Observations from Victor Wembanyama’s First Preseason Game

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The San Antonio Spurs’ 2023-2024 preseason schedule got underway Monday evening on the road in Oklahoma City, as the Spurs narrowly fell to the Thunder by one point in the opening game.

Victor Wembanyma and Chet Holmgren had impressive starts for their respective clubs.

Shot location points by @PaulGarciaNBA

Wembanyama started and played in the first three quarters of the game, finishing with a team high 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 fouls, 2 steals, 4 turnovers, and 1 block.

“I was really really excited, there was a fire inside of me,” said Wembanyama after the game of the anticipation he had leading up to the game.

“I thought it was fun,” said Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich of Wembanyama’s first preseason game. “He just went out and played. No big gameplan or anything, he just went out and played basketball.”

Here were some observations of Wembanyama on offense:

  • Wembanyama mainly had Luguentz Dort or Jalen Williams guarding him defensively. When he had Williams guarding him, he would try to go into the post to try to create for himself or for his teammates. There was a possession where he was in the post, saw the Thunder double team coming and was patient before delivering the ball near the rim to a teammate who was cutting.
  • On another possession, Wembanyama was matched up with Holmgren. He put the ball on the floor from outside and drove in past Holmgren for the and-1 opportunity.
  • The Spurs players have been saying how once a game Wembanyama will have a ‘wow’ moment where he makes a play that is astonishing. That play happened in the second quarter, where Wembanyama drove into the paint, saw multiple defenders, used a spin to avoid the defense and finished with an up-and-under left handed layup in midair.
  • Wembanyama also showed how comfortable he is out on the arc, where he made two arc 3s in the game. On one three he popped out quickly for the three and drilled it with the defender being smaller than him and having little effect with his shot contest. On another three, he received a dribble-hand-off along the arc, sidestepped with a dribble and hit the other three.
  • Regarding his ability to see double teams coming, Wembanyama said it’s something he expects anytime he tries to drive into the paint. “A lot of times I do 1 step toward the basket and see 2 to 3 pairs of eyes just looking straight at me…and they forget their guy, and I can find easy looks sometimes like this.”

Here were some observations of Wembanyama on defense:

  • Though Wembanyama is 7’3″ on the roster page, the Spurs had him guarding Dort who is usually stationed out on the wing at the arc, or in the corners. With Dort stationed outside, this gave Wembanyama the ability to create havoc when Thunder players tried to drive inside from the arc into the paint. Wembanyama would use his length to swipe at ball handlers on the drive and he came up with 2 steals in the process. Doing this and playing out on the wing defensively allowed Wembanya to run out when the Spurs collected the steal or if the Thunder missed a shot, which led to transition baskets on the other end, with little shot contests.
  • There was one possession when Jalen Williams used a crossover to get by Wembanyama and he headed to the paint. Wembanyama quickly recovered and was still able to block the layup attempt by Williams.
  • While he didn’t spend a lot of time in the paint, on a few occasions when he was near, Wembanyama was able to make a layup attempt for the opponent difficult as he tried to contest the shot.
  • After the game, Popovich said as the Spurs get more familiar with Wembanyama, they’ll figure out where best to have him on the floor, either inside or outside. “We’re still trying to figure out if he should be on the perimeter or in the post and in what situations where we can take most advantage of his abilities.” Popovich said Wembanyama will spend time in both areas, though the team first needs to look at some factors like percentages or it could be matchup dependent.
  • “I’m very hopeful, because we had some sequences especially in the first half defensively, we were like one together on the court,” said Wembanyama after the game of the Spurs’ defense Monday.

Lineup Notes

Before the game, it was reported both Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan wouldn’t play due to general soreness.

The Spurs started with Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, Julian Champagnie, Wembanyama, and Zach Collins.

While it was just a preseason game, this starting group could give a hint as to what players the Spurs plan on having in the starting five minus Champagnie. Perhaps either Johnson or Sochan will be slotted in that fifth spot once the whole team is healthy.

For the second unit, the Spurs had Blake Wesley, Malaki Branham, Cedi Osman, Doug McDermott, and Charles Bassey play in the first three quarters. When Johnson and Sochan return, not only will the Spurs add another player to the second unit, but Champagnie could also find himself in that group as well.

Players not in the rotation Monday who got playing time in the fourth were Sandro Mamukelashvili, Devonte’ Graham, Sidy Cissoko, Sir’Jabari Rice, Dominick Barlow, and Charles Bediako.

Khem Birch was the only other Spurs player besides Johnson and Sochan who didn’t play due to a coaching decision per the NBA box score.

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