James Wiseman ready to silence critics, show Warriors he can be monster

SAN FRANCISCO – James Wiseman wants nothing more than a chance to prove he is not what the NBA’s council of perpetual impatience conclusion after 39 games in the league.

A 7-footer destined to disappoint the Warriors.

A smart young man and very good athlete with no clue what to do when setting foot on the basketball court. With no real game.

And, perhaps most offensive, a No. 2 overall draft pick in 2020 that could have been, and should have been, LaMelo Ball or Tyrese Haliburton or Saddiq Bey or whomever happened to be the NBA social media man of the moment during the pandemic-induced agita that abducted the winter of 2020- 21.

With the Warriors opening the 2022-23 NBA season against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, Wiseman took a few minutes Monday afternoon to address the negative noise and much more with NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I know it’s out there,” Wiseman said of the skepticism. “I use it as motivation. I don’t use it as a negative connotation, something that would bring me down. My mom always told me to stick my chest out and keep my head up. I use that stuff to work harder.

“In terms of that social media stuff, I don’t feed into that stuff. I just focus on stuff I need to work on so I can become a better player each game. I’m confident in my abilities.”

The Warriors are pleased with what they’ve seen since Wiseman was cleared for all activities in May. He has been working out religiously, was the only member of the team to submit 100-percent attendance at summer pickup games at Chase Center and has looked considerably more NBA-ready than he did as a 19-year-old rookie nearly two years ago .

“He’s further along than I expected him to be,” coach Steve Kerr said recently. “But a lot of that is because he had a great summer and he’s been healthy … this is how it’s supposed to look.”

When Wiseman entered the NBA in December 2020, dropped into the starting lineup by Kerr, his post-high-school experience totaled 69 minutes at the University of Memphis. There was no Summer League. He did not participate in Golden State’s abbreviated training camp.

Wiseman’s brief rookie season, ending abruptly after sustaining a torn right meniscus, was as uneven as it appeared. He was a teenager trying and often failing to prosper among a league of men. He was not ready. He knew it, as did the Warriors.

“I put him out there and, looking back, it wasn’t really fair,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We put too much on him before he was ready. He did some good things, but he took a lot of heat when things didn’t go well.”

While many of his fellow lottery picks from the 2020 NBA draft were exciting their fan bases, Wiseman often was wandering about like a lonely giraffe calf. He shakes his head ruefully at the memory.

“I was trying to get everything at once,” Wiseman said. “Kind of lost out there. Confused. Just running around. I was basically trying to show everybody that I could play, when, in actuality, less is more for me.

“I didn’t understand the game as well as I do now.”

Though it’s apparent Wiseman, 21, still is refining his skills, his performance in five preseason games was mostly encouraging and, at times, spectacular. His 14.8 points per game were second behind Stephen Curry (17.5) while shooting 68.3 percent and averaging 5.8 rebounds.

Even as he was scorched several times on Oct. 9 in a trial-by-fire effort against Lakers big man Anthony Davis, an eight-time All-Star, Wiseman never looked completely clueless.

Chalk it up to inactivity. Wiseman’s 39th and most recent NBA game was 18 months ago, April 10, 2021. He has spent more than 500 days enduring two surgeries, followed by recoveries and rehabilitation. He’s got a significant amount of rust to wipe away.

“The adversity that I went through taught me patience,” Wiseman said. “I just want to improve. The outside pressure doesn’t matter as much. I want to win – and be one of the pieces that help us win.”

When Wiseman watches video from his rookie season, he cringes. When he studies recent video, the progress is impossible to miss. He credits assistant coach Dejan Milojević, lured from Europe as something of a personal tutor, for much of the development.

“He’s been great,” Wiseman said. “I was able to work on my low post game. My rookie year, I really didn’t have a low post game. Now, it’s starting to show. I’m showing flashes. I’m able to use my left hand and my right hand, which is more fluid now.

“It’s a blessing to have him coach me every day. For Golden State to bring him in has developed my whole game to another level.”

RELATED: What to expect from Wiseman this season

Wiseman insists he never had any doubt, even as others did. He came into the NBA believing he had star potential and that has not changed. He frequently studies video of Hall of Fame big men Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo – with particular emphasis on KG.

“I love his tenacity for the game,” Wiseman said. “The way he pushed himself on the court, like on the defensive end, where he was a monster. I’m trying to become that type of player.

“I’ve got to give myself some grace, take it one day at a time. But I’m going to get there.”

Wiseman won’t get to his ceiling in a week or a month or a year. But there is belief, by himself and the Warriors, that he will. And that will be good enough to silence those seeking instant greatness.

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