James Wiseman is one of the top prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft. The left-handed 7-foot-1 center is freakishly athletic for his size. He’s fast in the open court, quick off his feet and impressively coordinated for a 19-year-old big man. Those attributes have caused him to be compared to David Robinson. In fact, Wiseman says he looks to the San Antonio Spurs legend.
It’s impossible to miss the obvious comparisons between Wiseman and Robinson. Beyond their size and athleticism, they both even have a similar hitch in their left-handed jumpers.
Wiseman appears likely to go somewhere near the top of the draft. If the Spurs get lucky with the lottery balls for the third time in franchise history, picking another franchise big man in Wiseman is a no-brainer, right?
How James Wiseman Differs from David Robinson
Wiseman is listed at 7-foot-1 and 240 pounds with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and 7-foot-3.5 standing reach. Considering his imposing size, his athleticism is really impressive.
But as athletic as Wiseman is, he’s not nearly the athlete Robinson was. Robinson was a once in a generation athlete. Wiseman simply isn’t at that level.
Additionally, Robinson was dominant on the collegiate level. Wiseman only played three games at Memphis before leaving the school after questions arose regarding his eligibility. Moreover, even though he was a top recruit, his AAU statistics weren’t overly impressive while in high school and there’s not much footage of him being dominant against quality competition.
While some bill Wiseman as a safe pick due to his size and athleticism, he’s nowhere near being a can’t miss prospect like Robinson and Tim Duncan were coming out of college.
The Case for the Spurs Picking James Wiseman
While Wiseman isn’t perfect, legitimate arguments can be made that the Spurs should consider him if they get the top pick in the draft. First of all, this draft lacks talent at the top. No player really stands out as a No. 1 pick. There are about five players in the running for the top spot but all five are underwhelming compared to the level of prospect typically available with the first selection. If no player stands out, going with the player who fits the mold of Robinson and Duncan makes some sense.
Secondly, Robinson and Duncan are both proof that bigs take time to develop. Comparing Wiseman to Robinson and Duncan at the end of their respective freshman seasons, Wiseman probably gets the nod as the best prospect. Robinson and Duncan didn’t become top prospects until their sophomore seasons, at the earliest.
If Wiseman continues to progress and add skills to his already impressive physical talents, he has the tools to be an All-Star. It’s a tall order to expect that level of development but it’s within the realm of possibilities.
And finally, Wiseman would be a fit on the roster. With LaMarcus Aldridge turning 35 in July, Wiseman would be able to naturally take the reins as the Spurs center and a focal point of the franchise in a season or two.
Why the Spurs Should Ultimately Look Elsewhere
While I don’t see any glaring holes in Wiseman’s game, I just don’t think he’s the right selection if the Spurs land the No. 1 pick. The main reason is that the NBA in 2020 is a different game than it was in the past. Even five or ten years ago, Wiseman would be the obvious pick at the top of the draft. Unfortunately for him, things aren’t how they used to be.
Nowadays, traditional rim-running centers just aren’t that valuable. Teams are going smaller and the NBA is more skill-based and less size-based than ever. Only highly skilled centers like Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid have retained their value. The rest have seen their stocks plummet over the last few seasons.
For example, I think Jakob Poeltl is an impactful center who has shown quite a bit of promise. However, when investigating his value, it’s difficult to make the argument that he’s worth more than $5 million a year on the open market — and that was before COVID-19.
Wiseman has exhibited flashes of perimeter skill. He appears to have range on his jumper, he’s a good ball-handler for his position and he has even shown the ability to create his own shot at times. But he hasn’t shown enough skill or the ability to dominate that you can count on him to be something more than a bigger Clint Capela. And in today’s NBA, a bigger Clint Capela just isn’t worth enough to invest in with a first overall pick.
Centers who can’t consistently punish smaller players are becoming less and less valuable by the day. Watching the available tape on Wiseman, I haven’t see that ability. Thus, if the Spurs are lucky enough to land the No. 1 pick once again, my hope is they go with the most skillful player available — and that’s won’t be Wiseman.