Victor Wembanyama is entering his first NBA season with many goals, but one in particular that stands out. In what has become a foreign concept not just for the NBA as a whole, but especially star players and ESPECIALLY players under Gregg Popovich’s watchful eye, he told ESPN’s Andrew Lopez that he hopes to play in all 82 games this season.
Asked Victor Wembanyama how much he wants to play this season:— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) October 24, 2023
"Every game. If there's no excessive risk for my health - of course I can't predict the future - but I want to play every single game."
Naturally, he knows that things such as injury or illness can happen, and he won’t put himself at risk, but it’s good to know that he wants to be out there each and every night for his team. It’s worth noting that although Pop is considered the founder of “load management” (even if the Raptors are the ones who coined the phrase), it didn’t start until after the Big Three were getting up there in NBA years and looking for ways to prolong their careers (something the NBA should have appreciated more in hindsight).
However, when you look back, Tim Duncan appeared 100% of the games four times in his first five season (82 games three times, all 50 in the 1999 lockout shortened season). He also appeared in 77 games as late as the 2014-15 season. The same can be said for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who when health permitted also played whenever they were available (it took Parker until 2008 to appear in less than 75 games), so the the idea that Pop will just sit stars for the sake of sitting them or to make a point has become an inaccurate, misguided view. Was he overly “cautious” last season when his players got dinged up late for certain reasons? Sure, but history shows when Pop has young, healthy stars and is aiming to win, there’s no rest for the weary, and today’s schedule format is more forgiving than 20 years ago.
It’s likely that he won’t push Wemby too hard, and if he enters a gameday “questionable” with something like a wobbly ankle or tight hamstring, Pop may err on the side of caution. But if Wemby is healthy and available, expect him to play without any pushback. Not only do the Spurs need to keep him happy, but there’s no better way to get into NBA shape than to just keep playing: something Wemby himself has admitted he’s still working on.