James Wiseman, Patrick Baldwin Jr. headline Warriors preseason storylines

Wiseman, Baldwin headline Warriors preseason storylines originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- From stars to training camp invitees, veterans to rookies, the Warriors sent 20 players to Japan for their two-game preseason trip with the Washington Wizards. And all 20 will see playing time at some point.

Though the trip of course is another way for the Warriors and the NBA to expand their brands, stars like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and others have to be protected at all costs. This still is the preseason; games don't count until the season opener at Chase Center on Oct. 18. There still is plenty to be learned and to take away from the Warriors' Japan trip and ensuing three preseason games back in San Francisco.

Steve Kerr already has made it clear that his rotation is wide open after his starting lineup of Curry, Thompson, Green, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney, plus Jordan Poole. Will Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody make the leap after contributing in spurts as rookies on a championship team? How seamlessly will free agent Donte DiVincenzo fit in? Are any of the training camp invitees able to make a big enough impression? And can Quinndary Weatherspoon earn a 15th roster spot?

All are valid questions.

But all eyes should be on James Wiseman and Patrick Baldwin Jr. this preseason.

Both were former top high school recruits. Both have seen their young careers sidetracked to injuries. Both are out to prove their naysayers wrong.

Wiseman has the bigger target on his back with expectations going into the 2022-23 season. This is his third year as a pro, yet he just went through his first summer league and is in the midst of his first training camp and first slate of preseason games. Wiseman played 39 games as a rookie after only three in college before it came to an end with a right meniscus injury that lingered through last season. As the Warriors won the title, Wiseman essentially went through a medical redshirt season, watching and learning from afar.

"Now comes the foundational stuff," Kerr said one week ago. "His work ethic is fantastic. His approach, his attitude -- he's beloved by his teammates. They are seeing how hard he works.

"So now it's a matter of experience. He just has to keep playing, and we have got to continue to be patient and allow that development to happen at an organic, natural rate."

So far, so good. Wiseman gradually improved with each summer league game in Las Vegas. His work didn't stop there.

Aside from a week off riding his bike in Hermosa Beach, Wiseman spent nearly all of his time in San Francisco and in a gym. There weren't setbacks with his health. He never missed a single pickup game the Warriors provided. The 21-year-old craved reps and snatched them at every opportunity.

Playing pickup games gave Wiseman the chance to run up and down the floor, get his stamina to be top notch and to simply get in the flow of games again. With each, though, came purpose.

"Really just a different goal," Wiseman said during Media Day when I asked about those pickup games. "Just to really set hard screens. Probably work through the system, in terms of working on my DHOs and different stuff like that, like executing plays.

"I'm really working on small stuff that's going to translate to the NBA, that's going to translate to playing with the real guys."

That's exactly what Kerr, Dejan Milojević and the rest of the coaching staff want to hear. The athleticism always has been there for Wiseman. You can't teach his 7-foot, 240-pound build and his body already has begun transforming since the skinny days of his rookie year.

Watching how Wiseman gets up and down the floor will be at the front of the to-do list this preseason. It will be crucial seeing him go against NBA players, and then how his body responds. All the small stuff remains most important with him, though.

While it hasn't been an extended period of time, Kerr is elated with what he has seen from Wiseman in that regard.

"He’s picking up concepts much quicker," Kerr said Monday. "It’s the first time that he’s had a real training camp. From Day 1 to Day 3, you can see that he’s picking everything up and he’s making the necessary adjustments."

Despite Wiseman's lack of college experience, the Warriors still selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The reward outweighed the risk in their minds. Baldwin is in the same boat.

Baldwin played in only 11 underwhelming games as a freshman for Milwaukee, one year after playing only one game his senior year in high school. The 6-foot-9 forward sustained a dislocated ankle that wiped out his senior year. The same injury affected him throughout his lone college season and the draft combine.

His stock took a tumble and the Warriors jumped at the chance at adding another top talent, taking him with the No. 28 pick in this year's draft. The reward outweighed the risk yet again in their minds, trusting a player development staff that has been given many more resources in the past year-plus.

"We are not looking at him like he's going to help us, but we are looking at him like he could help us in the future," Warriors general manager Bob Myers explained a week ago. "He has all the attributes that usually lead to success: Skill, size, acumen. He looks healthy now."

Myers later said that he expects Baldwin to start the season in Santa Cruz with the Warriors' G League affiliate. He didn't close the door on him beginning with Golden State. After missing all of summer league due to his ankle, there have been whispers that Baldwin could earn real minutes later this season with how impressive he has been.

A strong preseason can only help his case.

The 19-year-old is a favorite of revered coach and defensive guru Ron Adams. That's a good one to have on your side. If he does get the chance to eventually earn real NBA minutes as a rookie, Baldwin knows exactly what he'll need to do to seize his opportunity.

It's not seeking buckets like he's been asked to do his whole life. The time for that will come.

"I think most importantly is rebounding and defending," Baldwin said at Media Day when asked how he can get in the rotation. "If you can defend for Steve Kerr you can play. Really understanding the principles and first and foremost guarding your man 1-on-1.

"Steve Kerr is a defensive coach, and I'm sure you guys all know that but that's one of the main things with him -- if you can defend, you can play."

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The kid gets it. As a coach's son, Baldwin's feel for the game was a given. It was a big positive for the Warriors going into the draft, and it stood out in the facilities over the summer.

Let's watch how he matches up physically and athletically with pro players in the preseason. His shot when chances come his way will also be worth watching. Baldwin shot just 26.6 percent from 3-point range and 34.4 percent overall. He has a much better stroke than that, and the Warriors already have made some small tweaks to his shooting mechanics.

The two former top recruits and Warriors first-round picks aren't new to the spotlight. It has followed them for years. The spotlight will shine on them again this preseason, starting with two games in Saitama.

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