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Abbreviated Stay at Memphis Won't Scare Teams Off Talented Big Man
In the shadow of the COVID-19 health crisis, college hoops completed last season with a grade of “Incomplete.”
And maybe no player embodied the frustration of that lost season more than James Wiseman – who came into the year as arguably the top recruit in the country and whose collegiate career lasted less than 70 minutes of floor time.
Penny Hardaway’s prized recruit when the former NBA star took over as head coach for Memphis, Wiseman was set to anchor the best defense in the country. Instead, his freshman season ended in heartbreaking fashion – leaving the university to prepare for the Draft after the NCAA hit him with a 12-game suspension for a recruiting violation.
The Tennessee native was one of the most highly-decorated recruits in recent memory – being named Gatorade National Player of the Year after earning a place in the McDonald’s All-American, Jordan Brand Classic, and Nike Hoop Summit. He was named a preseason AP All-American and was part of a stellar recruiting class at Memphis.
Wiseman was limited to just three games with the Tigers before the bottom fell out, but he made them count, showing off his tantalizing combination of size and skill – averaging 19.7 points, 10.7 boards, and 3.0 blocks per, shooting 77 percent from the floor and 70 percent from the stripe.
That small sample size is about the only thing keeping Wiseman from being discussed as the runaway top overall pick. Although it’s not a big man’s league anymore, the 7-1 Wiseman has the overall game to make him a star at the NBA level.
The lefty’s last college game was back on November 8 of last year – a 17-point, 9-rebound performance as Memphis lapped the University of Illinois-Chicago, 92-46. It’ll be over one year between that drubbing and the day that he’ll become an NBA lottery selection.
How he’ll progress at the next level is yet to be determined. But the young big man has passed every on-court test he’s faced so far – and you won’t hear many, if any, names called before his by Adam Silver on November 18.
STRENGTHS Before he steps on the floor, scouts already love Wiseman’s measurables.
A fluid athlete, Wiseman is listed at 7-1, 240 pounds with a 7-6 wingspan and 9-6 standing reach – not quite Rudy Gobert numbers, but still enough to project him as an elite shot-blocker at the next level. He also has a frame that’ll allow him to add bulk without losing flexibility.
In an era of big men who love to wander out beyond the arc, Wiseman does his work in the paint – he took 26 total shots in his three-game run at Memphis and 18 of those were on dunks or layups. He’s an above the rim player and is a magnet for contact, getting to the line on one-third of his possessions (and is a solid shooter at the stripe).
That’s not to say that Wiseman doesn’t have some nuance to his offensive game – developing a nice left-handed jump hook and mid-range jumper upon his arrival in Memphis. Essentially, through his three-game collegiate career, he did what he wanted offensively.
Offensively, what scouts really love about Wiseman is his athletic ability and potential to run the floor. He has nimble feet and quick leaping ability. He was one of the country’s top players in transition and committed just three turnovers in three games.
Defensively, he projects as an elite rim-protector. He elevates well, is an explosive leaper and has good instincts.
Basically, he’s just scraping the surface.
WEAKNESSES As with Darius Garland in last year’s Draft, Wiseman brings a relatively small sample size to the table.
Garland played just five games at Vanderbilt before being tabbed with the 5th overall pick by Cleveland last year – and he was justifiably raw through the first half of the season but put it together down the stretch. If Wiseman’s curve is anything like Garland’s, he’ll be a star by this time next year.
Not facing top competition through those first few games at Memphis, scouts do have to wonder how he’d have fared against the big boys come tournament time. Would he have continued to dominate or been exposed?
Wiseman is obviously an offensive threat because of his length and mobility, but questions remain whether he’ll be able to create his own shot in the NBA. And what is his range? Dominating around the rim against UIC is one thing, doing so in the Association is another.
Reportedly, Wiseman’s motor ran hot and cold in high school and scouts wanted to see how he’d hold up over the course of college campaign.
NBA Draft season is silly season – the time to nitpick future All-Stars. Wiseman’s game has more answers than questions – with his body of work looming as the biggest.
HOW HE'D FIT If the college and pro seasons had shaken out normally and the NBA Draft was held in June, there’s probably no chance that James Wiseman would slip to No. 5. And the chances are still nominal.
Even with his short stint at Memphis, just his physical attributes alone have had scouts salivating since he left high school.
But anything can happen on Draft night, and if the Cavaliers got their paws on the budding big man, it could lead to a ripple effect through a collection of big men that ended last season on a high note – a group that included Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, and Larry Nance Jr.
If Wiseman fell to the Wine & Gold, some interesting decisions would have to be made. He’ll bolster any NBA frontline – even one as talented and versatile as Cleveland’s group.
After an abbreviated college career, Wiseman will be champing at the bit to show why he was the top recruit out of high school and what he could have become at Memphis. Some team at the very top of the Draft will give him that chance.