James Wiseman, Warriors enjoy long-awaited NBA Summer League debut

LAS VEGAS — One way or another, Warriors coach Jama Mahlalela made sure a dunk was thrown down to open the Las Vegas Summer League game at the Thomas & Mack Center against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night.

One option was Jonathan Kuminga with two points, the other was James Wiseman on his summer league debut. The latter became a reality amid a rousing cheer as Wiseman ended a rim-rattling alley-oop by Kuminga in what would be the start of a successful return for the 21-year-old Warriors center.

“I’m glad it was Wise,” Mahlalela said with a smile when asked about the opening points of the Warriors’ massive 86-85 comeback win.

Wiseman played just under 20 minutes in his first game action aside from three G League competitions this year since his rookie season was cut short in April 2021 due to a torn right meniscus. He missed the entirety of last season for the Warriors due to post-surgery complications and has been counting down the days to this very moment. The Warriors played Wiseman in four-minute spurts to start each quarter but then brought him back for the final 3:52 of the game.

At this point, Golden State was trailing 79-74. Thirty seconds later, Wiseman caught a pass in Kuminga traffic, completing his second dunk of the night to close the gap. The Warriors outperformed the Spurs 12-6 at the stretch while Wiseman was back on the ground, earning their first win of the summer list.

Sunday not only marked Wiseman’s return and his Summer League debut after missing out on the past two years. It was also the first time he and Kuminga, 19, played together, giving everyone a glimpse of the reigning champion’s bright future.

“He makes all our jobs easier,” Kuminga, who scored 26 points including the game-winning bucket and game-winning free throw, said of Wiseman. “Much easier. … Just letting him roll like that will open the color. If I don’t get the ball, he will get the ball. I feel like we could run a lot like that all season [Steph Curry].

“It will only open the ground more.”

Overall, Wiseman scored 11 points while going 5-to-7 off the field. He made his only 3-point attempt, hammering home two dunks and hitting two jumpers – one was a smooth fadeaway. Wiseman was also called for seven fouls, some more delicate than others, and nabbed just two rebounds. Immediately after the game, he tapped Mahlalela on the shoulder and said he needed to get more rebounds next time.

But that’s all part of the process. Wiseman is no longer held back. He competes against other opponents in a real game environment, rather than doing individual drills or playing in controlled scrimmages with his teammates. Getting him grounded is an asset in itself, and his flashes of huge potential were far more impactful than any of his misjudgments.

The Warriors know Wiseman can score in a variety of ways, and their goal this offseason is to slowly but surely transform the former No. 2 into a defensive machine. There were times when he was a force on this side, especially with two early blocks. His first came on the edge and his second was further out on an outside shot attempt.

This was his favourite.

“Yeah, that was nice,” Wiseman said.

After the win that left the crowd in a frenzy, Wiseman’s coaches and teammates gave him a standing ovation as he returned to the dressing room. Those who have witnessed all of this around him know how tough this journey has been, and those new to the Warriors don’t know his story.

For all the top prospects in Las Vegas right now, Wiseman’s return was almost the highest expectation.

He also showed why.

“It was a great moment,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of tough times, especially as a person and as a human being. But to see how everyone cheers me on and builds me up, that’s a great feeling.”

The icing came from a text. Steve Kerr made his way to Sin City to see Wiseman and got a front row look at a player believed to be an important part of the Warriors’ future.

Kerr was not disappointed.

“He just texted me saying he did a great job out there and was like, ‘You look really good.’ “

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With Wiseman on the bench in the second quarter, Wiseman looked head coach Rick Celebrini in the eye and motioned for him to play more. The eager center has waited a long, long time.

He also recognizes that his first game back is just part of a much larger and more important process. The Warriors know what talent they have in Wiseman. Keeping the stallion in the stable is not easy.

It’s also worth it if everything fits together.

“Yeah, I felt like I could play more,” Wiseman said. “…I had about five minutes a quarter, so I tried to get as much as possible. And when the rebounds weren’t coming my way, I was pissed, but I was just like, ‘Hey, I’m going to direct the floor and do everything I can. “

The plan is for Wiseman, Kuminga and Moses Moody, who had 34 points in three quarters on Friday night but were sidelined on Sunday with stomach problems, to play the Boston Celtics together on Tuesday.

When asked if he was ready to go, Wiseman gave us all a look as if to sharpie it.

“Yes, I will play on Tuesday,” Wiseman said. “For sure.”

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