James Wiseman is “preparing for the NBA Draft,” which could mean a lot of things. He has left Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers, leaving himself $11,500 richer since he won’t have to pay moving expenses that Hardaway provided to his family in 2017.
Wiseman is No. 3 in the latest ESPN rankings by Jonathan Givony, and FanDuel Sportsbook has him nearly even money to be the No. 1 pick of the 2020 NBA draft.
Wiseman is +120, behind Anthony Edwards of Georgia who is +100. LaMelo Ball of the Illawarra Hawks in Australia is +350, and Cole Anthony of North Carolina is +380. Givony has Ball ranked No. 1 in his “best available” of the class.
The only other player with odds shorter than +2000 to go first overall in the draft is Dayton forward Obi Toppin, averaging close to 20 points per game this season. FanDuel has him at +1000.
Players at +2000 or higher include Tyrese Haliburton of Iowa State (+2000), Isaiah Stewart of Washington (+2500), and R.J. Hampton of the New Zealand Breakers (+2500).
Over at DraftKings Sportsbook, Edwards and Wiseman are both even money, with Anthony +250 and Ball +350. Nobody else is lower than 10-to-1.
As for who will ultimately be the No. 1 pick, it remains a subject of great debate around NBA circles.
The case for Wiseman
Wiseman, 18, played three games for Memphis — averaging 19.7 points on 77% shooting — before the NCAA issued as 12-game suspension for taking money from Hardaway. He has signed with Excel Sports, which represents several NBA players including Nikola Jokic, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love.
Givony calls him a “franchise center.” And let’s face it, any time you have a 7-footer come into the game — one with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, the opportunity to add a dominant inside-outside game combined with an ability to run the floor makes for an intriguing possibility.
The big question mark is what Wiseman is doing with all his extra time now that he is sitting out his senior season.
“Those are certainly the two leading guys, and what will be interesting is how much access teams are going to get in terms of seeing him,” said one veteran scouting director, who spoke to TheLines.com on condition of anonymity because league personnel are not allowed to speak on the record about draft picks. “Will he even show up in Chicago (at the pre-draft camp)? Will he interview?”
One person familiar with what Wiseman is doing made a comparison to Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid, who both went top 3 in their respective drafts despite not being seen much their final season before going to the NBA.
The race to the bottom
These odds are of particular interest to fans of the Knicks, Warriors, Hawks, Cavs, Kings, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Grizzlies, whose seasons are already lost causes.
New York is particularly interesting. Come draft night, Knicks fans will come out of the woodwork to see who might be the next franchise savior … and Wiseman would be a good pick, as Knicks fans are forever looking for the next franchise player, the next Patrick Ewing.
In the meantime, all they can do is wait … and wager on which of the players listed above will end up going No. 1 overall.
With so many top prospects, led by Wiseman, sitting out this season, there is considerable doubt about how that will impact them when the NBA playoffs begin and the lottery teams start working players out.
Typically, players projected to be top 5 picks try to do what they can to avoid landing in an unpleasant NBA situation, which means declining interviews and visits with teams they do not want to play for.
As our source noted above, that will be especially concerning when it comes to Wiseman.
One NBA scout who spoke on condition of anonymity said he believes Ball will be the No. 1 pick, citing Wiseman’s lack of a motor, disinclination to make contact with beefy defenders and flat jump shot as the most pronounced negatives.
“Ball can do it all, but he’s going to have to play defense in the NBA. It’s not a deep draft, and the only way I can see Wiseman going No. 1 is if he goes to a team willing to wait on him. He has played too much AAU ball, not enough against NBA caliber competition,” the scout said.
Any longshots on the board?
As for the outsiders, Vernon Carey of the Duke Blue Devils is +3000 to go No. 1 overall. A strong showing in the NCAA Tournament can do wonders for a player’s draft stock, and right now Carey is projected at No. 18 by Givony.
The freshman center led Duke in points (18.4) and rebounds (9.0) in just 23.6 minutes per game as of Jan. 7. What makes Carey especially appealing is his 3-point percentage (57.1 percent).
Another intriguing longshot is Jaden McDaniels of the Washington Huskies, who is No. 9 in Givony’s Top 60 and is on the board at +1700 at DraftKings and +4000 at FanDuel. The buzz on the Huskies generally surrounds Isaiah Stewart (+2000 at DK and +2500 at FD).
McDaniels projects as a Jonathan Isaac clone, and that will probably not get him anywhere near No. 1 — which makes it puzzling why the on the board at all. Then again, sportsbooks will take money on anyone if there’s interest.