When it comes to certain NBA Draft classes, choosing which prospect to select with the No. 1 overall pick isn’t much of a choice at all. Just take Tim Duncan. Just take LeBron James. Just take Anthony Davis. Sometimes, that’s the end of the conversation.
That wasn’t the case in the lead-up to the 2020 NBA Draft. There were several trade rumors flying around involving teams at the top of the board, particularly the Timberwolves and Warriors, because there didn’t appear to be a can’t-miss superstar available. Most mock drafts pegged LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman as the top three picks in some order, though the possibility of a draft-day shuffle loomed large.
After a fantastic rookie season and a hot start to the 2021-22 campaign, Ball is making those old debates sound silly. The Hornets guard has looked the part of a franchise cornerstone early in his career — and left Warriors fans wondering what kind of impact he could have made on their team.
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Why did the Warriors pick James Wiseman over LaMelo Ball?
Once Minnesota took Edwards off the board with the first pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Golden State locked in on Wiseman at No. 2. During a recent appearance on the “Warriors Plus-Minus” podcast, The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami explained why the Warriors felt that Wiseman was a better fit for the team than Ball.
“I’m pretty sure one of the reasons they didn’t really look harder at LaMelo Ball was that he was a little duplicate of [Stephen Curry],” Kawakami said. “Now, if you’re looking for a post-Steph thing — they are clearly with Wiseman and [Jonathan] Kuminga and [Moses] Moody and [Jordan] Poole a little bit — that’s OK. But they also were trying to kind of split the atom. They were trying to get somebody who was good for the future but also wasn’t going to be duplicate [of Steph].
“And you know, I think we all heard this. Steph’s gonna be making $50 million a year, and Klay [Thompson’s] making $40 million a year. Do you want to add another guard to that who is gonna need the ball in his hands? That turned out to be wrong, the miscalculation on how good Ball was. But I think that was — they wanted a piece that would be different than what they had, but also would be good for five years on his own.”
After the draft, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Warriors’ decision was not affected by Thompson’s injury. The five-time All-Star suffered a torn right Achilles during an offseason workout in November 2020.
LaMelo Ball’s spectacular start with the Hornets
Ball exploded onto the scene in 2020-21, averaging 15.7 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 51 games. He won the Rookie of the Year award despite missing a significant portion of the season with a wrist injury. He led all rookies in total assists and finished third in total points and steals.
In addition to his on-court performances, Ball has given Charlotte an identity and direction and brought national attention to a franchise that had lacked excitement for years. In order for the Hornets to be a consistent winner, though, Ball will have to learn the nuances of being an NBA point guard and become a more complete player on both ends of the floor.
“A lot of his success last year was based on instinct and feel,” Hornets coach James Borrego said last month. “Now his next step is managing who we are, his personnel around him and understanding the league in general. So our conversation has been around our team, our strengths, our values and understanding his teammates.”
When will James Wiseman play for the Warriors?
Wiseman has struggled out of the gate in part because of health issues. The 20-year-old was limited to 39 games in 2020-21, and he has yet to play this season after undergoing knee surgery to repair a right meniscal tear in April.
The Warriors did offer some good news earlier this week, announcing that Wiseman has been cleared to participate in team practices. Wiseman told reporters that he is open to the idea of playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G League before jumping back into NBA games.
“Of course. I would like to go down there so that I can just get sharp physically, mentally, and I’m getting there,” Wiseman said. “So, just whatever happens within that time, I’m down for whatever. … I’m getting there. Like I said, I just need a lot of runs and just a lot of playing time. But other than that, I’m getting there, just taking it one day at a time.”
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