SAN FRANCISCO — James Wiseman wore the look of a young man who knew he was headed to the principal’s office.
The Golden State Warriors’ 19-year-old big man was in the midst of the best game of his brief career during Wednesday night’s 121-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs. But with 7:44 left in the third quarter, Warriors veteran forward Draymond Green threw a pass toward Wiseman — and the young rookie wasn’t where Green wanted him to be. Spurs swingman DeMar DeRozan intercepted the ball and pushed it down the floor to Dejounte Murray for an easy bucket, as Green waved his arms in Wiseman’s direction while shouting a message.
After another Warriors turnover a few seconds later, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr called time out, and Wiseman headed to the bench for the verbal lesson from Green that he knew was coming. As he has done at various points throughout the season, Green proceeded to tell the rookie exactly where he went wrong as the two sat next to each other in folding chairs on the side of the floor.
Wiseman had to chuckle when asked postgame whether he has become comfortable enough to say anything back to Green yet.
“I still got to gain my respect,” Wiseman said during a video conference with reporters. “So I’m not saying nothing else back. I’m just saying ‘OK,’ and I’m going to just get better at it. So that’s what I do. I don’t say nothing else.”
Wiseman let his play do all the talking on Wednesday, pouring in a career-high 20 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out four assists in 25 minutes. Most importantly, he stayed out of the foul trouble that has defined most of the first month of his professional career. Aside from picking up a couple of late fouls when the game was already in hand, Wiseman was able to make a difference by learning from his earlier mistakes.
“You just show him the tape and you drill what you teach defensively,” Kerr said. “And you throw him out there and then you remind him that no matter how many times he looks at it or we tell him, it’s just going to be reps. That’s what I told him after last game: There’s just going to be good games, bad games; the main thing is just to continue to work and continue to learn.
“I’m very happy to see him bust out and have a good game tonight.”
Kerr has repeatedly praised the young big man for his ability to learn and be coachable, two traits that many young players struggle with early in their careers. It’s that kind of mental awareness that has made Wiseman stand out to Warriors personnel since he was taken with the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft. It’s also why his teammates were so impressed with this particular performance, after he played his worst game of the campaign in Monday’s win at the Los Angeles Lakers in which he had five fouls and five turnovers in just 13 minutes.
“Just being patient within my mind,” Wiseman explained. “Making sure that I slow down up here. Making sure that I read the floor and just be patient with my moves. Just being way more precise with the basketball.”
Wiseman noted that his consistent film study has made him feel more comfortable on the floor, but it was Green who has really assisted him when it comes to figuring out how to stay in the game and stay out of foul trouble.
“Listening to Draymond, talking to Draymond,” Wiseman said. “He’s giving me little tricks, different tricks on how to be smart. How to stay on my feet, because I’m 7-1, so I don’t have to jump. So if I’m going to jump, be the second jumper. But just like using verticality, which I’m getting better at.”
The growth in Wiseman’s game gives the organization hope for the future. On a night in which the team wore its Oakland jerseys for the first time to honor the past, Wiseman offered another glimpse of just how much brighter the next few years could look if he continues to improve his game.
The confidence he continues to display even in the face of adversity has caught the eye of the Warriors’ most important player of all.
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“It’s right up there with the ones that have that ‘it’ factor,” Warriors superstar Stephen Curry said, when asked how Wiseman’s confidence compares to other young players he has played with in the past. “That will to be great and put the time and the work in.
“Obviously, it comes with a sense of expectation around playing for us and being the second draft pick so … I haven’t been around many of those rookies in terms of our organization, but you have that show up every day, are consistent, put the work in, aren’t afraid of the moment and ask all the right questions and are trying to figure it out. You can’t really fake that, and we see that in him, and it’s just about the journey now and every day trying to take a step in the right direction.”