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313 Thoughts: Examining James Wiseman’s brief time in Detroit

It’s been a month since Detroit added Wiseman, time to take a look at the early returns from the former 2nd overall selection.

Toronto Raptors v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the latest installment of my 313 Thoughts, your weekly recap of all things Detroit Pistons. Since today is officially 313 day, we’re breaking format a bit to bring you a special look at James Wiseman’s play thus far with Detroit, while embracing Detroit’s 313 identity. The formula is simple—I’ll detail; 3 Things to like, 1 Thing not to like and 3 Things to monitor.

It has now been over one month since Troy Weaver dealt Saddiq Bey for James Wiseman, a big man Weaver’s had his eye on since the lead up to the 2020 NBA Draft. The former second overall selection has suited up in 10 games for the franchise, registering 12.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1 denial a game.

Aside rookie flashes from Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, Wiseman’s addition has given fans reason to tune in as the 2022-23 season enters its final stretch. The 21-year-old has posted a slew of impressive box score results, but I wanted to take a deeper look at his impact in Detroit.

Therefore, using the 313 formula, I’ve assembled 3 things to like about Wiseman’s performance, 1 thing to dislike and 3 things to monitor in the remaining games on the calendar.

Detroit Pistons v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

3 Things to Like

LIKE: Wiseman excelling as a play finisher

One of the few things James Wiseman has excelled at in his brief NBA tenure is scoring around the basket. The 7-foot big man is blessed with a unique blend of size and agility, which allows him to finish around or over his opponent. His left-hand dominant approach also aids his finish ability in the painted area. It’s often thought lefties have an advantage as their right-handed counterparts are used to guarding right-hand dominant players.

In nine games with the Pistons, Wiseman is converting on a 71% of his looks within 8 feet of the basket. A large chuck of these looks have come as a result of him rolling toward the rim and finishing in the painted area. Wiseman has flashed his soft touch, converting on an abnormally high percentage of his hook shots, especially in pick-and-roll scenarios:

In the above clip, Wiseman receives a delayed pass on a short-roll to the basket and finishes over the outstretched arms of 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingas.

The Memphis product is at his best when he makes a split second decision (even if premeditated) upon receiving the pass. Hitting Wiseman in stride on a roll to the basket has been one of Detroits most efficient options offensively.

Per, the pick-and-roll combination of Jaden Ivey and James Wiseman has flourished, producing an efficient 1.13 points per possession (anything over 1.00 PPP is good). Ivey has already developed years worth of chemistry with Wiseman in less than one month.

Jaden Ivey Pick and Roll Efficiency with Detroit Teammates | Court Optix

With Ivey’s blistering first step and Wiseman’s tremendous catch radius, it’s no surprise these two flourish in ball-screen actions.

LIKE: Wiseman hustling in transition

As previously highlighted, a primary attribute of James Wiseman is his fleet of foot at the center position. He’s able to glide up and down the court with a certain grace uncommon to 7-footers. Best of all, he’s aware of this prowess and looks to gallop down the court at every opportunity—even when he’s not receiving the pass.

In a recent game agains the Charlotte Hornets, Wiseman had numerous transition forays where his lengthy strides and coordination were on full display:

  • In this play, Wiseman takes takes the ball coast-to-coast, flashing his tremendous gait, and finishing with a lefty euro-step over the Hornets defender:
  • Here, the 7-footer uses his size and speed to beeline toward the painted area and seal off his man. Finishing with his favored (and efficient) left hook shot:

LIKE: Wiseman being seven foot tall

In the sport of basketball, size normally wins out. Context matters, but traditionally the league’s most dominant teams have featured a feared 6-foot-11-plus big in the front-court. Having a behemoth lock down the interior is a crucial ingredient to defensive success. Even in an era where ‘going small’ has become popular, having a defensive presence in the painted area is a core part of regular season success (just look at the pre-trade deadline Toronto Raptors’ struggles).

Now, Wiseman is far from a defensive stalwart, but on a mostly undersized (wings and bigs) team that has struggled to defend the restricted area, his sheer size has aided Detroit. One area Wiseman has provided the Pistons with a boost is rebounding.

In 10 games with the Motor City, the former second overall selection is hauling in 8.4 rebounds (2.1 offensive) a night. Since adding Wiseman into the mix, Detroit have ranked 10th in offensive boards and 15th in total rebounds a game. A jump from 12th and 22nd in offensive and total rebounds, respectively, in the pre-Wiseman games.

Wiseman is far from a perfect rebounder, his positioning is questionable and he often fumbles contested rebounds, but his 7-foot frame and 7-foot-6 wingspan help make up for a lack of skill in this area. Everything about trading for and playing Wiseman is about getting him reps so he can get more comfortable and improve in areas where he should excel but is struggling. To my mind, rebounds is at or near the top of that list.

