NBA

James Wiseman’s picks become less of a smokescreen

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To bring up the term “screen assist” is likely to induce more mockery than props – we all have Rudy Gobert to thank for that (unjustifiably, in my opinion) – but hear me out.

On a team that has an ungodly combination of on-ball shooting creation and off-ball movement, scouting is arguably their greatest offensive currency. You can’t release your shooters if you can’t set a suitable screen; chase lags of any kind won’t happen if defenders can easily fight for picks; if you can’t at least use your big frame to create a big obstacle for defenders on the ball to navigate, then you’re stagnating a possession quickly.

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That’s why the on-screen helpers are a quick way to deduce which players in the league are the best to get the most out of their picks. Gobert has dominated such a category in recent years – his 6.3 on-screen assists per game in the 2021-22 season led all players, while he was second to Domantas Sabonis the season before.

We only have one regular season of evidence of James Wiseman (half a season, actually), but despite all the talk about his issues as a screener, the numbers say he wasn’t at all bad to help generate points as a screener. .

During his rookie season, Wiseman’s 2.4 on-screen assists per game was second best among all rookie centers; only Isaiah Stewart (2.9) beat him in that department. Broadening the scope to all centers, Wiseman was 40th out of 73 centers who appeared in at least half of the 72 games in the 2020-21 season.

With someone of Wiseman’s size, it’s not at all ridiculous to expect him to get screen assist averages approaching those of the elite big screens – somewhere around 4 to 6 per game. But he may not even have to look far to find inspiration and set goals.

A very good argument can be made for Kevon Looney being the Golden State Warriors’ best screen passer. A team that bypasses a typical pick-and-roll-heavy scheme isn’t required to generate a steady stream of on-screen assists, so Looney’s 3.4 per game last season – the best in the league. team – are technically considered average among the big leagues.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that Looney is a fundamental reviewer – and Wiseman can draw a lot from his veteran in that department.

In fact, he may already be incorporating some of the things he observed last season, as well as lessons he learned from the Warriors’ resident whisperer Dejan Milojević.

Take this possession in the Warriors’ Summer League game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, for example:

Wiseman’s transfer screen from a regular low-post split action looks Looney-esque – even to the point that Wiseman walks that thin line between defining screen legal and calling for mobile screen. But the question of legality aside, his screen achieves its objective: freeing the ball carrier for the lay-up from the baseline.

These are the types of reps Wiseman will get in the Warriors offense. As a low-post hub, he will need to develop many skills – finding cutters and shooters is the number one priority, while polishing his return-to-the-basket game as a touchdown scorer will be the next step.

Apart from these, setting up screens should be its main focus. The game against the Thunder showed several examples of Wiseman setting effective screens that led to scoring opportunities.

This “tight” pick-and-roll (a ball screen placed closer to the edge) between Wiseman and Gui Santos is a prime example:

Santos’ pick-and-roll partnership with Wiseman was particularly notable. One thing to admire about Santos is his ability to use his draft partner effectively – he waits for Wiseman to get ready, and only then does he move.

Contrast that with this possession involving Mac McClung, who moves just a little too fast for Wiseman:

What most people forget is that screen setup is as much a two-player effort as it is proper scouting fundamentals. No matter how good you are at placing picks, if your partner moves impatiently, you will be unfairly punished with an offensive foul.

(It’s not just limited to lower level players and inexperienced youngsters. We’ve seen plenty of times when Stephen Curry pushed Looney and Draymond Green into offensive fouls because he moved a beat too soon. At their level , it’s a matter of minimizing these errors to the point that they are rarely made.)

When given the appropriate opportunity, time, and context to set a screen, Wiseman showed he was adept:

A 14-7-2 night against the Thunder was another promising notch on Wiseman’s belt. In a game where the Warriors lost by 8, they edged the Thunder by 2 points in their 20.5 minutes on the court.

Numbers don’t matter as much in this environment. You need to look at player progress through a lens of process rather than results. Wiseman had a lot of flashes in terms of process, while clearly having areas to iron out.

Just like other aspects of his game – scoring, rebounding, rim protection, etc. – Wiseman needs a steady stream of reps to improve his screening business. Some of this is already visible; whether that translates to Looney levels of scouting and screen assist or beyond, we’re in for one hell of a Wiseman comeback season.

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