After acquiring James Wiseman after the trade deadline, the Detroit Pistons made it clear that the 2020 second overall pick would have a featured role.
Nearly a month later, they’ve made good on that promise.
Wiseman has only played five games with his new team, thanks to the All-Star break and a trade stuck in limbo. But he has started Detroit’s last three games, thanks to injuries to Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart.
With the Pistons, Wiseman is averaging 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 24.6 minutes while shooting 59.1% overall. He has shown flashes of the upside that made him a consensus top-three NBA prospect three years ago, but it’s clear he still has a lot of growth ahead.
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His 23-point, seven-rebound outing against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday, in which he made nine of 11 shots, displayed the innate skill that made him the apple of Troy Weaver’s eye. Defensively, he HAs shown promise but needs polishing.
While the Pistons are certainly hoping they get all of their big men back soon, their lack of frontcourt depth this week has allowed Wiseman to get extended playing time. He has benefited from that, Dwane Casey said.
“It was good to get him acclimated to what we’re doing,” Casey said after Friday’s practice. “Still not totally there yet. But it’s mainly communication, understanding what’s going on. That’s the most important thing with any new player. It was good that he had some extended minutes. I thought he did an excellent job being a deterrent at the rim, even though he didn’t block shots, so to speak. The other team knew he was there and he was ready.”
It’s hard to nitpick Wiseman’s scoring production. He has utilized his rare combination of mobility and coordination as a 7-footer. According to Cleaning The Glass, he has made 85% of his attempts at the rim and has an above-average effective field goal percentage of 60.2%.
There aren’t many big men who can start and finish fastbreaks all by themselves, but Wiseman has done that. He finished a Euro step layup in transition in the first quarter against Charlotte. Add to that his post footwork and comfort level with his left-handed hook, and his efficiency isn’t a surprise.
This is all on a very limited sample size, but the early numbers have been encouraging. There are two clear growth areas for him already, however.
One is his passing; Wiseman has just two assists and eight turnovers as a Piston. Wiseman is tunnel vision-prone, as evidenced in his first possessions with his new team. The Boston Celtics double-teamed him with Grant Williams and Luke Kornet on Feb. 15. One play ended with a hook over both defenders after he received the ball on the left block. Another play ended with him forcing up a miss from the right block, with Alec Burks wide open from 3 on the opposite wing.
Another area of his shot selection. Per Cleaning The Glass, Wiseman has made 17 of 20 shots at the rim but just 6-of-16 from short midrange and 1 of 5 from 3. Wiseman has long favored taking jumpers, dating back to high school. And his 24 shots from outside of the paint (he’s 2-for-3 from long midrange) are too few to deem him a good or bad shooter.
But the Pistons have given him the green light to shoot, and he’ll have to knock down a higher share of those shots to justify his volume. His good efficiency has been sustained by his percentage at the rim, which ranks in the 96th percentile and may be unsustainably high. However, he has shot at least 75% at the rim in every season thus far and that should remain the case.
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Defensively, Casey has referred to Wiseman as a “deterrent,” an accurate description. Opponents often think twice about driving against him. He has made good plays simply by being present.
He’s also agile, and can stick with smaller players in space. The coaching staff likes his effort in communicating with his teammates. A lot of his defensive problems have boiled down to technique and awareness. He isn’t always in position to contest shots. The tools are there, but need to be refined.
“He’s done an excellent job in our pick and roll defense,” Casey said. “He stays between the ball and the rim. He communicates, and for young players that’s three-quarters of the battle is understanding I have to stop the ball first, I gotta talk to my guard and tell him what coverage we’re in, and he’s doing a heck of a job of just those three steps. The next one is, like you said, time his jump where he can block shots. He’s already there, he’s a deterrent. That’s the next step.”
Wiseman’s minutes per game have slowly increased, from 23 in his debut game to 29 during Wednesday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls. But his work load has been relatively light thus far, as he’s averaging just 17.2 shots per 100 possessions — fewer than Killian Hayes and Hamidou Diallo. That could go up as he further gets settled, but Casey will soon have to juggle his minutes with Detroit’s other big men.
The coaching staff eventually wants to get a good look at Wismen playing alongside Duren, who has thrived as a rookie manning the five. Isaiah Stewart has established himself as a core piece, and Marvin Bagley III has been on an offensive tear since returning from a hand injury.
To thrive in Detroit, Wiseman will have to get comfortable doing things he hasn’t received many reps in. To play power forward next to Duren, he’ll have to prove he can consistently defend in space and knock down open shots.
For now, the Pistons will continue allowing him to get comfortable and play to his strengths.
“Let’s keep it simple,” Casey said. “Eventually we’ll do that. We gotta go through the process of elementary, middle school, high school and eventually he’ll get there. Like everything else, everybody wants him to be All-Pro and where we are right now, that’s not going to happen. He will eventually get there at some point on both ends of the floor.”
Catch our podcast “The Pistons Pulse” every Tuesday morning at 5 and on demand on freep.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. This week’s episode, embedded in the story above, features a deep dive into the upcoming NBA draft. See all of our podcasts and daily voice briefings at freep.com/podcasts.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.
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