1 Thing to Dislike

DISLIKE: Defense

Right now, James Wiseman is a bad NBA defender.

Yes, he is yet to reach 100 NBA games played. Yes, he only played a week’s worth of college ball. Yes, he has missed a bunch of time through injury. And yes, he has flashed the briefest glimpses of defensive dominance. However, the numbers and the eye test collectively and overwhelmingly indicate Wiseman has a long way to go defensively.

Per Cleaning the Glass, Wiseman is in the bottom-five of Pistons in terms of point differential on defense. Detroit are +4.9 points worse (per 100 possessions) with the 21-year-old on the court. Encouragingly (I think), Wiseman’s struggles aren’t for a lack of trying, but his positioning on defense leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe this is a byproduct of his lack of experience, but many of the concerns surrounding his defense were noted pre-draft:

  • Per; “His ability to defend out on the perimeter is potentially very good for a big guy, but he has some things to learn fundamentally to realize it (ie playing less upright and not relying solely on his length to make up for being out of position.” — Damian Lillard blows by an upright Wiseman with ease:
  • Per; “While he is a potentially game-changing defender, he also seems to be a bit jumpy looking to send shots into the stands, and prone to fakes that lead to fouls or compromises the team’s defensive balance on the court.” — Wiseman rotates to help on the Gordon Hayward post-up when Isaiah Livers has excellent defensive positioning, giving up the easy floater:

It’s fair to note that Detroit on the whole is a miserable team defensively. Wiseman is but one of many young Pistons who consistently find themselves out of position due to poor awareness and communication. Of course, at some point this team needs to add solutions to the problem and not just more problems in this area. The case for Wiseman figuring it out defensively stems from the fact he’s barely played and has the room to grown and make mistakes in Detroit. Troy Weaver certainly thinks his latest reclamation project can be a contributing piece.

3 Thing to Monitor:

MONITOR: Can he expand his shooting range?

In order for the Wiseman experiment to hit its apex in Detroit, the third-year big’s perimeter stroke will need to become a viable offensive option. If we assume Jalen Duren is the team’s center of the future, based on Troy Weaver’s vision of playing big (two bigs sharing the floor at all times), Wiseman will need to develop his a reliable jump-shot to provide any semblance of spacing.

Thus far in his career, Wiseman is yet to show he can knock down a mid-range jumper, much less convert on open three-point attempts. For his career, the 7-foot big-man is converting on 30.4% of his threes (low-volume) and 36.8% on long-twos, per Basketball Reference.

In his brief time with Detroit, he’s knocked down the 10-15-foot jumper with some consistency, however, the sample size is far too small. Even if the defense were to improve immensely, without a jump-shot, it’s hard to envision Wiseman alongside Duren in the front-court. That kind of front-line is a disaster for a back-court (Ivey and Cunningham) who need space to thrive.

MONITOR: Screen-setting

I touched on this element of Wiseman’s game in a recent piece, however, his application to screen-setting is an area worth monitoring as the season draws to a close. For a player with his stature, Wiseman rarely makes contact with the defender when providing a screen. Instead, he prioritizes his roll to the basket.

This is fine to an extent, however, notice how little pressure the defense is under in the above clip. A stonewall screen has the potential to ‘collapse’ a defense, putting defenders in rotation and ultimately opening up three point attempts—like the below:

Steven Adams sets a sturdy screen on the Jalen Green, providing a clean run-way for Ja Morant to attack. With Green out of the play, Kevin Porter Jr. provides help to slow Morant and Adams on the roll, but Morant recognises there is now an opening in the corner and is able to fire a pass for the open three.

Encouragingly, Wiseman and the coaching staff are aware of this flaw, with the Pistons big man noting in Thursday night’s loss; “It’s just me setting better screens, which I’ve been working on and am trying to get better at every day.”

MONITOR: Can Wiseman play alongside another big?

The early indications are favorable in the Wiseman + big pairings, per Cleaning the Glass:

  • Wiseman (C) and Bagley (PF) in 113 possessions = -36.3 points per 100 possessions
  • Wiseman (C) and Stewart (PF) in 57 possessions = -6.1 points per 100 possessions

The Wiseman and Bagley minutes have been predictably bad, it doesn't take a basketball savant to figure out a pair of bigs who struggle to defend and can’t shoot is a bad combination.

With Stewart at the power forward position, Detroit was able to produce more respectable numbers. Stewart’s defensive malleability and outside shooting gel alongside Wiseman’s interior bound game. Considering Wiseman and Stewart’s likely role with the franchise long-term is in a reserve role—at least in my opinion—I have faith this reserve tandem can

Now that Jalen Duren has returned to the lineup, it will be interesting to see if the coaching staff attempt to play the Memphis Tigers duo together in the front-court. I personally don’t have high-hopes for the outcomes, but it’s definitely worth trying.