Warriors tap Dejan Milojevic to help James Wiseman make career jump

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Milojevic tasked with helping Wiseman make career jump originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

You don't need to tell Steve Kerr that James Wiseman didn't have the correct support system he needed last season to get his rookie season off on the right foot. Kerr knows this. 

In his eight years with the Warriors, Kerr has never been tasked with developing a young player with the potential Wiseman has. He inherited Steph Curry when Curry was in his fifth year. Klay Thompson was in his third. Both of them acclimated to the NBA quickly. 

Wiseman was completely different. The Warriors knew they weren't going to contend for a title, so they decided to let Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft, just go out and see what he could do. But now, with a clear goal in mind, they need to bring Wiseman along at a steady pace. 

Over the summer, the Warriors brought in several new assistant coaches, one of which is Dejan Milojevic, who has his fingerprints all over the careers of Nikola Jokic, Ivica Zubac and Boban Marjanovic. His new job: coach up and develop Wiseman. 

Of course, this isn't Milojevic's only responsibility, and Wiseman isn't the only player he's working with.

"Looney as well," Milojevic said. "I'm working with all the big guys." And Wiseman's development won't be a solo project for Milojevic either -- other coaches will work alongside the second-year player. 

But, Milojevic is who spends the bulk of the time with Wiseman. 

"My first goal is to just have him fit in with Golden State," Milojevic said. "He's in a different situation than some rookies because he plays with several superstars. I think it's a blessing for him. Maybe he's not going to have as many shots as he would if he's on a less competitive team, but I think it's very beneficial for him. He's going to learn how to play with one of the best players ever."

Coming off of a meniscus tear -- which the Warriors said he will be re-evaluated for on Nov. 1 -- Wiseman's involvement in practices have been limited. He hasn't been cleared to participate in full-contact drills or scrimmages, so he spends most of his time working on the fundamentals and footwork with Milojevic. Footwork is something Milojevic was known for during his basketball career. It's also something he passed along to Jokic, the reigning MVP. 

But that's only a fraction of the work they do together -- in part because of Wiseman's limitations with his rehab, but also because Milojevic's philosophy suggests that on-court work can only do so much in the development of a player.

"When we talk about developing a player, there is a part where you learn skills, but there is a more important part where you work on decision making on the court," Milojevic said. "You're watching videos, analyzing films, explaining you should do this, you should do that. This part is even more important than that part of learning how to dribble and shoot. The most tricky part is to implement those into games, and some players, in the practice, do great but can't implement them into that game."

RELATED: Warriors burning questions: Can Wiseman become threat down low?

Milojevic is quick to point out how some players simply integrate into the NBA more fluidly than others -- particularly at the center position which has notoriously been a more challenging adjustment than playing in the backcourt. 

Jokic is an example of someone who adjusted rather quickly. But, Milojevic still had his doubts about what the "chubby kid" from Serbia would be able to accomplish.

"I didn't believe he'd be able to win the NBA MVP," Milojevic laughed. "I would lie if I said differently."

Milojevic started working with Jokic when he was 17 years old in Belgrade for Mega Basket. He was able to look past Jokic's physique as Milojevic saw a knack for passing a good understanding and feel for the game that hinted Jokic could become something in this sport. In just three years, Milojevic got Jokic into the NBA, and from there, Milojevic credits the Nuggets organization for how Jokic has blossomed.

"He is a quick learner," Milojevic said of Jokic. "What is most important is he implemented things quickly into the game. Some players learn some moves quickly but it's hard for them to fit into [their team's] game. For Nikola, it was different than it is for James."

Jokic and Wiseman are two different players, in two completely different stages of their careers. The coaching style and drills Milojevic used with Jokic -- and Zubac and Marjanovic -- are similar, if not the same. But, what the Warriors ask Wiseman to do for their organization isn't going to be a replica of who Jokic is for the Nuggets.

What exact role Wiseman plays for the Warriors is yet to be seen, and will only illuminate itself when he gets back on the court, but the long-term expectations for him are clear: "Our goal with James is that he becomes a real part of Golden State and the future."

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