LAS VEGAS (AP) – Victor Wembanyama yelled in celebration, punched the air, even got a plaster on his right cheek because of something physical.
For his second act in Las Vegas, Wembanyama showed some fire.
The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft looked a lot more like himself in his second game of Summer League on Sunday. He finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds, but the Spurs lost 85-80 to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Coming soon: The NBA Cup. The NBA unveiled details Saturday for its season opener, which will have a prize pool of about $18 million and will be capped by a championship game — which does not count toward the standings — in Las Vegas on Dec. 9.
Victor Wembanyama freely admitted that he was often confused in his first NBA Summer League game, going so far as to say that there were times when he didn’t know what he was doing.
Gregg Popovich apparently has no plans to leave the San Antonio Spurs anytime soon. The NBA’s winningest coach has signed a five-year contract to remain coach and president of the team, the Spurs announced Saturday.
“I was just getting started,” Wembanyama said.
He was 9 of 14 from the floor, 7 of 12 from the line, blocked three shots and led a comeback in which the Spurs cut a 19-point deficit to one, but they never took the lead.
“I wish we had won the game,” said Wembanyama. “I think I could have done more. … Gotta keep learning.”
There were also moments that reminded everyone he’s still an NBA work in progress — he airballed his third 3-pointer in two games, was moved from his spot a couple of times on rebound opportunities — but it was clearly a more Wemby-like match than was the case in his debut on Friday night.
He was just 2 for 13 from the field San Antonio’s Vegas opening win over Charlotte; he shot far better in Game 2. He missed his first shot, then missed a pair of free throws before connecting on an 18-foot jumper from the right wing for his first points and was off and running from there.
“It’s normal to get better every game,” Wembanyama said.
And there were highlights. He tipped a rebound to himself with his left hand and basically opened the ball up for himself for a dunk over Portland’s Jabari Walker. It seemed to energize him; moments later, after blocking a shot on one end, he ran the floor, was rewarded with a pass from Julian Champagnie and threw down another dunk over the Blazers’ Justin Minaya.
He also sought contact in the third quarter; after missing from low, he went across the court to grab his own miss and scored off the glass with his left hand while fouled, drawing several cheers from the crowd who basically reacted one way or another to everything , what he did.
Sunday was still a sold-out Summer League – all three days have been sold out so far, a first for Vegas and clearly part of the Wemby effect – but the scene for Wembanyama’s game wasn’t as overblown as it was for Friday’s debut. The lower bowl at the Thomas and Mack Center was full; the top bowl had some rows towards the top that were empty, which was not the case on Friday.
“I think the best show for the fans is to win,” said Wembanyama.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose new five-year contract with the team to remain as coach and president was announced Saturday, was in the stands for the second game in a row. Jerry West also watched again, just as he did Friday in his usual baseline seat, and Spurs teammates Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan were among the NBA players with prime seats for the show.
The NBA scheduled Spurs-Blazers thinking it would be the No. 1 pick against the No. 3 pick, just as Wembanyama’s debut had him going up against No. 2 pick Brandon Miller on Friday. But the third pick in the draft, Portland’s Scoot Henderson — a player Wembanyama faced twice last year near Las Vegas in exhibitions — missed the game with a shoulder injury suffered in his summer opener.
Spurs summer coach Matt Nielsen said he was not sure whether Wembanyama would continue to play in Vegas. If this was the end of Wembanyama’s Vegas stay, it would continue the trend of No. 1 picks ending their summer stays early.
Paolo Banchero played two games for Orlando in 2022, Cade Cunningham played three games for Detroit in 2021, Zion Williamson played in just one game — just nine minutes, really — for New Orleans in 2019 before his stay was cut short by injury, and Deandre Ayton appeared in four games with Phoenix in 2018. There was no Summer League in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Wembanyama said he would talk to Popovich and map out the rest of the summer — whether to continue playing in Vegas, plus a practice and vacation schedule leading up to the start of training camp this fall.
“I am ready to make any sacrifice for the team,” said Wembanyama.
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