LAS VEGAS – This is the Victor Wembanyama we’ve been waiting to see.
Just two days after saying he was “exhausted” and “didn’t really know” what he was doing following his shaky debut on Friday, Wembanyama showed glimmers of greatness in his second NBA Summer League game Sunday.
He used his 8-foot wingspan to erase opponents’ view of the basket.
He used his unprecedented combination of height (7-foot-3 without shoes) and speed to dominate, even at one point missing a jumper and then somehow getting to the other side of the basket to grab his own rebound before making a layup.
In other words, he used his unicorn body to do things that many of the most talented basketball players in the world just aren’t physically capable of doing.
So, yeah: This is what all the fuss is about.
Wembanyama finished with 27 points on 9-for-14 shooting, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in the San Antonio Spurs‘ 85-80 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, leaving his nine-point, eight-rebound performance on Friday in the dust.
“It’s just me getting comfortable with myself and my body on the court,” Wembanyama said. “Before today, I had like two practices and one game. I was just getting going.”
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Wembanyama.
It was emotional, with him choking back tears after being selected as the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s draft.
It was exhausting, with him doing so many interviews that even some media members were stunned.
It was pressure-filled, with him making a much-anticipated debut with the Spurs in front of a sold-out crowd at Thomas & Mack Center that included one of the best bigs to ever play, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
It was draining, with him being paraded from event to event the day after his debut, including participating in a panel discussion alongside Abdul-Jabbar and Isiah Thomas, as well as appearing on stage for the NBA’s flashy announcement of its in-season tournament.
For the 19-year-old Wembanyama, Sunday was great and all, especially after his mediocre debut.
But what he’s truly excited about is slinking into the shadows for a few months, where he can work on his body and his game with some of the greatest basketball minds in the world, including the winningest NBA coach of all-time, Gregg Popovich.
“In the past month, I think basketball wasn’t even 50 percent of my schedule,” Wembanyama said. “I can’t stand it. I know it’s a special moment in my life, but I’m glad it’s over. Honestly, I just want to hoop. I just want to work out, lift and this is my life. Obviously, every first pick has to go through this.”
That’s only true to an extent.
Wembanyama is under a more powerful magnifying glass than most, with him being billed as the most exciting prospect of the last 20 years, ever since an 18-year-old kid named LeBron James entered the league.
Wembanyama has become a household name before he has even played a regular-season game, something that’s far from true from the 2022 top pick Paolo Banchero or the 2021 pick Cade Cunningham, and so on, and so on.
It’s a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old.
And it’s unclear whether Wembanyama will play another Summer League game. The Spurs tend to be one of the more cautious franchises in terms of injury prevention, with Popovich famously being credited for inventing “load management.” Wembanyama is precious cargo, and so much can go wrong in a Summer League game, as we saw Friday when the No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson suffered a right shoulder injury.
Regardless of whether we see him play again this summer, Wembanyama left a lasting impression Sunday.
After a slow start, he had 11 points in the second quarter, surpassing his entire point-total in his debut. There were multiple highlight-reel plays, including him making a block that was immediately followed by a dunk on the other end.
He went on to nearly help the Spurs come back from a 16-point fourth quarter deficit, making a 3-pointer with just under two minutes left to bring his team to within one point of the Trail Blazers, 79-78.
“Victor, he’s amazing,” said Blake Wesley, who had 14 points and five assists. “…All you gotta do is just throw it up, and then he can get it.”
Over the next few months, Wembanyama is looking forward to digging into his real work. He intends to talk to Popovich about when he should take a break and go on a vacation, and when he should pour himself into lifting, conditioning and ramping up.
It’s already clear that Wembanyama deeply respects the five-time champion coach, and trusts him to help him realize his potential, as Popovich famously did with Tim Duncan.
When asked for his reaction to the 74-year-old Popovich agreeing to a five-year contract extension worth more than $80 million, Wembanyama didn’t hesitate.
“It’s just another sign from him and from the franchise that they care about the project,” he said. “There’s something great going on, starting.”
Anyone who watched Wembanyama play Sunday can feel that, too.
He has a thrilling amount of potential. There’s something exciting knowing that we could be witnessing the early stages of the next James, Duncan or Kobe Bryant.
As for Wembanyama, he’s just happy that the madness is behind him. Though, if things go as planned, so much more will be ahead for him.
In the meantime, he can’t wait for the curtains to close for a short time while before making his grand reveal in October.
“I’ve got two-to-three great months that are coming,” he said. “They’re going to change my life.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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