James Wiseman and Draymond Green are linked by circumstance.
Both missed training camp and all three preseason games because of positive coronavirus tests, but are now the anchors of the Warriors front-court. One is a doe-eyed, 19-year-old who runs the floor like a gazelle; and the other is a 30-year-old master Jedi of defense who has spent the start of the season mentoring his protege.
How this partnership between Wiseman and Green develops on the court will determine the ceiling of the Warriors this season.
So far, the results have been mixed. Though Wiseman has had his share of SportsCenter-worthy highlights, the Warriors have been out-scored by 14.7 points per 100 possessions when he and Green share the floor. That’s a problem, considering they are the two-fifths of the starting lineup.
It could be assumed that the problem lies on offense. Wiseman has a burgeoning post game and surprisingly-feathery shooting touch, but is not a playmaker in any sense. Green, meanwhile, is a non-shooter (he made at least three field goals for the first time this season in Sunday’s win over the Raptors). But the offense isn’t the problem. Surprisingly, it’s the defense.
With Green and Wiseman on the court, the Warriors have a defensive rating of 116.1 — nearly seven points per 100 possessions worse than Golden State’s rating since Green entered the lineup, and a mark that would rank second-to-last in the NBA.
That could be because Green feels like he needs to coach Wiseman through defensive possessions, rather than execute.
On the first basket of Friday’s game against the Clippers, for instance, Paul George beat Wiseman off the dribble to set up a chain reaction. Green flashed down to provide interference even though Andrew Wiggins was clearly in position to help, leaving Serge Ibaka wide open. Ibaka wasn’t Green’s man to start the possession, but once Wiseman got switched onto George, Green was the only player in position to defend him. This is the sort of play Green has made countless times but, because of a lack of trust in his teammates, he made a rare mistake.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Golden State’s defensive rating soars when Wiseman is replaced by Kevon Looney, who has played with Green for six seasons and two Finals runs. With Green and Looney on the court together, the Warriors out-score opponents by 18.2 points per 100 possessions, and post a stingy defensive rating of 92.3.
This is not to say the Warriors should bench Wiseman and start Looney. Wiseman has too much potential to make changes after only a handful of games. But it does show there is much work to be done.
During film sessions, Green will point out instances when Wiseman is out of position, chasing blocks and missing rebounds.
“Having that guy that’s not afraid to use his voice and actually give me tips (of) how to get better,” Wiseman said, “that’s really great for me and for the team.”
On the court, Green will shout and point instructions at the rookie. Once Wiseman needs less direction, Green will be able to trust and thrive.
For Wiseman, who has played in just 13 organized basketball games since graduating high school in 2019, this ability to learn in practice and in game is invaluable.
“I learn on the fly because he’s telling me which position to be in,” Wiseman said. “Him being a coach on the floor, I’m actually learning at the same time while I’m playing. So it’s kind of like the best of both worlds.”
There have been flashes of budding chemistry. After connecting on just one lob in the first three games together, they’ve connected on three in the last three. Of Green’s average of 6.0 assists per game, 1.3 are setting up Wiseman. In turn, if Wiseman can defend the rim more soundly, Green will be freed up to wreak havoc.
The Pacers Tuesday night provide a stiff challenge. Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis are a productive and dynamic front-court duo that will stretch the floor, finesse their way to the basket and test Golden State’s key defenders.
Green and Wiseman have their work cut out for them. Like they have all season, they’ll do so together.
Contributed by local news sources