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Victor Wembanyama dazzles in Spurs’ preseason loss over Chet Holgrem’s Thunder

The two young big men put on a show in the first half of their team’s preseason opener, proving they are both worth the hype.

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs faced a young Thunder team that should be one of their biggest rivals for years to come to kick off preseason in a matchup that didn’t disappoint. The home team got the 122-121 win, but all that mattered to anyone watching was getting to witness Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holgrem shine.

The first half had the atmosphere and the intensity of a regular season game, which was not that shocking considering the rookies involved. The Spurs took control early on by playing with effort on defense and moving the ball well, looking more in sync than expected. Wemby made his mark with highlight plays but it was more of a team effort that allowed San Antonio to get an early. A bad stretch from the visitors got the Thunder back in it, with Chet Holgrem getting plenty of chances to show off his skills against the smaller and slower Zach Collins, but San Antonio closed strong.

Something similar would happen in the second quarter, as the Spurs looked dominant for a stretch only to allow a comeback later, this time with neither Devin Vassell nor Wemby on the court. With those two sitting and no Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan available to spell them, the offense couldn’t generate quality shots and the deficit in athleticism on the other end was evident whenever OKC decided to drive. At the break, San Antonio was still ahead in a high-scoring game but what mattered was just how fun and intense the matchup was.

Since it was preseason, eventually the main rotation players for both teams were going to sit, but unfortunately for viewers, the Thunder decided to do it sooner than expected. After the break, an entirely new starting unit was on the court to play the second half. What was a surprisingly competitive matchup became a lot laxer immediately and the trend continued as the minutes passed and Pop emptied his bench as well. There was a suspenseful ending with Devonté Graham attempting a game-winner that missed, but no one in the arena was all too concerned with the final score.

Game notes

  • Let’s get to the fun part: Victor Wembanyama is a monster. Everyone has seen the highlights from abroad, but watching him do it against NBA players was thrilling. It’s hard to describe how much space he covers on defense. Not even a young Anthony Davis works as a comparison, which is crazy.

On offense he did a little bit of everything, which is expected as the coaching staff tries to figure out how to maximize his talents. The most noteworthy thing is that he clearly has the go-ahead to cherry-pick to get a mismatch on the other end. The strategy would work better with a more accomplished rebounder at the other forward spot, but the Spurs have that type of player in Jeremy Sochan or Keldon Johnson. His teammates also need to get used to throwing him the ball higher, when only he can get it, but they’ll get there.

Will Wemby play in the post a lot? Will he be more of a perimeter player? Who knows and honestly who cares? When a player can do things like this, you let him have the freedom he needs to find his comfort zone.

  • With no Keldon Johnson or Jeremy Sochan available, Julian Champagnie got the start and didn’t really have a good night. Cedi Osman and Doug McDermott both outplayed him and made a case for some minutes. It’s just the first game and Champagnie can still bounce back. It will be fun to watch who out of those three can carve out a spot for themselves in the rotation.
  • Chet Holgrem was a terrible matchup for Zach Collins, as he’ll be for most centers. The Spurs know what Collins can do and he looked more like himself in the second half when Holgrem was resting, so no one should read too much into one preseason game.
  • Tre Jones only hit one three but he attempted a pull-up from beyond the arc after a screen and got fouled on it. The mere fact that he was willing to let it fly is a great sign. How confident he remains on his outside shot is one of the things to monitor in the preseason.
  • Devin Vassell’s shot selection wasn’t the best but he looks comfortable letting those midrange jumpers fly. He was also really active on defense like most of the other Spurs in the first half.
  • Malaki Branham did what Malaki Branham does best: score efficiently. He finished the game with 15 points on just eight shots, and he made two good-looking three-pointers. No matter who starts, the Spurs will have some bench scoring as long as Branham is around.
  • The Blake Wesley Experience continues to be similar to the Lonnie Walker IV experience. Both have a lot of talent and athleticism and both can have great moments but they often look completely lost on offense. To be fair, in the first half, Wesley was legitimately good on defense, showing that he can use his tools well on that end, which is a good foundation for the young guard to have.
  • Devonté Graham and Sandro Mamukelashvili only got minutes after both coaches emptied their benches. Does that mean they are trailing behind others in the fight for minutes? Probably not. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them get a rotation spot next game. Again, it’s just preseason.
  • The G League crew of Sir’Jabari Rice, Dominick Barlow, Sidy Cissoko and Charles Bediako got some garbage time minutes. There were some good moments but nothing that stood out too much.
  • If you made it to this point, you deserve one last Wemby highlight. Here you go.

Next game: vs. Heat on Friday

The Spurs will have their first home preseason game when they face the Heat. TNT will be in charge of the broadcast, but watching Wembanyama live is surely worth it, so get tickets if you can.