Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman were always going to face a long road to NBA success even as the top two picks in the 2020 draft. Edwards was one of the youngest American-born players in the draft after reclassifying late in his high school career to essentially skip his senior year so he could play at Georgia. Wiseman’s entry at or near the top of his class rankings was always based on the long-term projection of his physical tools rather than his present day readiness. It didn’t help that he only played three games at Memphis amid a whirlwind NCAA scandal.
Edwards and Wiseman have struggled as much as you’d expect from two teenagers in the first quarter of their NBA season. Out of 250 players ranked by wins above replacement in FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR tool, Edwards ranks No. 243 and Wiseman ranks No. 233. If you look at BPM on basketball-reference, another all-in-one metric that measures impact on the floor, Edwards is the worst player in the league and Wiseman is also in the bottom 30.
None of this is a surprise or even a real cause for concern. Even in the best case scenario, it’s going to take Edwards and Wiseman a few years to become winning players. In the meantime, NBA fans will have to settle for flashes. This week, Wiseman’s Golden State Warriors and Edwards’ Minnesota Timberwolves faced off in back-to-back games for their first head-to-head meetings as pros. As the Warriors came away with two wins, both Edwards and Wiseman displayed the talent that made them such tantalizing prospects.
In Wednesday night’s series finale, Edwards finished with 25 points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals on 9-of-19 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 shooting from three. Wiseman finished with 25 points, six rebounds, and two blocks on 9-of-14 shooting and a shocking 3-of-3 from three-point range. Both performances were packed with fleeting moments of brilliance that showcase why the NBA thought these were the two best prospects available in the draft.
What do Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman do well right now? What do they need to continue to work on to reach their potential? We asked Derek James from our Wolves community Canis Hoopus and Brady Klopfer from our Warriors community Golden State of Mind to give us their insight on the young rookies.
Evaluating Anthony Edwards as a rookie
Edwards can score the ball at the NBA level — he’s proven that already. After torching Golden State, Edwards has now scored 15 points or more in his last three games, and in nine of his first 17 games in the NBA.
The thing Edwards needs to learn is how to score efficiently. His 45.2 true shooting percentage is about 11 points behind league average. He’s currently making only 30 percent of his three-pointers, and 39 percent of his two-pointers. Both numbers leave plenty of room for improvement.
Here’s an example of Edwards’ slashing at its best. His ability to create space with a combination of speed, power, and agility is what makes him a special prospect physically.
DAMN, Ant pic.twitter.com/6OjspaBsU3— CJ Fogler 6'7" IQ 269 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 28, 2021
Edwards was born to win a dunk contest. When he gets downhill and is determined to get to the rim, his natural explosiveness can lead to some fantastic finishes.
Watch every angle of Anthony Edwards' BIG-TIME THROW DOWN from Monday night @Timberwolves rematch with the Warriors tonight at 10pm/et on ESPN pic.twitter.com/FaJQJMO25G— NBA (@NBA) January 27, 2021
A big issue for Edwards is that he too often “settles” for a jumper. In this sense, the incredible difficult shot-making ability he flashes can come back to bite him. Because he’s capable of making such tough attempts off the dribble, he becomes too willing to bet on his own natural talent to make an amazing play rather than the easy play.
One adjustment that would benefit Edwards? Getting to the free throw line more. He has a 16.7 percent free throw rate and is taking only 3.2 attempts per 36-minutes.
Defensively, Edwards was always going to be a work in progress. There’s a steep learning curve on that end for any 19-year-old in the NBA, and the early metrics aren’t encouraging. Still, Edwards is too physically gifted to be a major minus on defense and a combination of good coaching and experience recognizing NBA actions should benefit him immensely down the line as long as he’s committed to maintaining his focus on a possession-by-possession basis.
Here’s what Derek James of Canis Hoopus told us about Edwards’ rookie year:
It’s clear that Edwards doesn’t have a lot of responsibility yet. He isn’t asked to do much playmaking or crash the boards a ton yet. Though he does seem to have the makings of a willing passer. Edwards has been fearless in attacking the basket, although he doesn’t have the foul calls to show for it. We’ve seen defenses press him when catches a pass at the three-point line because it’s over if he gets that first step. He struggled with that adjustment but has started to find other ways to get in the lane and get to the basket. Though his three-point shot hasn’t fallen, his shooting form looks good enough to be promising. What also has impressed me is his effort. It rarely seems like he’s drifting or floating and is clear he tries to make the right decisions. He’s playing good minutes off the bench but I would love to see him play more with Karl-Anthony Towns down the stretch to make his life easier.
The lack of production outside of scoring is there with Edwards. His counting stats are rather unimpressive, but when he shares the floor with more ball-dominant guards like Ricky Rubio and D’Angelo Russell, the assists aren’t as easy to come by. At 6’6 and 230 pounds, you would also like to see him eventually grab more than 2.8 rebounds per game. Edwards also tends to settle for too many difficult and contested 3-pointers instead of using his physical abilities to attack the basket. He’s too skilled and physically gifted to take what the defense gives them in those situations. Overall, he needs to improve his efficiency away from the basket. Considering he would have been 18 years old if last year’s draft was in June, he’s clearly a young player who has room to grow.
