The Victor Wembanyama hype train has struck the basketball world silly. There just seems to be no accurate way to predict the results of a 7-foot-4 phenom like him. You’ll see takes ranging from he’s a top-30 player for a playoff team, to he’ll get dominated by the stars of the league as the Spurs head back to the lottery.
What we learned in the San Antonio Spurs regular season opener is that we probably just need more time to see how this is all going to play out. Sure, Wembanyama didn’t play a ton against Dallas (just 25 minutes) due to foul trouble. But in the fourth quarter, he got the crowd rocking with a few baskets that made all of the hype seem worth it. Despite the limited playing time he finished with 15 points on 6-9 shooting.
Do you want to guess who else posted a similar stat line in their NBA debut? That’s right. Tim Duncan also scored 15 points on 6-9 shooting in 1997.
Spurs fans quickly found out that preseason success doesn’t alway correlate with regular season wins. The difference between a Dru Smith and Jamal Cain led attack is vastly different than Luka Doncic coming at you in the pick and roll. Those defensive leaps the Spurs appeared to make were there in spurts, but couldn’t last the entire game. Especially in the third quarter when the Mavericks seemingly got into the paint on every possession, and made Derrick Lively II look like prime-DeAndre Jordan.
Offensively it was a similarly uneven story. They moved the ball enough to get 33 assists, but turned it over 18 times. Without Zach Collins, Keldon Johnson or Tre Jones on the floor, who is putting pressure on the rim consistently enough to make the offense work? Maybe the story is different with Wemby playing the full game, allowing Pop to stagger his offensive weapons more.
It wasn’t all bad. They were good in transition and Vassell looked like a go-to scorer at times. There are reasons to be optimistic about both ends of the floor in the loss.
At the end of the day this is a young roster still developing into whatever team they are going to be at their peak. It’s easy (and fun) to get caught up in the hype. I know people hate this phrase... but it’s going to be a process. I’m just excited to see what the squad looks like when they figure it all out.
- Vassell looked awesome out there on Wednesday. He had 23 points on 9-17 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. He was getting to his spots in the mid-range and hitting consistently. Vassell shot just 1-6 from the three-point line, which seemed to be a result of the Mavs being physical with him beyond the arc. He is going to have to make teams pay for taking away his three point shot, and he did so against Dallas. It was a really impressive scoring performance.
- The defensive rotations were frustrating against Dallas. Luka is going to do Luka things, and it looked like Jeremy Sochan was doing a pretty good job making him work for his shots in the first half. As soon as the Mavericks started getting lesser perimeter defenders switched onto him, it created a nightmare for the Spurs. Too often a San Antonio defender would leave his man one-pass-away to help on Luka, which led to an open three for a Maverick. That’s how Kyrie Irving got his go-ahead three in the clutch. It’s something the Spurs will have to tighten up when the play other dominant stars.
- Jones was vital to keeping San Antonio in the game when it looked like the Mavs could pull ahead in the second half. He was the only player off the bench who had a positive plus-minus (+1.) He had 16 points and 6 assists in 25 minutes. They needed someone in that second unit to get downhill and create some offense. He pushed the tempo in transition when it was appropriate, and was good at navigating the pick and roll. The Sochan/Jones debate is going to keep raging as this season continues, especially after Jones performance on Wednesday.