James Wiseman’s ‘tremendous upside’ draws Detroit Pistons’ desire, says Troy Weaver

Detroit Free Press

Editor’s note: The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Friday night a failed physical by Gary Payton II may nix the four-team trade on Thursday in which the Pistons landed James Wiseman. According to the report, the Warriors have until Saturday to waive the physical or pull out of the deal.

For Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, the logic behind Thursday’s trade — swapping Saddiq Bey for 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman — is simple.

Wiseman has the tools to be a star in the NBA. The Memphis alumnus is listed at 7-feet tall with a 7-6 wingspan and possesses elite speed and leaping ability. He’s unusually coordinated for a player his size. And the Pistons, unlike the Golden State Warriors, can give him more opportunity for success.

“As a player, he has tremendous upside,” Weaver said before Friday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. “Oftentimes when young players go to championship-level teams, it’s hard for them to fit in and find their way because you have to conform to the system that’s already in place. It’s been proven, and he’s no different. They had a bunch of injuries and they lucked up and got that pick, and so they were able to add this kind of talent to a championship-level team. He never really got a chance.”

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In Detroit, Wiseman will get a chance. He was the top player on Detroit’s draft board in 2020, per sources, and Weaver still believes in his upside. The Pistons landed Wiseman in a four-team trade that ultimately sent Bey, who was drafted 19th in 2020 before carving out a role as a starter, to the Atlanta Hawks and Kevin Knox to the Portland Trail Blazers.

It’s a swap of a proven role player for an unproven project. Bey, who averaged 14.8 points and started 30 of the 52 games he was available for this season, had established himself as one of Detroit’s core players. The Pistons, who entered Friday with the Eastern Conference’s worst record, need starpower. The trade wasn’t a knock on Bey, who Weaver described as “family.” It was a reflection of the fact that Wiseman’s upside is greater than almost everyone on Detroit’s roster.

Thursday was a sad day for Detroit’s locker room. Weaver expressed confidence that Wiseman will be accepted and find his footing after playing just 60 games during his Golden State tenure due to injury and lack of minutes for a developmental prospect.

“Saddiq is a worker, a tremendous young man,” Weaver said. “He brought a lot to the table and he’ll continue in his young career to continue to grow as a player. I’m excited for him to get another opportunity, and praying for his success. Couldn’t ask for Saddiq to do any more than what he’s done. The trade wasn’t easy, but to get a chance at this kind of talent to add to the group, we had to do what was best for the Pistons.”

Since he was hired in June 2020, Weaver has been consistent in his vision for the Pistons. He has deeply invested in rounding out their frontcourt, drafting Isaiah Stewart that year and trading for Jalen Duren, the No. 13 overall pick in 2022. Marvin Bagley III, a former No. 2 overall pick the Pistons traded for last season and then signed to a fully guaranteed three-year, $37.5 million contract last summer, is also in the fold.

The organization has prioritized playing Duren and Stewart together. Wiseman will shake up coach Dwane Casey’s rotation. Weaver pointed to the reality of the Eastern Conference, which is led by contending teams with deep frontcourts, and that the Pistons have consistently struggled against teams with a size advantage. Injuries have thinned their frontcourt at times this season. Wiseman gives them another weapon — one with great defensive tools that have yet to be applied in a winning fashion.

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The top four teams in the East all boast great size up front. The Boston Celtics have Al Horford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams III. The Milwaukee Bucks are led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and one of the league’s most effective bigs in Brook Lopez. The Cleveland Cavaliers have 2021 No. 3 pick Evan Mobley and 2022 All-Star Jarrett Allen. And the Philadelphia 76ers have another MVP candidate in Joel Embiid.

“If you don’t have size to play against those guys, you don’t have a chance,” Weaver said. “Point blank, period. We need some men and some size. We haven’t beaten those teams yet. If you look at those games, we’ve usually struggled on the glass. Adding this player to go with our other guys, a budding rookie in Duren, and Stewart in his third year and Bagley, we think it’s going to bode well for us going forward. To really add to it, those four teams are top four in defense, and if we’re going to be the real Detroit Pistons and restore this thing it’s going to start with defense.”

Of course, Wiseman will have to prove that he can play. Sixty games isn’t a large sample size, and he also only played three games at Memphis due to violations of NCAA bylaws. In 21 appearances this season, he’s averaging 6.9 points and 3.5 rebounds on 62.8% shooting in 12.5 minutes a game.

His highlights resemble those of the NBA’s top talents. He’s a mobile offensive player with nimble footwork, lob-finishing ability and solid shooting touch. Defensively, though, he has a ways to go. The Pistons will give him the reps he needs and invest in his success.

“He was excited,” Weaver said. “He saw the young core here and he sees a group that he can be a part of on and off the floor. It’s natural excitement when you think you get a chance to get on the floor and help the group. He’s excited about his opportunity.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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