Wemby's rookie year is winding down, and the numbers he put up are historic


Victor Wembanyama figured he might be getting into trouble. It was a rare moment of celebration for the San Antonio Spurs in this long season, a win over the New York Knicks last month that had another sold-out crowd stirred into a frenzy.

He had just intercepted the game’s final pass as time expired. He high-fived a courtside fan, then tossed the ball to someone about 10 rows deep in the stands. Everyone loved it, except the NBA, which fined him $25,000 two days later.

Money well spent, he figured.

“I remember players being fined for this, but they threw it always in a bad way,” Wembanyama said. “I threw it to make some guy’s day.”

The guy who caught the ball had a moment he’ll likely never forget, and the 20-year-old Wembanyama sure looks like someone who’ll create a lot of those moments going forward. He is a 7-foot-4, walking, talking, dunking, shot-blocking, step-back-3-making, crossover-dribbling, viral moment waiting to happen, a giant of a man with the frame of a center, the skills of a guard and who is about to wrap up a rookie season where most would say he exceeded a stack of expectations that stood taller than even he does.

“He’s the future of the NBA,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We’re watching the ascension of the next great player in the NBA. … There’s not a lot that that young man cannot do.”

Wembanyama’s numbers for the season right now: 21.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.6 blocks per game. Blocks only became a recognized stat in 1973 so it’s almost certain that Wilt Chamberlain would have been on this list, but officially, there have been only two instances in NBA history where someone finished a season averaging that many points, rebounds, assists and blocks. Both were turned in by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Wemby, as he’s known, put up those numbers in Year 1. Be afraid, NBA. Be very afraid.

“I don’t want to take a leap,” Memphis’ GG Jackson said, “but he’s definitely going to be one of the greatest defenders of all-time when it’s all said and done.”

Wembanyama will be the Rookie of the Year, surely overwhelmingly, possibly unanimously. He could be part of the All-NBA team. He might even be Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie. Consider the opinion of Golden State’s Draymond Green, a past DPOY winner himself, who said a few weeks ago that Wembanyama should not be considered for that award because of the Spurs’ record.

And then the Warriors and Spurs played a few weeks later. Green changed his mind. Wemby is his pick.

“I don’t know what lab he was created in,” Green said on his podcast, “but I need to go create me a son in that lab because dude is unbelievable.”

Green said he was so locked in on getting a signed Wembanyama jersey for his son that night that he forgot to hug Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, his former Olympic team coach.

When Wembanyama came to the U.S. last year there were reasonable questions about what his transition to the NBA would look like. Could he endure the rigors of an 82-game schedule? Would he be able to guard stronger, heavier opponents?

He’s answered every question, some of them emphatically.

Among the highlights — a 40-point, 20-rebound game against the Knicks (the one where he threw the ball into the stands); 10 games of at least 30 points; 40 games of at least 20 points; two triple-doubles (one with 10 assists, one with 10 blocks); and what’s known as a 5×5 game — five or more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the same contest.

He did that against the Los Angeles Lakers with Feb. 23 with 27 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five steals and five blocks. It was only the 22nd such game in NBA history and the first in more than five years. And it came exactly one day after he was one assist shy from another 5×5 outing.

“He doesn’t have a ceiling,” Lakers star LeBron James said that night. “He can do whatever he wants to do in his career.”

That’s what the Spurs are banking on.

Wembanyama has spoken with reverence for San Antonio and Popovich from the beginning of this journey, starting with the night the Spurs won the draft lottery. Wembanyama is now well-versed in breakfast tacos (a San Antonio staple), cowboy hats and how to play the game the way that Popovich wants.

“He’s a multi-talented young man,” Popovich said. “And he’s going to show us things that none of us have ever seen before. … He’s getting more and more solid, more and more disciplined, getting more and more used to the contact that he gets, the attention that he gets. It’s a tough position for him to be in. But he handles it with class and with pretty good smarts.”

Wembanyama will return to France at some point this offseason; he’ll be on the Olympic team that will be one of the star attractions at the Paris Games. He might be the face of those Olympics, arguably the biggest name that the home nation has to hang its gold-medal hopes on.

“People ask me if I’m surprised and I say no, I’m not, because I’ve seen him for a long time and I knew he was going to be special,” said Philadelphia forward Nicolas Batum, one of the leaders of the French national team. “I didn’t think it’d happen this fast. I didn’t expect these numbers in Year 1. But it’s good for him. He’s a great kid. He knows who he is, he knows what he can do and he’s in a great organization.”

The Spurs aren’t contenders yet. But it’s easy to envision it happening before long. Players have always wanted to play for Popovich. Players will want to play with Wembanyama. He’s only going to get better. Awards, accolades, attention, it’s all nice, sure, but none of it is what matters most to the kid. He came to the NBA to win.

And he believes that day is coming.

“I’ve just witnessed so much greatness. And I want to be a part of it,” Wembanyama said. “More and more, I’m seeing that I’m already able to compete with those guys. I’m not near, but I’m on the right path. I know it. And I’m going to get there one day soon.”

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top