Evaluating James Wiseman as a rookie
“To be honest with you, he was my No. 1 forever, basically.”
These are the words of Warriors’ franchisee Joe Lacob speaking to The Athletic after Golden State made the 7-foot center the second overall pick in the draft. While Wiseman was viewed as a polarizing prospect in most corners of draft analysis, the Warriors never appeared to have any hesitations. “I just think he’s a once-in-a-decade kind of guy,” Lacob said.
Wiseman was always going to benefit from playing with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green on a team with a strong culture like Golden State, and that’s mostly happened so far. In a narrow role that doesn’t ask him to go outside of his comfort zone much, Wiseman has given the Warriors some decent production. He’s scored 13 or more points in his last five games and has hit double-figures in scoring 12 times in 18 games this season.
Still, there’s a reason the Warriors moved Wiseman to the bench this week for the first time all season. He has the second lowest net rating on the team of any regular in the rotation at -6.1. RAPTOR has Wiseman as the third worst offensive player in the league thus far, but rates him as a slight positive defensively.
The second game against the Wolves felt like Wiseman’s best effort of the season. This is what the Warriors envisioned when they drafted him as a massive rim protector on defense who is blessed with rare straight-line speed in the open floor.
James Wiseman doing it ALL on both ends pic.twitter.com/IfF6c9cw6R— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 28, 2021
Wiseman’s best attribute is that he’s simply gigantic. With a reported 7’6 wingspan and 9’5 standing reach, Wiseman is one of the biggest players in the league as a rookie. He already has a strong frame and he’s only going to become more intimidating as he adds muscle over time.
Wiseman’s biggest issue remains his feel for the game. How the Warriors plan on improving that will be a fascinating test in development. There’s no reason for Wiseman to grade out in the 30th percentile of the league in ‘cuts,’ per Synergy Sports, which is his most frequently used play type. He’s also in the 48th percentile as a roll man. Understanding how to read and maintain spacing will be critical for Wiseman offensively. It doesn’t help that he often takes a while to load up before jumping unlike some bigs in the league who feel like pogo sticks.
Defensively, Wiseman isn’t the quickest laterally, but should be impactful based on size alone as he continues to grasp positioning. Myles Turner progressing into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate should give Golden State an example of how he can be deployed as he learns the game.
Here’s what Brady Kloper from Golden State of Mind has seen from Wiseman so far.
It bears repeating with James Wiseman: he played three college games, had a pandemic offseason, and missed the bulk of a truncated training camp after testing positive for the coronavirus. Expecting any 19-year old rookie to add value is a tall task, let alone one from that situation, and that has played out with drastic numbers: the Warriors five-man starting lineup with Wiseman has a net rating of -17.8. Replace Wiseman with Kevon Looney and that number sky rockets to (42-minute sample size driven) +45.9.
But even on a team like the Warriors, the goal with a rookie is to see what they can be, not what they are. And what Wiseman can be has proven to be tantalizing. He’s put his athleticism and skillset on display numerous times with Giannis-esque coast-to-coast highlights, where he grabs a defensive rebound, seemingly gets across the court in three dribbles, and finishes with a violent dunk. He’s been a sniper from distance, and has strong footwork. There are some troubling signs, though. He doesn’t rebound as well as you would expect out of a 7’1” uber-athlete, and while he has nice hands when the ball is in them, he has pretty rough hands when the ball is coming his way. But he inspires confidence that those issues can be rectified, as he seemingly spends every presser detailing how much he loves watching film and asking questions to vets and coaches. Both Steve Kerr and Draymond Green — transparent individuals — have gone out of their way numerous times to praise his coachability and star potential. He seems to improve every game, and that’s something to hang some optimism on.
Edwards and Wiseman don’t need to be superstars to justify their draft status
The 2020 NBA Draft lacked a consensus top prospect throughout the process. We liked LaMelo Ball best, but it’s easy to see why the Wolves and Warriors preferred Edwards and Wiseman respectively.
For Wiseman, the challenge will be proving he deserves to be on the court late in games. The Warriors practically rewrote NBA history by going small in the front court during their dynasty years. Now they have a huge center with limited lateral quickness and shooting ability who will need to prove he’s impactful enough to keep Golden State from going small again when it matters most.
Edwards is in a tough situation playing for what might be the worst team in the league in Minnesota. A successful rookie season for him would be to improve the consistency of his defensive effort and show a greater dedication to getting to the rim.
Wiseman and Edwards don’t need to become All-NBA players to prove they were worthy of their draft slot — they just need to start grasping the nuances of the game and let their natural ability take it from there.