Here’s some of what San Antonio’s Victor Wembanyama has experienced so far in the NBA: scoring 38 points in a game, playing in back-to-back games for the first time, being part of two 40-point losses, giving away a huge lead and losing, overcoming a large deficit and winning.
It was an education.
And by all accounts, the French newcomer, who stands almost 6ft 2in tall, is passing the exams.
Wembanyama’s previous numbers: 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. The last player to post averages like that in the first seven games of his career was Shaquille O’Neal in 1992. The consensus at the time was that O’Neal was unique. The refrains are familiar today.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said.
It’s a different game now, but it’s hard to argue with what Carlisle is saying considering the inside-outside game Wembanyama has. There has never been a rookie who averaged as many points and rebounds while also making one 3-pointer per game. Larry Bird was closest; Although it is a small number of participants, Wembanyama has achieved almost two 3s per competition so far.
The league has been raving about the boy who calls himself Wemby since he was drafted – long before that night, in fact. That hasn’t changed, nor has Wembanyama’s humble approach.
“Every night is a challenge,” Wembanyama said. “I still have a lot to prove to my teammates and my coach.”
His coach might have a different opinion.
Gregg Popovich — the Hall of Famer, the winningest coach in NBA history and someone who happened to sign a five-year contract extension shortly after Wembanyama’s move to the Spurs — makes no move to downplay his new star’s enormous potential.
“The first thing I would say is his parents did a very good job,” Popovich said. “He’s one of the most mature 19-year-olds I’ve ever been around. His character is incredible. His view of the world is mature. He understands who he is, he is comfortable in his own skin. He knows that all the hype, which was pretty big everywhere, should be ignored. He realizes he has work to do. Talent is talent, but he’s going to channel that and figure out exactly what his game should be.”
The lessons came fast and furious in the first two weeks.
Actually, go back a little bit. Preseason games are largely forgotten in the NBA, but Wembanyama made the Spurs’ performances must-see television. They were glasses; Golden State guard Stephen Curry — who is only about a foot shorter than Wembanyama — caused even more of a stir by attempting to jump the middle in the Warriors’ performance against the Spurs. Amazingly, Wembanyama won that tip, but that night was a reminder of the spotlight that will shine every time San Antonio plays for the foreseeable future.
“The guy is going to be great,” said Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who entered the league with much fanfare as a highly touted No. 1 pick in 2003 — and watched Wembanyama deal with the same supernatural 20 years later expectations were faced. “He’s already pretty darn good at the moment and I think every game, every opportunity he has on the field he’s going to get better and better and realize the nuances of the game and the way he plays and how he can take advantage of the competition. “So he’ll be great.”
If he needed a coming out party, Wembanyama probably had one with two wins in Phoenix last week.
On October 31, the Spurs rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat the Suns 115-114 after trailing 47-1/2 of the 48 minutes; Two nights later, Wembanyama had 38 points and 10 rebounds and the Spurs defeated the Suns again, 132-121.
“He’s going to be a force in this league for a long time,” Suns forward Kevin Durant said. “As he continues to gain experience, he will get even better.”
There were tough nights too. The Spurs lost to the Los Angeles Clippers by 40 points last week, then lost to Indiana by 41 points on Monday night. They became only the second team in NBA history to suffer two losses by 40 points in the first seven games of the season; The other was the 2017-18 Suns, who were the worst team in the league that year.
Spurs have significantly higher ambitions and so does Wembanyama. Popovich has never been a fan of false or effusive praise, but he already raves about Wembanyama’s coaching qualities, his relationships with teammates, his outlook on life, calling him “a very special young man.”
“He just comes to work every day, just like any other player,” Popovich said. “They have a system and he has to learn it. He has to learn the league. He’s never played against any of these guys or with any of these guys on our team. It’s just a process. There is no formula. Just try not to skip any steps. Luckily, he’s a smart, trainable young man and he’ll get there eventually. He will be a great player. But he has to learn something first, like every other player.”
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