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Inside Victor Wembanyama’s unprecedented start to his NBA career

Inside Victor Wembanyama’s unprecedented start to his NBA career

Victor Wembanyama lurks in the paint, just beside the dunker spot, waiting for the drive. The Spurs rookie has done this all season long, gobbling up shots like no one else, using his seemingly alien-like wingspan and huge hands. Just when Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander thought he had a clear lane to the basket, Wemby comes along and swats it with two hands. On the other end of the floor, Wembanyama receives a pass from Tre Jones and casually pulls up from 34 feet, which splashes through.

On the next possession, Wembanyama works his way into another three-pointer off a pick-and-pop action from Devin Vassell and finds nothing but the bottom of the net. Following the made basket, OKC turned to Chet Holmgren – Wembanyama’s rival and Rookie-of-the-Year competition. Holmgren goes through a series of dribbles trying to get by the freakish 7-foot-4 frame, but Wembanyama stays with him and blocks the shot. 

Those back-to-back possessions pretty much sum up the kind of rookie season Wembanyama is having.

The French phenom is in the midst of one of the best rookie seasons of all time, averaging 20.4 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 3.3 blocks per game. What’s even more impressive is that he’s doing this while playing just 28.8 minutes a night. 

“Night in and night out, the stuff that he does, the impact that he has on both ends of the floor. Big shot after big block after whatever the case may be – he doesn’t even act like a rookie," Vassell said in disbelief. “I mean, the shots that he shoots, the confidence that he has in his game – he’s second to none, truthfully.” 

In that win over the Thunder, Wembanyama’s numbers were out of this world: 28 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 blocks, 5 threes and 2 steals. It was the first time in NBA history that a player recorded this stat line. Wemby has caught the eye of LeBron James, a fellow generational player who lived up to the insane hype from his rookie year and ultimately exceeded the wild expectations.

“I have said it from the beginning, he’s special,” James said, smiling. “He has an unbelievable coach that’s gonna make sure that he does things the right way, play the game the right way and he’s gonna continue to develop… He’s already special and he’s going to continue to get better and better and better each and every game, each and every year that he steps on this floor.

Head coach Gregg Popovich has been blessed with Hall-of-Fame big men like Tim Duncan and David Robinson throughout his tenure with the Spurs, but he has taken a more cautious and developmental approach with the 20-year-old Wembanyama. While Robinson and Duncan came into the league as grown men with a lot of basketball experience, Wembanyama stepped into the NBA as a teenager with areas to improve (such as his strength and filling out his body). 

As the season progresses, Popovich has been satisfied with Wemby’s development, citing his improvement in different aspects of the game.

“He’s gotten more and more physical as games go along, understanding how many games it is,” Popovich shared. "Now he knows what the rodeo road trip is like so you know, it’s solid education for him. And he obviously did a good job [against OKC].”

In the very next game against the Indiana Pacers, Wembanyama poured in 31 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 blocks in the win to join Robinson and Duncan as the only rookies in NBA history to post these stats. Wemby and reigning MVP Joel Embiid are the only players to tally such numbers this season. Popovich lauded Wembanyama’s composure, especially in clutch moments – a rare sight for a rookie.

“We all see the skills, whether it's blocking shots or making an important three, making a steal, whatever it might be. But the most, not surprising, but unique quality he has at his age is the composure," Pop said.

The Spurs recently had a nine-game road trip, their longest stretch of the season. Despite losing all but one game, Wembanyama saw his usage and minutes steadily increase. This has allowed him to be unleashed for longer stretches and deliver outputs like we saw against the Thunder and Pacers.

When the Spurs returned home, Wembanyama addressed the San Antonio crowd and expressed his excitement about playing in front of his home crowd again. 

“I missed this sh–,” Wembanyama said with a huge grin on his face, as Robinson watched and nodded along like a proud father. “I love it, I missed it. Enjoying the game, and we coming back from a long road trip with more than 16,000 people that I love – the best feeling. Go Spurs go!”

Wembanyama has all of the tools — physically and mentally — to do big things for the Spurs, a proud organization that once had 20-straight playoff appearances. With Wembanyama in the fold, it looks like all the losing was worth it.

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