Despite all the hype surrounding Victor Wembanyama, patience will prove the ultimate virtue in his development

LAS VEGAS — The last time Victor Wembanyama landed in Sin City and played before the NBA world, the French phenom clashed against Scoot Henderson and the G League Ignite before an empty arena in Henderson, Nevada, attended mostly by team scouts and executives. Webmanyama’s Summer League debut on Friday was perhaps the most anticipated game in the annual event’s history, spilling hundreds of spectators into the upper deck of the Thomas & Mack Center two hours before San Antonio even tipped against Charlotte and No. 2 pick Brandon Miller . The crowd whooped every time Wembanyama touched the ball during pre-match warm-ups as they waited for some otherworldly display. The stage was set for a vantage point compared to LeBron James, perhaps considered an even bigger prospect than James was two decades earlier, to stumble and fall in front of all the watching eyes.

Even James, with the frame of a prizefighter at only 19 years old, failed to bring Cleveland to the playoffs as a rookie. There doesn’t appear to be any expectation in San Antonio that Wembanyama will lift the Spurs into the postseason picture during his first season after being selected first overall in June’s NBA Draft, let alone the deep playoffs -runs that Tim Duncan helped deliver to the franchise in his rookie campaign. That’s why any conversation with the Spurs sneaking into the Damian Lillard trade competition, regardless of San Antonio’s cap space and draft capital and young pieces on the roster, seems pretty incongruous with the rest of the organization’s plans.

San Antonio Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama, right, tries to drive against Charlotte Hornets’ Brandon Miller during the first half of an NBA Summer League game Friday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Look no further than Spurs’ vision to play and note Wembanyama as a forward. These are conscious decisions, though Wembanyama’s gritty showing on Friday — nine points and eight rebounds on 2-of-13 shooting in 27 minutes — came as the lone true big man for San Antonio’s summer outfit. Perhaps his struggles against Charlotte have only further enforced the Spurs’ ideas of pairing Wembanyama with a true frontcourt partner at least early in his career. For all the talent running through his 7-foot-4 frame, for all the hype surrounding his ultimate ceiling, patience will prove a virtue for Wembanyama’s development in the NBA. Especially with his strength training to compete against the league’s towering beasts. In 2022–23, Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid played 60 pounds heavier than Wembanyama’s listed weight of 225 on the Spurs’ official Summer League roster.

His current lack of power was evident against the Hornets. That was the most consistent comment from the league’s attendees. Much of Wembanyama’s drive to the basket was knocked off course. He had trouble clearing optimal space during post touches with his back to the basket. To be fair, Wembanyama has had scant training time with his Spurs teammates. “Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing on the field tonight,” he told reporters after the game, “but I’m trying to learn for the next games and be ready for the season.”

How the Hornets collapsed multiple help defenders on his paint likely encouraged San Antonio’s draft-makers to pair Wembanyama with a sweet shooting center in particular. The Spurs, league sources told Yahoo Sports, were prepared to pursue Minnesota big man Naz Reid on the open market before Reid returned to the Timberwolves on a contract extension and never really became a free agent. San Antonio also believes Zach Collins, who enters the final season of a three-year, $22 million contract and shot 37.4% from distance on 147 attempts last year, can perform in that starting lineup, sources said, should the Spurs stand and clap. position for the remainder of the offseason.

At an offensive minimum, Wembanyama was a dangerous pick-and-roll lob partner for the Metropolitan’s 92. But San Antonio could never get their top pick to roll into space against the Hornets. His handle, for all its dazzling threads between his long legs, was unable to overcome the stronger defenders that could jostle his slender frame. Even at this level of Summer League play, the difference in opposition Wembanyama will face at state will surpass what he saw in LNB Pro A. “This is not France,” a Hornets official told Yahoo Sports after the contest, not to mention. when Wembanyama reaches the regular season and is sure to attract a lot of attention in opposing teams’ scouting reports.

Perhaps the most obvious concern surrounding Wembanyama’s translation to the NBA will be his shooting. He converted less than 30% of his 3-pointers last season despite the beautiful mechanics and tantalizing bombs that Wembanyama drained off one leg. His 1-of-6 showing from beyond the arc against Charlotte could have been a result of rust. Still, without imposing any scares from distance on Friday, the Hornets’ defense wasn’t as crazy as the Spurs would have hoped in trying to shut out Wembanyama’s looks from 3-point land, while Charlotte was also confident it could contain his drive. if Wembanyama decided to put the ball on the deck.

Those are all data points the Spurs and the league in general are collecting on Wembanyama’s growth. San Antonio is perhaps the most attuned franchise when it comes to pragmatism and caution around player health and progression. Plus, in an NBA full of teams hoping to compete for the postseason, there will be clear advantages to the Spurs and Washington Wizards frolicking in a quiet race to the bottom.

San Antonio has been out of the playoffs since 2019 and is well practiced in an environment without real pressure to win games. It’s no coincidence that last season the Spurs brought back development czar Brett Brown, the longtime Gregg Popovich assistant who left the organization only to oversee Sam Hinkie’s diligent process in Philadelphia. And if there’s any prediction to be made, any burning opinion after a rough outing, it’s that Wembanyama will return to the floor better prepared for a better showing and for every next step he takes in front of the masses.

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