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Kia Rookie Ladder: Warriors eyeing playoffs and James Wiseman’s development

The No. 1 overall pick takes the top spot, while the No. 2 overall pick is searching for consistency.

Coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors aren’t worried about James Wiseman’s up-and-down rookie season.

Win and develop.

It doesn’t pack quite the punch of “survive and advance,” a more urgent basketball phrase heard frequently at this time of year (generally attributed to late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano for his 1983 Wolfpack’s run to the NCAA title).

But it’s better than win or develop, the more common choice faced by NBA teams deep into a regular season that are trying to serve two often-conflicting masters. Such as the Golden State Warriors, more so maybe than most.

The Warriors have been trying all season to establish themselves as a bonafide playoff team. That makes sense, given the pedigree of their recent past (five Finals from 2015 through 2019) and the ticking primes of cornerstone players Steph Curry and Draymond Green. (Klay Thompson’s is ticking too in the rehab gym.)

But grabbing raw and high-ceilinged big man James Wiseman with the No. 2 overall pick imposed development as a priority, and some midseason W-L hiccups had the Warriors adding Jordan Poole and Nico Mannion to the futures focus creeping into the present.

Wiseman, of course, has been the key to Golden State’s either/or vs. both dilemma. The 7-footer who logged just three appearances in his brief stint of college ball at Memphis was precocious to start this season, averaging 12.2 points and 6.1 rebounds through January. But his numbers have dipped since – 10.6, 5.7 – taking his confidence with them. Mix in a sprained wrist, a sitdown related to virus protocols and more recent up-down churning, and it’s no wonder the questions about Wiseman’s progress have turned into what Warriors coach Steve Kerr sarcastically refers to as “the James Wiseman report card” each game night.

Steve Kerr gives a sarcastic answer about the nightly James Wiseman "report card" coverage, then an actual answer: "That's what we're trying to lock in on with James. Simplifying things. Setting a lot of ball screens." Mentioned his "good connection" with Jordan Poole.

— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 7, 2021

All of it has to do with expectations. Wiseman was drafted ahead of Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball, who almost instantly seized the favorite status as Kia NBA Rookie of the Year and top rung on this Rookie Ladder. So when Ball went down with a broken bone in his hand, Wiseman theoretically joined Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton as potential usurpers.

Add in the Warriors’ vaunted culture and peer mentoring, presumably shortening the young man’s learning curve (he turned 20 last week), and many folks naturally focused on Wiseman.

Prematurely, as it turns out.

In a recent piece on Rookie of the Year winners, Monte Poole of NBA Sports Bay Area reminded readers of an NBA truism: It takes big men longer. He noted that of the eight centers who won the award over the past 50 years, six had more college experience than Wiseman and one (Pau Gasol) had been a pro for two years in Spain.

It’s up to the Warriors, who have designated him their starter in the middle since March 23, to synchronize – if they can – the desire to win with their veteran stars with hedging their bets for future seasons.

“No matter how we look at it, James just needs time,” Kerr said. “He’s going to need a summer league and a training camp next year. And he’s going to grow, he’s going to get better and better and he’s going to be a great player. But we just can’t force the issue.”

rumble, young man, rumble @BigTicket_JW || #DubNation

— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) April 7, 2021

So sometimes it will be 11 points, 10 rebounds and active defense in a first half, as Wiseman posted against Milwaukee Tuesday, and other times four points, four rebounds, 1-of-5 shooting and five turnovers, like his work at Miami last week.

As Kerr said: “There are moments when he looks like a future superstar. And there are moments he looks like a young rookie who is trying to figure things out. So I think that’s perfectly natural at this point.”

The Top 5 this week on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder:

(All stats through Monday, April 5)

1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Anthony Edwards | Kia Rookie of the Month

Check out the best moments from Anthony Edwards in March.

Season stats: 17.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.6 apgSince last Ladder: 23.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.0 apgLast Ladder’s rung: 2

His efficiency comes and goes, but Edwards is in there swinging. He continues to lead the rookies in scoring (17.6) and in shots per game (16.5). The No. 1 pick had a couple of plus nights in victories over New York and Sacramento. That included his 19-8-5 performance vs. the Kings in which he shot 5-for-15 with seven turnovers in a snapshot of his season. It’s looking like it will take something dramatic for a new face to crack the Top 2 here, though Edwards and Haliburton could flip-flop repeatedly down the stretch.

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 13.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.1 apgSince last Ladder: 12.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 6.4 apgLast Ladder’s rung: 1

Rookies can only do so much. Haliburton thrived during the Kings’ recent 5-0 stretch, and he’s been OK in their current 0-4 skid. He has averaged 12 points and 5.5 assists to one turnover, shooting 43.5% in the losses, while managing a combined plus-10 in the past two. His defensive impact is legit: 1.2 steals, 1.2 deflections, 0.8 loose balls recovered nightly.

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