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With Victor Wembanyama, there are no bad lobs

On-target lobs become easy buckets, but off-target lobs become assists? Adventures in testing the limits of simply throwing it up in the vicinity of Big Vic.

Toronto Raptors v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

I still come back to that one against the Heat, personally.

It’s not just the audacity in how he calls for the ball or the ease with which he throws down (although yes, those things too), but also the seams in a defense that my basketball-watching eyes must now account for with the arrival of Victor Wembanyama. Thanks to an otherworldly combination of wingspan, mobility and coordination, any beeline to the rim can become two points with enough timing and gumption.

Wembanyama has already finished lobs in transition and in half court, at a variety of angles, and it feels like the team is only skimming the surface of how to work them into schemes and routine passes. At the hands of a young group that’s still coming into its own and working out how to play efficient half-court offense, it feels like an apprentice figuring out a spell.

The case for alley oops is magnified with Wembanyama. A basketball hoop? Small, a nearly impossible target from 30 to 50 feet out, especially when you don’t have your feet set. Wembanyama’s catch radius on the other hand? Let’s compare.

Here’s Keldon Johnson processing something like the visual above after what appears to be a drag screen which Wembanyama slips, setting up a mismatch against the Suns’ Eric Gordon. Johnson picks up his dribble, his mind already made up, his body off-balance and his line of sight impaired by the larger Drew Eubanks.

And yet it still looks like the right play. Wembanyama is able to corral Johnson’s pass and lay it in Wilt Chamberlain-style as a handful of defenders look on helplessly.

What happens when all Wembanyama can do is get a few outreached digits on the ball? Still some pretty good things because of his awareness and dexterity.

Against the Raptors, Wembanyama plays WR1 once again, turning another Johnson chuck that’s caught behind the backboard into a savvy dime to Charles Bassey for an easy two. Was it another big-brain play by Johnson or something the Spurs need to tighten up? Who’s to say. The old passing norms are dead and new ones are struggling to be born. Now is the time of monsters.

In these early days, the Spurs are figuring out how to tap into the vertical game in both live-ball and inbounding situations. That includes the final moments of regulation on Sunday against Toronto, when San Antonio reportedly drew up a lob for Wembanyama from the sideline. It did not go to plan, mostly because of poor execution but also what else would you expect the Spurs to try? Toronto has Jakob Poeltl defending the pass and two big bodies near Wembanyama, who is neither screened for nor does he make a good run at the rim.

Wembanyama’s catch zone gives the Spurs a fun option in crunch-time once they work the kinks out. From the baseline, especially, opponents will need to focus their efforts on taking away the easy runway, which could open up different looks for him or wide open looks for teammates like Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson. In any given situation he could be the ultimate nail or a perfect distraction to break a defense, and that’s without considering what he’s already shown as a three-point shooter off the dribble and catching on the move. As with many things in the Wembanyama experience, the upside is undeniable and the process to figure it out should be fairly compelling, as well.