LA VEGAS – An alley-oop dunk. A blocked shot. A 3-point basket. All within the first 69 seconds of James Wiseman’s long-awaited and highly anticipated return to NBA competition.
If Wiseman’s evening had ended there, it would have been a resounding success, given the circumstances. He and the Golden State Warriors had waited 456 days for those 69 seconds, after all.
But Wiseman stayed nearly 20 minutes in his team’s Sunday game against San Antonio in the NBA2K23 Summer League, a significant step back from an overlong layoff, for a player too young to be sidelined if severely at this stage of his career.
Playing in his first game for Golden State since April 10, 2021, Wiseman scored 11 points, made five of his seven shots, made his presence felt from 7 feet defensively and helped beat the Spurs, 86-85. Appropriately, it was a comeback win.
Wiseman, 21, grabbed just two rebounds and was fouled seven times (no disqualifications in the LVSL). But he, the Warriors, their medical team and fans of the reigning NBA champions were all thrilled with his performance. The mere sight of the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft stepping onto the floor for the opening tip was groundbreaking enough.
Steve Kerr, the Golden State coach who watched from the front row, texted Wiseman immediately after the game. “Great job out there today,” it read. “You looked good.”
“He got a big ovation as he walked into the locker room,” said Warriors assistant Jama Mahlalela, Vegas coaching manager. “The players, they know the journey he’s been on. So he can go out and play a Summer League game like today – with a lot of composure and playing on the rim, blocking a few shots , just to look like a real good basketball player. That first round was everything we wanted.
The small sample sizes and long gaps between games may be the most distinct parts of Wiseman’s portfolio so far. Remember, he was the guy who only played three games in Memphis during his brief college experience, breaking NCAA rules.
He was drafted during the pandemic shutdown, erasing what would have been his first taste of the Summer League and the rest of a traditional rookie schedule. He tested positive for COVID-19 when training camp opened, which set him back even further.
This was followed by a sprained wrist, being benched for missing another COVID test, a week in quarantine at a hotel in Houston due to contact tracing and finally a torn meniscus in his knee. right. His notebook at the end of his first season: 39 appearances.
Then the knee continued to harass him, keeping him locked in longer than anyone in the organization had imagined. His diary for 2021-22: Zero appearances. Even though Golden State regained lost glory, reaching the Finals and defeating Boston for its fourth championship in eight playoff series.
Missing that, Wiseman said, “was very difficult. I kept telling myself that my time was approaching. And I was in the gym, working on my game.”
The big man has gained support from Stephen Curry, former Warriors guard Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson, who have each faced serious injuries and seemingly endless layoffs. Thompson, in fact, became Wiseman’s rehab buddy as he returned from knee ligament surgery and a torn Achilles.
“Just to be patient,” Wiseman said, summarizing their advice. “I got a lot of information from Klay and [Shaun], but really, to keep your head up and keep working. It will be hard, especially after a year and a half without playing. »
Wiseman’s performance against summer team San Antonio was all forward, no limping. He shoved and occasionally exchanged basketball shots with Dominick Barlow and Josh Carlton, two Spurs big men, at a level of physique that Wiseman could not replicate in his practices.
He ignored his meager rebound total as the ball failed to bounce, focusing on ground running, setting up screens (even a few legal screens) and educating opposing shooters on his length and protection of its rim. It’s no coincidence that just before Mahlalela fired Wiseman with just 3:52 to go, Carlton and Darius Days had the Warriors blistered inside on back-to-back possessions.
Within moments, Wiseman teamed up with Jonathan Kuminga for a pick-and-roll slam.
“He makes all of our jobs easy,” said Kuminga, Golden State’s No. 7 pick heading into last season. “Much easier.”
Despite Wiseman’s absence, he was still exposed to warrior ways. He has also aged and matured, according to a team insider.
Mahlalela added: “I think he learned a lot in game situations. His covers and pick-and-rolls, he was dropping… Big learning curve. It was important that he could play those key minutes and learn what to do in these situations.
Fifteen difficult months gave way on Sunday to around 20 minutes and, really, if that’s all he could have mustered, those first 69 seconds.
“It’s a great moment,” Wiseman said. “I’ve been through a lot of tough times as a person, just like as a human being. But seeing everyone cheering me on and lifting me up is a great feeling.