LAS VEGAS — One way or the other, Warriors coach Jama Mahlalela was making sure a dunk was being thrown down Sunday night to open their Las Vegas Summer League game at Thomas & Mack Center against the San Antonio Spurs.
One option was Jonathan Kuminga coming away with two points, the other was James Wiseman in his summer league debut. The latter ended up being the reality to a rousing cheer with Wiseman finishing a rim-rattling alley-oop from 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’ huge 86-85 comeback win.
Wiseman played just under 20 minutes in his first game action, aside from three G League contests this year, since his rookie season was cut short in April of 2021 to a torn right meniscus. He missed all of last season for the Warriors due to complications from surgery and has been counting down the days for this exact moment. The Warriors played Wiseman in four-minute spurts to start each quarter, but then brought him back in for the final 3:52 of the game.
At the point, Golden State trailed 79-74. Thirty seconds later, Wiseman caught a pass in traffic from Kuminga and finished his second dunk of the night to shorten the deficit. The Warriors outscored the Spurs 12-6 down the stretch with Wiseman back on the floor, earning their first win of the summer slate.
Sunday didn’t just mark Wiseman’s return and summer league debut after being unable to participate the previous two years. It was also the first time he and Kuminga, 19, played together, giving everyone a glimpse into the bright future of the reigning champions.
“He makes all of our job’s easier,” Kuminga, who scored 26 points, including the game-tying bucket and game-winning free throw, said of Wiseman. “A lot easier. … Just having him rolling like that, it’s going to open up the paint. If I don’t get the ball, he’s going to get the ball. I feel like throughout the season, we might run it a lot like that with [Steph Curry].
“It’s just going to open up the floor more.”
All in all, Wiseman scored 11 points while going 5-for-7 from the field. He made his only 3-point attempt, hammered home two dunks and hit two jumpers — one being a smooth fadeaway. Wiseman was also called for seven fouls, some more ticky-tack than others, and only grabbed two rebounds. Immediately after the game, he tapped Mahlalela on the shoulder and said he has to get more rebounds next time.
But that’s all part of the process. Wiseman is no longer being held back. He’s in a real game environment going against other opponents, instead of individual drills or playing with his teammates in controlled scrimmages. Getting him on the floor is a win in itself, and his flashes of huge potential were much more impactful than any of his miscues.
The Warriors know Wiseman can score in multiple ways, and their goal this offseason is to slowly but surely turn the former No. 2 picks into a defensive machine. There were times when he was a force on that side, especially with two early blocks. His first came at the rim, and his second was further out on an outside shot attempt.
This one was his favorite.
“Yeah, that one was nice,” Wiseman said.
Following the win that had the whole crowd on its feet, Wiseman’s coaches and teammates gave him a standing ovation as he came back into the locker room. Those who have been around him through it all know how hard this journey has been, and those who are new to the Warriors aren’t new to his story.
For all the top prospects that are in Las Vegas right now, Wiseman’s return was near the top of anticipation.
He showed why, too.
“It was a great moment,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of hard times, especially as a person and as a human being. But to see everybody rooting for me and uplifting me, that’s a great feeling.”
The cherry on top came from a text. Steve Kerr made sure to make his way to Sin City to watch Wiseman, and had a front-row view of a player who figures to be a major piece of the Warriors’ future.
Kerr wasn’t disappointed.
“He just texted me saying great job out there and said, ‘You really look good.’ “
RELATED: How Steph, Draymond were key to Warriors signing DiVincenzo
As Wiseman sat on the bench during the second quarter, Wiseman locked eyes with head trainer Rick Celebrini and motioned that he could play more. The eager center has waited a long, long time.
He also realizes his first game back is only a part of a much bigger and more important process. The Warriors know what kind of talent they have in Wiseman. Keeping the stallion in the stable is not easy.
It’s also worth it if everything comes together.
“Yeah, I felt like I could play more,” Wiseman said. “… I had like five minutes a quarter, so I was trying to get as much as I can. And when the rebounds weren’t coming my way, I was pissed but I was just like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna run the floor and do everything I can.’ “
The plan is for Wiseman, Kuminga and Moses Moody, who scored 34 points through three quarters on Friday night but sat Sunday to rest and a stomach issue, to all play together Tuesday against the Boston Celtics.
When asked if he’ll be good to go, Wiseman gave us all a look like we should mark it in Sharpie.
“Yeah, I’m gonna play Tuesday,” Wiseman said. “For sure.”
Download and follow the Dubs Talk Podcast