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Victor Wembanyama as the logical endpoint of Luke Kornet

A defensive trend among NBA bigs caught on with the new Spur while overseas and should be one of his more subtle, yet effective, ways of impacting games.

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NBA: Summer League-Charlotte Hornets at San Antonio Spurs Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

There’s little that goes under the radar with Spurs first overall pick Victor Wembanyama, while on the floor or not. His size is a cheat code to unlock new ways to put the ball in the basket; his mere presence alters the geometry and possibilities for opposing offenses. Yet for all the eyes that were on him during his brief Summer League stint, and for as much criticism and fanfare that his first and second games received, respectively, wrinkles like this weren’t exactly headline-grabbing material.

That’s Wembanyama, clearly too far to actually get in the three-point shooter’s space, instead simply obstructing their line of sight of the rim with his hand. It’s a move that’s been popularized by Celtics reserve big man Luke Kornet, often called the Kornet Contest or “Eclipse”. The Athletic’s Jared Weiss wrote on the quirk in Kornet’s game last November, which the player admitted “can look really dumb but it seems to be pretty effective.”

That efficacy is hard to measure due to how his distance plays into NBA tracking metrics, but Sporting News’ Stephen Noh had some promising anecdotal numbers:

“Of the 18 eclipses that I was able to track down, shooters were only successful on five attempts. What makes those results even more impressive is that most of these shots were wide open... League average on 3-pointers with six or more feet of space was at 38 percent as of Dec. 1. Shooters have hit only 28 percent of those attempts against Kornet’s move.”

Said Kornet’s coach, Joe Mazzulla:

“I think that’s something he is good at and watched a lot of film... I think it’s a good way to contest without getting into a closeout. It’s a solid tactic, so it works.”

The rationale holds up. As much as NBA players hone their craft, actually seeing the target helps, which is why defenders like Shane Battier famously resorted to trying to block Kobe Bryant’s eyes when assigned to him, and why Kornet’s methods were adopted last season by other large NBAers...

... and by Wemby himself while playing with Mets 92.

What might constitute a quality contest for the taller, rangier and more mobile Wembanyama and his near-10-foot standing reach? We applied the strictest scientific methods to account for a) an average eye height (not player height) and b) the range of motion and/or extra room Wembanyama might need to get more than his fingernail over the lip of the rim. The math says he could be as close as 3 feet from the edge of the basket and still meaningfully, realistically obscure a shooter’s look at the basket.

Necessity is the mother of invention, which might explain an end-of-rotation player like Kornet’s pioneering of the Eclipse, much like why someone like Battier would try and shield the eyes of a star like Bryant. Per Kornet: “As a big, I’m not like a lot of our guys who are super fast and can close out and stay in front, really make incredible plays... So it’s like, I’m really tall, so how can I be effective in that? I just figure it out because the game forces you to. So it works.” Role players need every edge they can get and shouldn’t mind looking a little silly, or at least unconventional, to gain it.

Where things get more fun is when innovations make their way up the food chain. The Eurostep was powerful enough when used by savvy guards, but it makes an agile 7-footer like Giannis Antetokounmpo borderline unstoppable when attacking the basket. Kornet may admit he can’t close out on too many shooters well, or defend on the perimeter, but you know who can? Wembanyama, who will want to find a balance between the jaw-dropping displays of Wembyness while on the perimeter and cold self-restraint. By throwing up his hands 19 feet away from the arc, he can thread that needle and further impact that end of the floor.

I routinely go back to DewNO’s wonderful riff on the Spurs’ long-term success being in part a result of their systemic economy of exertion — a sort of future-proofing via “strategic laziness”, as he put it:

“Beyond all the corporate wisdom, all the laissez-faire ownership, the “high-character guys”, the work ethic, the sense of humor, the high-BBIQ players, the teamwork, the coaching, the compassion, and the sense of belonging — much of the Spurs success seems to ride on the fact that no one screws it up. And “no one screwing it up” is not on the level of the macrocosmic culture of decision-making but on the ultra-microscopic little decision at every moment not to put too much stress on your body, unless you have to.”

As Spursy as he seems, Wembanyama will step in as his own dude, untethered from much of what we associate with the Old Guard and ready to build his own legacy, but I did return to that take again in seeing The Greatest Prospect Since LeBron channeling his inner Luke Kornet while on the Vegas stage last weekend. Especially given the concerns repeatedly raised around his frame, being strategically lazy could go a long way.

Will the Eclipse have a similar effect on the game as the Eurostep? Probably not. And who knows how frequently Wembanyama even applies it. But with his combination of wingspan, mobility, and the willingness to get a little goofy, the Kornet Contest will reach a similar endpoint as a thought exercise here in San Antonio. For a player of Wembanyama’s proportions, who’s already poised to influence so much of what an offense tries to do, it’s handy that he can keep finding ways to cast a longer shadow.