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Notes from NBA Summer League: James Wiseman’s return cheered by Warriors

LAS VEGAS — When James Wiseman — detained by television interviews after the game — walked back into the locker room Sunday night, his Warriors teammates erupted in applause.

They understood.

“I think he got a great ovation going back into the locker room because, as players, they know the journey he’s been on,” Warriors Summer League coach Jama Mahlalela said. “And for him to be able to come out and play in a Summer League game like today with kind of good composure and playing at the rim, blocking some shots, like he just he looked like a real good basketball player.”

His teammates had seen the rehab work Wiseman had put in, the hurdles he cleared. Wiseman had been out since April 2021 recovering from a torn meniscus, with only three unimpressive G-League games to his name in those 16 months.

When Wiseman finally got on the floor for an NBA Summer League game, he played with the joy the Warriors are known for.

“Oh, it’s a great moment,” Wiseman said of the cheers. “I mean, I’ve been through a lot of hard times, especially as a person, as a human being, to see everybody was rooting for me, so lifting me, was special.”

Among those encouraging him were two Warriors champions who know about the long road of recovery back from major injuries — Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston.

“I got a lot of information from Klay and Shaun Livingston, and I really just keep my head up and just keep going. Because it’s gonna be hard… Klay’s been through two difficult injuries so like for him to give me information about having patience and just like taking it slow like not trying to speed myself, that’s information I take to heart.”

Sunday night was just 20 minutes in a Summer League game, but it was a promising first step for Wiseman’s return.

His first four minutes of action were everything the Warriors could have hoped for: The alley-oop from Kuminga, blocking a midrange jumper, knocking down a 3, intimidating Josh Primo on a drive. Things did not always go as smoothly the rest of the way — he had seven personal fouls — but there were other positive signs such as a turnaround jumper from the midpost, staying in front of Josh Primo on a switch, and more. Wiseman finished with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

“I think you’ll learn a lot playing in the game situations, right?” Mahlalela said of Wiseman’s night. “His coverages, his pick and roll, he dropped too low on the one and they banged three on him. It’s great learning for him.”

In addition to Wiseman, there were two other positive signs for Golden State on Sunday night.

First, after a disinterested first game — a game he called “the worst game I ever played in my life” — Jonathan Kuminga was engaged, looked like the best athlete on the court, and finished with 28 points, including the game-winning free throw.

Second, G-League Rookie of the Year Mac McClung is just fun.

McClung finished with 22 points and six assists. The Georgetown product was on a two-way contract with the Lakers last season and played in one game for the big club. Not sure if there is an NBA spot for him, maybe he lands another two-way, but he is entertaining.

There is so much else going on at the Las Vegas Summer League, here are some other notes and things I saw:

• Sitting together in the front row of the Kings’ game today: 50 Cent, Vlade Divac and Vivek Ranadive (hat tip @SeanCunningham). I’ve got 21 questions about that trio.

• Ochai Agbaji is playing like a guy who will get minutes when the games matter this fall for the Cavs — he can shoot the rock (6-of-15 from 3 through two games) and when he puts the ball on the floor he’s got some craft.

In the fall, he has to find his place in an offense where just-extended Darius Garland is the lead guard. Agbaji will have a smaller role, maybe finding his offense coming off DHOs in certain sets, but he made solid decisions and looks like someone J.B. Bickerstaff can trust.

• While Paolo Banchero is drawing the headlines in Orlando, Magic second-round pick Caleb Houstan has impressed through a couple of games. A former top 10 player in this class a couple of years ago, his up-and-down season at Michigan saw him fall to the early second round, but maybe the problem in Ann Arbor was his fit in the system. In Vegas he has averaged 14 points a game and is shooting 43.8% from 3, playing well off the ball and knocking down his looks. He’s playing with a confidence he didn’t show consistently in college, and while there is a long way to go from looking good in Vegas and looking good in an NBA game, this has been a promising start.

• Day’Ron Sharpe had the dunk of the day. Maybe of Summer League so far.

• The Spurs’ rookie Blake Wesley showed the ability to get into the paint and create some quality shots, plus a smooth outside stroke — you can see why the Spurs drafted him out of Notre Dame. But he also got rejected multiple times at the rim — it didn’t deter him, but his attacks were out of control and the rejections kept coming. He is as advertised, physically impressive but raw. His decision making and how to finish against NBA length are things to work on, but there’s real promise.

• Speaking of the Spurs, they drafted Malaki Branham out of Ohio State partly because he might be the best shooter in the draft. Through a couple of games in Las Vegas he has shown a good court sense and feel for the game, making some very crafty passes. A couple of years in the Spurs development system and watch out for him.

• Cam Thomas is too good for this level. He’s shown everything the Nets could want to see, time to send him home.

• After a rough first outing, Denver’s Peyton Watson (by way of Long Beach Poly and UCLA) had a bounce-back game with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He played on the ball a lot more and looked much more comfortable.