San Francisco • It’s been a minute since the Utah Jazz have been playing at full strength.
But with Mike Conley back from a left popliteus strain, Rudy Gay over his finger joint sprain, Simone Fontecchio recovered from a left ankle sprain, and Collin Sexton over his right hamstring strain, that just leaves one member of the team’s rotation yet to return …
And Kelly Olynyk will be back in action Wednesday night vs. the Warriors.
The veteran big man, who’s been out for the team’s past four games with a left ankle sprain, was a full participant in Tuesday’s off-day practice at the William J. Rutter Center on the University of California San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus. At the time, he said he was targeting either the matchup vs. the Warriors or Friday’s game in Sacramento for his return to action.
“It’s getting better, coming along,” Olynyk said at the end of the practice. “Obviously not 100%, but definitely way better. Obviously, [I was] back on the floor — it was nice to be [out there].”
The Jazz then upgraded his status on the daily injury report from “Out” to “Questionable.” Olynyk said he was eager to see how his ankle felt at Wednesday’s morning shootaround following Tuesday’s work — which included a full-court scrimmage with some of the Jazz’s down-the-rotation players. He was guarding Gay out on the perimeter, while frequently handling the ball for his team on fast-break forays, occasionally pulling up for 3s.
The team’s medical staff put him through a series of tests in the lead-up to the Golden State game to determine his readiness, and gave him the thumb’s up. At Wednesday morning’s shootaround at the Equinox Gym attached to the Four Seasons hotel, his status was officially upgraded to “available.”
His teammates are eager for his return.
“It’d mean a lot. He’s a floor-spacer, he shoots the ball amazing, he’s one of our our guys on defense that talks and pretty much communicates [the most] for us — he’s very vocal,” Sexton said at Tuesday’s practice. “… The chip that he brings each and every night — you know what he’s going to give us. He doesn’t complain about shots, he doesn’t complain about anything, he just goes out there and just plays hard. We kind of need those guys at times just to continue to uplift us.”
Malik Beasley added after Wednesday’s shootaround that the big man’s veteran leadership will make a difference out on the court.
“He knows how to make the right plays. I don’t think he ever does the wrong thing — even if he turns the ball ball over, it’s because he’s trying to make the right play,” said Beasley. “Spacing the floor — he’s another shooter, he can knock down three 3s a game; he’s shooting at very high clip right now. So we were missing a lot from him.
Olynyk has been impressed with the fill-in performance of rookie center Walker Kessler in the interim. The Auburn big man has started each game of the Canadian’s absence, getting extra minutes in the rotation while getting opportunities to compete against opponents’ top players.
There have been ups and downs, but the veteran said the 21-year-old will surely benefit from these games down the line: “He’s got a lot to learn — as do we all — but that’s valuable experience for him. He’s only going to get better.”
In the meantime, the Gonzaga product noted that he’s keen to contribute to a team that’s fallen to 19-17 on the season. Sitting out any matchup is difficult, but missing Monday’s loss to the Spurs — where Kessler picked up four first-half fouls and fellow big Jarred Vanderbilt had three — was particularly irksome.
“Those are the games where you’re like, ‘I could really help,’ Olynyk said. “It’s fun and it’s easy when you’re sitting out [but] you’re winning. Everybody’s happy, you’re happy — I’m not happy sitting out, but at least you’re still winning. But when it’s not going good, you just want to be there for your team, support your brothers. You know you can help them — that’s the toughest part.”