This summer was a practice in speculating on the unknown. At the end of the 2022-23 season, we saw impressive performances from young San Antonio Spurs aiming to prove themselves. Then after selecting Victor Wembanyama with the first-overall-pick, excitement shot through the roof. Then we had to wait a few months to see it all come together.
In the meantime the fanbase began asking questions about the starting five, different player combinations, who will lead the team in scoring, how will they improve defensively. Chief among those questions was just how good will this young team be? Finally on Monday night, we got a glimpse into what this iteration of the Silver and Black are capable of.
In an 81-point first-half explosion we saw that whether or not the Spurs are playoff contenders – they are going to be fun to watch.
Devin Vassell coming off screens for mid-range pull-ups, Zach Collins banging inside, Tre Jones navigating the offense and Doug McDermott nailing movement threes. All of those things were familiar sites. The unfamiliar was everything the 7-foot-4 alien did.
Setting expectations for Wemby feels futile. We’ve simply never seen anything like him before. I know that’s becoming a cliche at this point, but it’s true. Even when it feels like he’s set up to fail in a big time matchup, he finds a way to wow the world.
Right away it’s clear that even good NBA scorers are going to struggle with his length. Drivers were disrupted by his hands while he is in the gap, shooters were bothered with his contests, and even when you think you have him beat, he recovers to block the shot. It took a deep step back from Jalen Williams to get a three over the top of Wembanyama. He’s already showing just how impactful he can be defensively.
Offensively he was unique. No player with his frame has come off of a dribble-handoff and splashed a three point shot. His up and under scooping layup looked more like a prime Derrick Rose move, than something you’d see from a first-year center. His versatility will make him a lethal weapon on the offensive end for years to come. Sure, he turned the ball over and didn’t find a lot of success in the post, but those things will come over the course of the season.
Yes, it’s the preseason. There are plenty of things the Thunder and Spurs need to work on. What we saw on Monday is not exactly what the rest of the season will be like. But the signs are all there that this will be a fun year. There is a lot of talent on this roster, and it will be exciting to see how it all comes together. I for one, can’t wait for the ride.
- Wembanyama was used almost like a small forward more than a center against Oklahoma City. They played him off of the ball a lot, had him run off of pin downs and dribble handoffs, and even got him a pick and roll rep as the ball handler. Gregg Popovich has talked a lot about letting him play and then fine tune things from there. Wemby wasn’t great operating out of the low post, and I’m sure he will still get a heavy dose of those looks, but I’d watch for him participating in more off-ball designed plays over the next few games.
- A few young players really impressed against OKC. Charles Bassey looked great as the backup center. He’s got a high motor and played stellar defense. His passing has taken a leap too, as he had four assists. Malaki Branham’s scoring is going to be a major part of the bench this season. The second unit looked a bit stagnant offensively, and will need his touch and creativity to get them some baskets when the starters are off the floor. Blake Wesley showed the developments fans looked for in the summer league. He was disruptive on defense, and showed poise working the offense. His dribble pull-up in the mid-range is a major development in his game.
- A lot has been made of this “no point guard” approach to an NBA offense. The Spurs used a lot of players as playmakers on Monday, but the most impressive was not any of their guards, but rather the starting center. Collins is awesome at finding players out of the high post. He’s got a real knack for hitting cutters and making good reads as a playmaking hub at the top of the key. This is not a knock to Jones, who had a strong offensive game, but I expect a good chunk of plays to run through Collins’ hands.