How did Victor Wembanyama do in his first NBA Summer League game?

How did Victor Wembanyama do in his first NBA Summer League game?

LAS VEGAS — As Victor Wembanyama waited to take the court, he was nearly consumed by a swollen mosh pit of onlookers who craned their necks to catch a glimpse of his 7-foot-5 frame and trained hundreds of cellphones on his steady gaze.

The anticipation was there in abundance. The payoff never quite materialized.

Wembanyama, who solidified his standing as the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James with a pair of scintillating performances outside Las Vegas nine months ago, returned to Sin City on Friday for his Summer League debut. This time, the San Antonio Spurs forward left a buzzing and excitable crowd wanting more.

No charges will be filed in Victor Wembanyama, Britney Spears incident

Expectations can be stifling, and only a handful of teenage basketball players have ever faced the sky-high expectations that now loom over Wembanyama, who tore through France’s top professional league last season to become the top overall pick in last month’s draft. On his first night playing in a Spurs jersey, the 19-year-old Wembanyama looked and sounded less like an “Alien” — the nickname bestowed upon him by James — and more like a confused rookie in San Antonio’s 76-68 victory over the Charlotte Hornets at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing on the court tonight,” Wembanyama said afterward. “But I’m trying to learn.”

This has been a discombobulating stretch for Wembanyama, whose Metropolitans 92 team lost in the French league finals just days before he arrived in New York City for the June 22 draft. From there, he was whisked to San Antonio, where he enjoyed a bonding dinner with Tim Duncan, David Robinson and other Spurs luminaries, and then on to Las Vegas, where his gravitational pull somehow captured pop singer Britney Spears earlier this week.

Summer League organizers said that Wembanyama became just the second player after Zion Williamson to sell out his debut more than a day in advance, and general admission tickets were being resold for more than $270 on Friday afternoon. Some fans began camping out for prime seats in the early morning, and the 18,000-seat arena’s lower bowl was mostly full more than four hours before the 6 p.m. local tip-off. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and rapper J. Cole were among the notable names who watched from courtside seats.

Sally Jenkins: Gregg Popovich is lucky the Spurs landed Victor Wembanyama. So are we.

Five hundred media credentials were given out for the 11-day tournament, which showcases the NBA’s young talent, and the league took the unprecedented step of setting up a formal news conference so that Wembanyama could comfortably take questions in English and French. More than 100 reporters attended, while only a dozen or so had interviewed Hornets forward Brandon Miller, this year’s No. 2 pick, in a side hallway.

“[Wembanyama] is pretty amazing when you look at what’s thrown at him [from] all different angles, the attention and all that,” said Matt Nielsen, the Spurs’ summer league coach. “The exciting part I witnessed is that he just wanted to play basketball.”

Once Wembanyama managed to surf through the lookie-loos, he took the court to a strong ovation. He seemed both nervous and eager to please. After missing his first three shots, he moved the ball around, displaying his team-first mentality and a nifty no-look pass. His first bucket came on a turnaround in the paint, as he banked in a lefty shot while drawing a foul.

But successful scoring opportunities proved hard to come by for Wembanyama, who finished with 9 points, eight rebounds, three assists and five blocks while shooting 2 for 13 from the field in 27 minutes. He struggled to find the range on his jumper and to free himself from defenders in the paint, and he didn’t make his second basket until he drained a three-pointer while getting fouled late in the fourth quarter.

At times, an audience that came to be wowed instead urged Wembanyama to be more aggressive in attacking off the dribble and launching from beyond the arc. Julian Champagnie paced the Spurs with a game-high 20 points, while Malaki Branham added 17 points in the win.

NBA free agency winners and losers: Damian Lillard is going to get his wish

The overmatched Hornets delighted in challenging him physically. Charlotte’s defense forced turnovers by crowding Wembanyama when he dribbled on the perimeter and succeeded in neutralizing him on the offensive glass.

Miller unleashed a series of crossover dribbles that nearly made Wembanyama fall to the court, and Kai Jones delivered the highlight of the night by finishing a lob pass over the Frenchman’s outstretched hands. Wembanyama was trying to recover after switching defensive assignments, but he got turned around as Jones tomahawked the ball through the hoop.

“We’re going to get scored on sometimes,” Wembanyama said of his “Welcome to the NBA” moment, which quickly went viral on social media. “It’s going to happen.”

Nielsen said that Wembanyama was still learning the team’s plays and his teammates’ tendencies after sitting out two exhibitions held in Sacramento earlier this week.

Indeed, Wembanyama sounded like his head was spinning. From his spot as the center of attention, he was still trying to adjust to San Antonio’s defensive coverages and the NBA’s faster pace, among many other novelties of his new life in the United States.

“I think there’s a lot of conditioning to do to be able to play an 82-game season,” he said. “It’s really exhausting. Even though [the game] was only 40 minutes tonight, when I subbed out I was always tired.”

Though Wembanyama didn’t steal the show like he did in the made-for-television exhibitions against the G League Ignite back in October, he repeatedly swatted shots with ease as the Spurs cruised to a comfortable win. Fulfilling his vast potential will require Wembanyama to emerge as a dependable No. 1 scoring option, but his 8-foot wingspan and defensive mobility ensure that he will enter the NBA as an impact player, even if his shot isn’t falling.

“Victor is a great guy and great off the court,” Miller said. “He’s going to have a great career in the league. Just to see him step up to the challenge, I think that shows a lot of heart.”

Sign up for our weekly NBA newsletter to get the best basketball coverage in your inbox

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *