Imagine for a moment that you are a scientist. One day in a foreign country you discover an element that the world has never seen before. There are endless possibilities for it’s use to better the world around you. The only catch is it’s so unique, that you have to rethink the entire way you research it.
Okay, a dramatic comparison I know. However, it’s not all that different from the position the San Antonio Spurs find themselves in. Victor Wembanyama over the course of his basketball life has proven to be a player like we’ve never seen. He can throw down lobs from the three point line, get from half court to the bucket in three steps, take guys off the dribble for step back jumpers and reject seemingly unblockable shots at the rim.
The Spurs will need some time to figure out just how the team should operate around him. Their game against Miami was an exercise in this. Like Gregg Popovich said, they are letting “Victor be Victor” and figuring out the rest as they go along.
Tonight San Antonio started a big lineup full of wings around him. We saw Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell and Wembanyama all initiate the offense. It wasn’t incredible smooth. Wemby had a great night going for 23 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks on 10/15 shooting from the field. And while the team found some success, it wasn’t completely pretty. The spacing, at times, was awkward. Their wings looked somewhat uncomfortable initiating the offense. They were out-rebounded by 15, and couldn’t navigate the Heat’s barrage of screens and handoffs.
That doesn’t mean that the lineup is “cooked” or won’t work. It’s just part of the process of figuring out how this team needs to operate around the first overall pick. Trial and error is certainly part of the preseason, but may bleed into the regular season as well. How this team look in October will be vastly different than who they are in March.
It’s funny that Popovich said that he only drew up one play for Wembanyama. There is so much more tinkering to be done.
Pop on playing Victor at the 5… pic.twitter.com/s7jm8iwoRu— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) October 14, 2023
It’s hard to remember it’s just the preseason when Wembanyama is slamming left handed dunks over defenders, but the fact of the matter is that these games are glorified practice.
The Wembanyama era is off to an exciting start. But the Spurs still need to tinker with their formula to take this from an experiment to a winning machine. We get the pleasure of watching this mad science experiment play out in real time.
- Wembanyama’s night will be the headline, but Vassell was just as impressive in the win. He had 21 points while hitting 6 of his 7 three point attempts. He was hitting shots off the dribble and spotting up. With Wembanyama making the defense collapse on him, Vassell has even more room to operate. For a lights out shooter like him, that’s a recipe for a great season. Defensively he impressed playing the passing lanes and disrupting the Heat off the ball. That’s the kind of bounce back performance you want to see from one of your best players.
- The Spurs struggled to guard the Heat in the half court. Their guards were getting caught on every screen and hand off, leading to routine 2 on 1 situations for Miami. The Spurs’ screen navigation will be important as teams try to create advantages against them away from Wembanyama. On top of that defensive flaw, the Spurs were horrible on the defensive glass, giving up 19 offensive boards. The Heat were just flying to the ball with more aggression as the Spurs tried to leak out in transition. It can’t be solely on Bassey, Collins and Wembanyama to use their length to grab boards. Rebounding has to be a team effort to do it effecitvely.
- The Austin Spurs are going to be FUN. The young guys came in at the end of the game and flashed plenty of promise. They were unselfish, hustled on the defensive end, and showed a level of hunger you would expect from the guys trying to make a name for themselves in the league. The Spurs outscored the Heat 34-20 in the fourth quarter with a lot of guys who will be playing in Austin this season. Dominick Barlow shined with 11 points and played some stellar defense. Sandro Mamukelashvili looked good as well, moving the ball and hitting two three pointers in the fourth.