiseman, MPJ had little college experience in addition to a back injury. So if AK’s evaluation tells him that Wiseman’s ceiling suits it, the Bulls should take him at #4. If not, Karnisovas should trade down for Wiseman. AK drafted Nikola Jokic deeper in the draft, showing that quality big men still can be found late in the first round or in the second. Knowing this, he will most likely pass on Wiseman at the #4 pick.
Karnisovas needs to get Wiseman at the right value and that would be at a lower pick. Many Chicago fans are still wincing from the whole Mitchell Trubisky/Ryan Pace situation with the Bears. The prospect of a repeat scenario that lands good value at a spot that requires great value is a frightening premise for Chicago sports fans.
At the end of the day, James Wiseman is extremely athletic and boasts some skills that may be untapped. But there are enough question marks that would make teams hesitate if they were in the Bulls’ position picking at #4. Wiseman would be a good value at #6 for the Bulls.