It has been six weeks since James Wiseman made his Detroit Pistons debut on Feb. 15. In those six weeks, the big man has played 468 minutes. It’s not a big number, yet it’s close to 30% of his career 1,566 minutes played since the Golden State Warriors drafted him No. 2 overall in 2020.
That means Wiseman is being prioritized for the first time in his NBA career. He has started 16 consecutive games for the Pistons, all while going through ups and downs more typical for a rookie than for a third-year big man. But the flashes of upside show why the Pistons wanted him. He moves unusually well for a 7-footer and is already one of the better scorers on the roster despite his lack of experience.
If it all comes together, the front office believes Wiseman will give them a counter to the league’s top big men. Centers are taking over the NBA. This season’s MVP award will almost certainly go to Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo. The latter two have split the past four awards. That’s nearly a half-decade of dominance from one position, and the Pistons don’t anticipate that will change soon.
With six games remaining this season, Wiseman and the organization have begun to set their sights on the offseason. For him to match up against Embiid or Jokic, it’s clear that Wiseman will have to hit the gym. Weightlifting will be a big part of his regime this summer, and he’s eager to fill out his frame and add more oomph to his offensive bag.
“He’s learning every day,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said Wednesday. “He’s grown. A lot of things that he’s learning aren’t systematic, it’s just as much habits, and most of all strength. He’s got a lot of weightlifting to do this summer going forward, it’s no mystery. Just gotta get stronger. He’s got natural skills you can’t teach. He’s seven-plus, long, athletic and you can’t coach that. A lot of the things that he’s still going to continue to get better at are still there. Getting stronger where he can maneuver around the basket, not get pushed off his mark, those things are things he’s still going to continue to do.”
Detroit’s 126-117 home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday showed why Wiseman wants to get stronger. Bucks center Brook Lopez isn’t an MVP candidate, but he’s still one of the most skilled two-way centers in the league. With Antetokoumpo missing Monday’s game, Lopez stepped up. He finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks — and was the primary reason why Wiseman shot just 2-for-8 in the first half.
Wiseman was uncomfortable. Lopez blocked a dunk attempt and denied him space on a turnaround hook before Wiseman began settling for, and missing, longer shots. He eventually adjusted, getting into Lopez’s body to make a turnaround hook and layup in the third quarter. But the veteran center did a good job using his strength and positioning to keep him off-balance.
On the other end, Lopez made eight of his 11 shots. Despite being one of the best-shooting bigs in the league, he did all of his damage in the paint. Wiseman was his primary defender on his initial basket. He backed Wiseman down from the left block, created room with a shoulder bump and calmly hit a right-handed hook.
“That was the hardest matchup, to be honest,” Wiseman said on Thursday. “Him, Jokic and Embiid … Those three right there are most definitely the hardest to guard, in my opinion.
“It’s really his strength, but he’s been in the league for 15 years so he knows the game,” Wiseman continued. “It was hard, like IQ-wise. His strength overpowered me, and I don’t want that to happen no more, you know? I’m most definitely going to be in the weight room heavy this summer.”
Wiseman takes a higher-than-average amount of midrange jumpers for a big man, but he’s most efficient in the paint. According to Cleaning the Glass, he’s shooting an above-average 72% at the rim. He has a coordinated post game, and creates a lot of his own looks.
Unlike rookie teammate Jalen Duren, who largely feasts on lobs and putback layups and dunks, Wiseman is comfortable dribbling and going right through defenders. He did so on his last score of Monday, calling an isolation against Lopez and initiating contact before finishing a right-handed layup.
He knows that, to become even better at the rim and consistently get the best of Lopez-level defenders, he’ll have to consistently win the physicality battles in the paint — both on post-ups and drives.
“I would say my balance, my base when I’m posting up,” Wiseman said. “I get pushed out too much. Really just being able to seal and hold a man off, don’t let them get over me. That comes with having a strong base.”
Wiseman said he would like to get into the gym with Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett this summer. Garnett was known for his intense workouts. Listed at about 220 pounds coming out of Farragut Career Academy in 1995, he bulked up to about 240 pounds during most of his NBA career.
Wiseman is listed at 240, but estimates he’s currently at 247. By the end of the summer, he wants to get up to 255.
He’ll have five months to accomplish his goal.
“It’s just the fact that I have to get stronger,” Wiseman said. “That’s it.”