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Why James Wiseman’s development can cement Golden State Warriors’ contender status

Warriors, James Wiseman

The Golden State Warriors have improved their roster this offseason to the extent that they should be able to contend for the NBA Finals next season. What turns that probable outcome into an inevitable one is if James Wiseman makes an enormous second-year jump.

Wiseman is coming off a mixed bag of a rookie season. He flashed an ability to finish inside with ease and defend the rim. On the other hand, he was inconsistent, unable to hold down the starting center position and had his season cut short due to a knee injury.

Wiseman finished his rookie season averaging 11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from beyond the arc. This came across 21.4 minutes per contest in 39 games, 27 of which he started.

It was a season filled with glimpses of potential but one that didn’t do a great deal towards advancing the Warriors’ roster. Now it’s go time for the former number two overall draft pick to step up.

Despite minimal cap room and perhaps an undesirable draft situation for a contender, Warriors president Bob Myers pulled off an impressive offseason that put the team in an encouraging spot. Golden State selected Jonathan Kuminga No. 7 overall and Moses Moody No. 14 overall with their pair of lottery selections. Kuminga is a smooth and athletic scorer. Moody is a steady shooting-scorer.

As for free agency, the Warriors reunited with defensive-minded forward Andre Iguodala. They also signed Otto Porter Jr., a proven “three-and-D” player, and Nemanja Bjelica, an outside sniper. All three forwards signed for the veteran’s minimum. These five offseason pickups significantly enhance the Warriors’ bench.

When Klay Thompson returns to the floor, he, Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and James Wiseman are the likely starters. The bench would presumably be their five offseason additions, Kevon Looney, Damion Lee, Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson. That’s a deep and well-versed second and third unit. It has a combination of shooting, scoring, defense and a healthy balance of veterans and youth. The same goes for the starting five.

At face value, the Warriors will improve on their 39-33 regular season mark from a year ago. That’s based on their offseason acquisitions, getting a healthy Thompson and the continuity within their starting five. But it’s not enough to make them the frontrunner in the Western Conference or a lock to appear in the Western Conference Finals. James Wiseman is the Wild Card here.

He has the tools to be an elite big man. Wiseman is nimble in the post, a human highlight reel attacking the rack, can emphatically deny shots and has slowly developed a jump shot.

He played just 39 NBA games in a season where a fraction of fans were in attendance during the regular season. That came after Wiseman appeared in just three games at Memphis due to an NCAA investigation. The 2021-22 NBA season is Wiseman’s first chance at a full season of basketball since high school.

Yes, the Warriors have won championships without stellar center play, instead relying on a makeshift center rotation or defensive-minded big men. Wiseman wasn’t a projected top five pick on accident. The Warriors also didn’t go against their winning grain for no reason. They saw a player who had the potential and arsenal to be a difference-maker in the NBA.

Head coach Steve Kerr doesn’t need Wiseman to be the driving force or even the second source of offense. He can strengthen his strengths, become more imposing in the post and garner consistency. If Wiseman becomes money in the paint and teams have to foul him one-on-one, it adds a new dimension to the Warriors’ offense.

Curry is the generational shooter and offensive focal point. Thompson is a highly efficient shooter and proven scorer. Wiggins is adept at creating off the dribble. Green moves the ball and can occasionally stick perimeter jump shots. Imagine if Wiseman is able to take attention away from his teammate. That means Curry and Thompson become all the more dangerous — somehow.

There could be some wiggle room in the Western Conference next season with the Los Angeles Clippers (Kawhi Leonard) and Denver Nuggets (Jamal Murray) each dealing with star injuries and the Utah Jazz continuing to hit a playoff wall. At the same time, there are plenty of formidable teams and sneaky squads to keep tabs on.

The Phoenix Suns are the defending conference champions and have a slew of depth; their roster is a well-oiled machine. While aged, the Los Angeles Lakers have a bevy of high-octane scorers and proven commodities, headlined by Russell Westbrook’s arrival.

The Dallas Mavericks came one game short of beating a healthy Clippers team in the playoffs, who went on to close out the Jazz without Leonard and take the Suns to six games under the same circumstances. Maybe the gritty Memphis Grizzlies shoot up the conference?

At the end of the day, it’s still the West, and there are powerhouses the Warriors will have to overcome to get back to the top. They need a new variable to do as such. That variable can be James Wiseman.