Now that was what everyone paid to see when they bought their unusually expensive tickets for the Las Vegas Summer League. For better or worse (for him and his teammates), it was always about Victor Wembanyama. In his first game in the American spotlight on Friday, he struggled to find his spots but patiently played within the system by making the right reads to find his teammates and being a force on defense. However, those aren’t the type of stats people appreciate, and he was unfairly eviscerated online by haters for already being a bust.
He had already said he wouldn’t dominate in his first game because he would be focusing on setting his teammates up while leading on defense (not that we or anyone else listened — thanks, Britany Spears). However, it didn’t take much longer than that, because in his second game, after a slow first quarter for the Spurs as a whole, he came alive and took over, nearly leading his team to a 16-point fourth quarter comeback (reminder: these are 10-minute quarters, not 12).
He finished the game with 27 points on 9-14 shooting (2-4 from three), 12 rebounds and 3 blocks. (Although it felt like more. Expect many games like Tim Duncan in Game 6 of 2003 finals — not the near quadruple-double part, but where the scorekeepers just won’t catch every single block he makes). Wemby picked his moments to attack, with a nine-point burst in the second quarter to keep the game from getting away from the Spurs and 10 points as a part of the Spurs torrid run in the fourth, with his final bucket being a huge three to get the Spurs within a point with under two minutes left. He drove to the bucket, took the open threes, and showed off his midrange game. Fans got to see it all.
While they would go on to lose for the first time in four tries in Summer League, the crowd wasn’t buzzing over the result, but rather getting to see the true potential of a superstar while experiencing some Wembymania in the process. This may or may not be the last we see of him it until October — Coach Matt Nielsen said he is not sure if Wemby will play another SL game, and Wemby himself said he plans to disappear from the media’s eye for the next month or so — but if this is it for now, he certainly gave everyone a night to remember and something to cling to for the next three months.
- Lost in all the Wembymania of the fourth quarter was Blake Wesley, who played just as big of a role in the comeback attempt with his hardnosed defense at the point of attack and transition offense. He finished the game with 14 points and five assists off the bench and has fan in Doris Burke (for whatever that’s worth). He also finished the game with zero turnovers, which will always be a plus for him as he looks to get a handle on the ball, let the game slow down for him, and improve on his 3:2 assist-to-turnover ratio from last season.
- After both coming up huge in all of their SL appearances so far, Julian Champagnie and Malaki Branham finally had off nights, combining for 10 points on 2-23 shooting (with Branham shooting an especially horrendous 1-17). If one of those two show up, the Spurs easily win this game. However, they both had big moments in the comeback attempt, with Branham’s one make being a huge three to get the Spurs within four with under five minutes left, and Champagnie was robbed of the defensive play of the game when he was wrongfully called for defensive goaltending on Shaeden Sharpe with just under a minute to go (and Nielsen not challenging the call). As a result, instead of the Spurs being down two with the ball, they were down four, which robbed them of the momentum and had them desperately trying to catch up instead of playing for the tie or lead.
- Sidy Cissoko finally got his first buckets in a Spurs uniform, going 3-3 from the field with two threes and a transition dunk. If I were the Spurs, I’d put him in a gym with Bruce Bowen and have him develop a reliable corner three (which is where his two made threes came from last night). He already looks like a potential All-NBA defensive player, so once he finds a steady shot, he’ll be NBA ready.
- Dominick Barlow is still sitting in no man’s land as a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer from the Spurs. With the way he’s been playing — he had another impressive night with 17 points on 8-12 shooting with 6 rebounds while showing off his midrange game — it would be impossible to imagine the Spurs not bringing him back if it weren’t for all the extra contracts they’re carrying. He seems to be above a two-way contract at this point, but with 17 players currently under contract, three would have to go to make room for him on the main roster. So, who goes? Khem Birch seems like an easy one to waive since he hasn’t played for the Spurs yet, but then what? Do the Spurs try to redirect or simply waive any of their three pickups from the trade market in Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens and/or Reggie Bullock, or maybe one of their veterans like Devonte’ Graham? There’s simply no telling what is going on in PATFO’s mind, but at this point I only know one thing: Barlow is coming into his own as a basketball player, and I want to see more.