Fans finally got to experience some Wembymania and it was palpable.
Now to was what everyone paid to see when they bought their unusually expensive tickets for Las Vegas Summer League. For better or worse (for him and his teammates) it was always about Victor Wembanyama. In his first game in the American spotlight on Friday, he struggled to find his spots, but he played patiently in the system by making the right reads to find his teammates and be a force on defense. Those aren’t the type of stats people appreciate though, and he was unfairly exterminated online by haters because he was already a bust.
He had already said he wouldn’t dominate in his first game because he would need time to get his feet under him and get a feel for the NBA game (not that we or anyone else was listening – thanks, Britany Spears ). It didn’t take much longer than that, though, because in his second game, after a slow first quarter for the Spurs as a whole, he came alive and took over, nearly leading his team to a 16-point comeback in the fourth quarter (reminder: these are 10-minute quarters, not 12).
He finished the game with 27 points on 9-14 shooting (2-4 from three), 12 rebounds and 3 blocks. (Though it felt like more. Expect a lot of plays like Tim Duncan in Game 6 of the 2003 Finals — not the near-quadruple-double part, but where goalies just don’t catch every single block he makes). Wemby picked his moments to attack, with a nine-point burst in the second quarter to keep the game from getting away from the Spurs and 10 points as part of the Spurs’ hot run in the fourth, with his final bucket being a huge three to get the Spurs within a point with under two minutes remaining. He drove to the bucket, took the open threes and showed off his mid-range game. Fans got to see it all.
While they would go on to lose for the first time in four attempts at the Summer League, the crowd didn’t swoon over the result, but rather got to see the true potential of a superstar while experiencing some Wembymania in the process. This may or may not be the last we see of him until October — coach Matt Nielsen said he is not sure if Wemby wants to play another SL game, and Wemby himself said that he plans to disappear from the eyes of the media for the next month or so – but if that’s it for now, he certainly gave everyone a night to remember and something to hold on to for the next three months.
- Lost in all the Wembymania in the fourth quarter was Blake Wesley, who played an equal part in the comeback attempt with his dogged defense at the time of attack and transition offense. He finished the game with 14 points and five assists off the bench and has a fan in Doris Burke (for whatever that’s worth). He also finished the game with zero turnovers, which will always be a plus for him as he looks to command the ball, slow the game down for him and improve on his 3:2 assist-to-turnover ratio from 6 p.m. last season.
- After both being huge in all of their SL appearances thus far, Julian Champagnie and Malaki Branham finally had off nights, combining for 10 points on 2-23 shooting (with Branham shooting a particularly awful 1-17). If either of these two show up, Spurs will easily win this game. However, they both had big moments in the comeback attempt, with Branham’s one factory being a big three to get the Spurs within four with under five minutes left, and Champagnie was robbed of the defensive play of the game when he was wrongly called for defensive tackle. goaltending on Shaeden Sharpe with just under a minute remaining (and Nielsen did not challenge the call). As a result, instead of Spurs being down two with the ball, they were down four, robbing them of momentum and making them desperately try to catch up instead of playing for a tie or the lead.
- Sidy Cissoko finally got his first buckets in a Spurs uniform, going 3-3 from the field with two threes and a transition dunk. If I were the Spurs, I’d put him in a gym with Bruce Bowen and have him develop a reliable corner three (which is where his two made threes came from last night). He already looks like a potential All-NBA defensive player, so once he finds a solid shot, he’ll be NBA ready.
- Dominick Barlow is still sitting in no man’s land as a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer from the Spurs. With the way he’s been playing – he had another impressive night with 17 points on 8-12 shooting with 6 rebounds while showing off his mid-range game – it would be impossible to imagine the Spurs not bringing him back if it wasn’t for all the extra contracts they have. He appears to be over a two-way contract at this point, but with 17 players currently under contract, three would have to go to make room for him on the main roster. So who goes? Khem Birch seems like an easy waive since he hasn’t played for the Spurs yet, but so what? Are the Spurs trying to redirect or simply waive any of their three pickups from the trade market in Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens and/or Reggie Bullock, or perhaps one of their veterans like Devonte’ Graham? There’s simply no telling what’s going on in PATFO’s mind, but at this point I only know one thing: Barlow is coming into his own as a basketball player, and I want to see more.