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James Wiseman makes G League season debut as he nears critical point in career

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — James Wiseman was in a Sea Dubs uniform, like the one he was wearing Saturday night, eight months ago.

The main difference between then and now is that Wiseman was on an injury rehab stint in March. This time around is purely for developmental reasons.

A lottery pick of Wiseman’s stature in his third NBA season shouldn’t be in the G League. But this is where Wiseman needs to be.

The former No. 2 overall pick has logged less than 60 basketball games over the past three years. It wasn’t until this offseason that Wiseman played in his first Summer League, and this fall when he experienced his first full NBA training camp. Not to mention the team he played with in his rookie season is almost entirely different than the one the Warriors have now. (Klay Thompson missed the entire 2020-21 season and Draymond Green was in-and-out with injuries.)

It’s a far from ideal situation for a 21-year-old with sky-high aspirations as Wiseman, who was drafted to a franchise has perhaps even loftier expectations.

But right now, he needs exposure and reps – and a lot of ’em.

While it usually takes longer than to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA, it’s even more difficult to make the transition to the Warriors, who like to play small and run a read-and-react offense with several zippy guards running every which direction. Other lottery picks go to rebuilding teams that are prioritizing development over their overall record. But the Warriors are trying to do both — contend for championships and develop the next wave of players — and Wiseman is looking like he might be stuck in between two clashing goals.

The Warriors entered Sunday 7-9 and 11th in the Western Conference standings despite Stephen Curry playing at an MVP caliber. They can’t afford to have Wiseman on the court figuring it out in real time.

So, here he is — Golden State’s highest draft pick in 25 years — playing in the G League for the foreseeable future as he tries to improve every aspect of his game, from protecting the rim and defending without fouling to being able to screen, dive and play around the rim with force and ease.

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Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob sat courtside Saturday to watch his $40 million investment make his G League season debut. Lacob was joined by his wife, Nicole Lacob, who donned a No. 33 jersey. The two gave Wiseman a standing ovation when his name was called in the starting lineup. Other Warriors’ front office personnel were also in the house, including Shaun Livingston and Michael Dunleavy Jr.

Wiseman turned in a solid performance, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, an assist, steal and block in 26 minutes. But some of his issues with the Warriors were on display in Saturday’s contest. He turned the ball over twice and had five personal fouls. Some of the later calls against him noticeably bothered Wiseman.

“I want to get everything right so if I make a mistake, I kind of get down,” Wiseman admitted after the 111-91 loss to the South Bay Lakers. “But that’s not going to help me. So I just want to make sure I use my perfectionism in terms of my craft instead of just using it on the court and just making sure every time I mess up on the court, make a mistake — just next-play mentality.”

The goal of the Warriors’ G League system is “to build habits that will translate to impacting winning at the NBA level and with the Warriors,” Sea Dubs coach Seth Cooper said.

Wiseman is far from that and has a lot of room to grow in Year 3. That doesn’t mean, though, he won’t get to a point where he can make meaningful contributions on an NBA team — whether that be in the Bay or beyond.

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But this stint in the G League could be the inflection point that determines which direction his career goes.

If he makes the necessary fundamental changes, shores up every aspect of his game, improves his timing and finds his overall feel for the game, then he could return to Golden State and this will be just another detour of his already windy journey. But if it takes too long, the Warriors might have to make the difficult decision to move on from Wiseman and trade him for pieces that can help the team win now while the franchise’s championship window remains open.

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