Golden State Warriors have a James Wiseman problem

Things are not going well for the reigning NBA champs as of late. The Golden State Warriors are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, all on the road. The latest came against an Orlando Magic team that was 1-7 heading into the Thursday matchup; the Warriors squandered a 16-point lead en route to the L.

A glaring part of the ignominious loss was the performance of third-year center James Wiseman. In less than 10 minutes of game time, Wiseman ended up with more fouls (3) than points (2), and was a -9 overall for the Dubs. The silver lining — though perhaps more comparable to the shine of tin foil — was that he ended up with just as many rebounds as he did fouls.

Wiseman wasn’t the reason they lost, although the Dubs did blow the lead with him on the floor, but he was far from useful in terms of helping the team stave off defeat. He wasn’t singled out as the sole issue in postgame comments, either. But his struggles did come up. Coach Steve Kerr and veteran forward Draymond Green each mentioned, or alluded to in Green’s case, Wiseman, but they did their best to soften the criticism.

Kerr mentioned that he was still a “believer” in the former No. 2 overall pick, and that he loved Wiseman’s “talent” and “attitude.” Green opted to lump together the struggles of the older players and the younger players like the 21-year-old big man.

“It’s definitely some of our young guys’ fault, but it’s not more their fault than our fault,” Green said.

Of course, both Kerr and Green have good reason not to publicly shatter the confidence of a young player — the fact they half-tanked a season to select him No. 2 overall in 2020 chief among them. But for people without such concerns, it’s hard to overstate just how bad Wiseman has been this season.

On stats alone, this 3-6 campaign has been an absolute nightmare for the center. When he’s on the court, the Warriors as a whole get worse defensively and offensively. This drop particularly affects Steph Curry: Whenever Wiseman shares the floor with the reigning Finals MVP, Curry’s net rating drops 32 points, from +12.5 to -19.5. Perhaps more damning, the Dubs are somehow a worse rebounding team with the 7-foot Wiseman on the floor: Ahead of Thursday’s game, the Warriors were giving up offensive rebounds at a rate below the worst offensive rebounding team in the league with Wiseman on the court.

He’s also averaging 8.8 fouls per 100 possessions, up two whole fouls from his rookie year. Then there’s this, from StatMuse:

Wiseman has had a negative plus-minus or been a net-zero in 36 of his 48 career games.

It’s not just that Wiseman might be the worst player getting regular minutes on the team, which the stats show he isFiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric has him rated as the worst player in the entire league of the 250 players that qualify.

Among all this, the play that seems to have become the straw that broke the camel’s back for Warriors fans came with 3:22 left in the third quarter Thursday, when the young big man set a rather soft screen for Curry as Curry brought the ball up the floor. After his half-hearted pick, Wiseman made his way back into the paint and seemed to shake his head in frustration when he didn’t get the pass. The play resulted in a contested step-back three by Curry that clanked off the front of the rim. A cursory look at the box score would tell you that Curry simply missed a shot here, but that ignores the dynamic that played out on the court.

One play hardly defines a whole season, but this particular moment has drawn some Zapruder-like fascination. While some argue Wiseman’s frustrated head-shake came because he was annoyed that he didn’t get the ball — which would indeed be a horrible look for a struggling young player showing up the best player in franchise history — there’s apparently reason to believe it was actually frustration at himself for not executing the play properly.

Still, this isn’t a one-off. Other Warriors observers have pointed out other plays where Wiseman’s execution left a lot to be desired. As a result of those examples, along with his shockingly bad stats, Wiseman has become the face of the team’s struggles with their young players (Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody have each produced their own mediocre seasons thus far). And that’s translated to frustration with what appears to be less-than-stellar decision-making by a front office that chose to keep Wiseman around over players like Gary Payton II and Damion Lee, who were more consistent but left in the offseason.

It was nice of Kerr to back his struggling young center, who will likely be maligned for his play for months to come barring a major turnaround. But the niceties might be coming to an end soon. The team announced that Curry, Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins would be out for Friday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Even if this was simply the head coach giving his starters rest on a back-to-back, the decision still means the team’s struggling young guys will be thrown into the fire against the likes of Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum and possibly Brandon Ingram, too . Things might have looked bad for Wiseman before, but they might look even worse after Friday’s game.

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