How Strongly Should the Knicks Consider Drafting James Wiseman?

Kris Pursiainen

[This is the 14th prospect in the 2020 draft that I've done a breakdown on. You can read about Cole Anthony here, Deni Avdija here, Tyrese Haliburton here, Anthony Edwards here, RJ Hampton here, Killian Hayes here, Onyeka Okongwu here, Obi Toppin here, Devin Vassell here, LaMelo Ball here, Tyrese Maxey here, Kira Lewis Jr. here, or Isaac Okoro here.]

James Wiseman is a 7'1" freshman center who averaged 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, and 3.0 blocks in 23.0 minutes per game on 76.9% shooting for the University of Memphis. After three career games, he faced a fine and suspension from the NCAA for a 2017 acceptance of money for moving expenses from Penny Hardaway. Wiseman chose not to return following that suspension, despite wanting to have a "great collegiate career," because he was unable to pay back the $11,500 without receiving help from others and didn't want to risk an injury.

Wiseman is an impressively athletic big man who should soon find himself as a team's athletic rim-running and paint-defending starting center. Wiseman is large, at 7'1" and 237 pounds, as well as lengthy - boasting a wingspan of 7'6". When running up and down the floor, Wiseman can move incredibly well for someone of his size - something he confirms with the vertical leap he demonstrates when he has the necessary (and admittedly somewhat worryingly large) space to take off. 

I wouldn't project Wiseman to be having the ball in his hands as often as he might be used to; I believe his optimal NBA role, at least for the first few seasons of his career, is as a screen-setting C who frequently tries to present himself as a lob threat as a means of vertically spacing the floor to compensate for the lack of creation of typical spacing - sound familiar? 

When Wiseman rolls and gets fed the ball down low, his strong frame helps him finish plays - even if it requires his rebounding skills to get a few extra looks inside. As a post player, Wiseman has flashed potential with his combination of finesse and power moves, but has too many possessions result in low-percentage fadeaways for me to be convinced of anything just yet.

In terms of his ability to space the floor, which I briefly touched on earlier, he simply has trouble doing it. Despite still having potential as a shooter, something his 70.4 FT% and decent shot form lead me to say, he currently struggles with looks from behind the arc due to a simple lack of range from the mid-range or further out. 

Wiseman had much larger troubles with shooting in high school, but those stemmed from his vastly different playstyle - which itself was just a seized opportunity to dominate the ball. In college, he reined in his shot selection, and showed development in regards to becoming the efficient type of center he should hope to be in the NBA.

As a defender, Wiseman is a strong rim protector in part because of his athleticism, but also simply due to somewhat intelligent defensive instincts down low. Simply seeing him waiting in the paint can cause guards to change their plans, but Wiseman's peripheral awareness isn't the best - leading him to bite on fakes and potentially not notice a cutting player who might capitalize and quickly score inside.

If Wiseman can see the ball handler, or whatever it is that's happening on the court, he has an easy time analyzing the situation and optimally placing himself to get a stop. He has a strong work ethic and is an intelligent center - he just needs to work on becoming a more aware all-around defender.

I limit Wiseman to the rim running-and-defending role because he struggles off the dribble due to an unrefined handle and too often makes inaccurate and untimely passes for me to see any potential as a playmaker. Defensively, his trouble with lateral movement and tendencies to bite for pump fakes or rotate incorrectly lead me to think that he might give up more points as a perimeter defender than he's able to stop from being scored as an interior one.

Despite certainly flashing potential as a dominant two-way center, Wiseman comes with too many question marks and in my opinion did not set himself up to project as a better player than current Knicks center Mitchell Robinson - this prohibits me from being able to suggest that the Knicks use a high lottery pick on his services. I believe in drafting the best player available in the lottery when a team doesn't have the talent to do otherwise, even if that means "double-drafting" a position, but Wiseman's draft profile (as well as the existence of numerous other similarly-graded prospects who play different positions) does not lead me to want to shake the roster up to accommodate him.

The Knicks should certainly still (virtually) meet with and gather intel on James Wiseman - but unless someone like the team's Assistant GM and Director of College Scouting Walt Perrin makes a massive push for Wiseman to end up a Knick this fall, I doubt we see the center, formerly of Memphis, don the famed orange and blue.

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