THE ANGELS – It’s a challenge to adapt to the NBA, even if you’re a phenom like Victor Wembanyama.
The final postgame question Wembanyama received from the media — after his Spurs were blown out by the Clippers 123-83 to drop to 1-2 on the season — was in French and whether it was the first time he’d felt so overwhelmed in a game from the NBA.
No, the third time, said Wembanyama.
Wembanyama finished with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting with five rebounds and a block in his third NBA game in Los Angeles Sunday night. What follows are 10 observations and quotes from and about Wembanyama from this third game.
1) “Everybody’s going to be physical with him, trying to throw him off balance and things like that, and he’s got to get used to that,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Wembanyama’s adjustment to the NBA. “That’s probably the biggest difference for him, all that physicality and the appreciation of the basketball. In terms of turnovers, it was an important night for everyone.”
The Spurs turned the ball over 25 times against the length, physicality and aggressiveness of the Clippers. This equates to 24% of Spurs’ possessions (according to NBA.com), or basically one every four court appearances.
2) Along those lines, on their first possession of the game, the Spurs tried to get the ball to Wembanyama, who had locked down his defender deep in the paint, but Paul George and Kawhi Leonard quickly doubled him before he could make a move that they took away the ball and were out of transition. It is the physicality and aggressiveness that is still an adjustment for Wembanyama and the young Spurs.
3) There were highlights that reminded everyone why Wembanyama is such a crazy prospect.
In the first quarter alone, Wembanyama stripped the ball from Westbrook on a shot (when Wemby wasn’t even covering Westbrook, he just dug in, reached out and knocked it out), he contested a Paul George 3 that should have been higher- made an arc than he wanted (and missed), and forced Ivica Zubak to pass out under the basket instead of going up and trying to dunk it. He stole an inbounds pass that Kawhi Leonard tried to throw over his head.
4) There were also head-shaking, “did I just see that” moments. Such as Wembanyama with the toe finish.
He did something similar several times.
5) The Spurs aren’t a good team, but they also played a lot worse against the Clippers than they did against the Rockets or Mavericks earlier in the week. Credit the Clippers’ length and defensive shooting for some of that. Also, not so coincidentally, the Spurs struggled after a Saturday night off in Los Angeles – LA nightlife remains undefeated.
6) Thanks to Wembanyama, Spurs will not fly under the radar of any team this season. This is something that good teams take time to adjust to.
7) Wembanyama on his relationship with Popovich: “You know, he’s everything I expected and more. First of all it’s as a human being, some things are really important to me, my relationships, and he’s just there all the time and it’s comforting.”
8) Wembanyama looks better playing next to Tre Jones — a pure point guard — than Jeremy Sochan, who is learning on the job. In Sunday’s game, when Wembanyama was -14 on the night, he was +7 in minutes with Young (boosted by a +8 early in the fourth quarter against the Clippers’ reserves at the start of garbage time).
It’s easy to see why Popovich wants to give Sochan a chance to learn the point guard role and see if he can do it — his size and athleticism would make him a force — but Sochan has a long way to go, and there are times when when he can feel Wembanyama’s frustration.
9) As we head into the season, a Wembanyama scouting book is starting to come out. What do teams want to stop?
“Just for him to catch in the mid-post area, turn around and shoot a reverse jump shot. We’ve just got to try to get him off the block because once he hits his shot, nobody’s going to block him,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said with a laugh. “So I’m just trying to push him out of his seat. Don’t let him get it so easily, make sure he’s not comfortable.
Lue also had nothing but praise for Wembanyama.
“He’s a problem. Offensive rebounds, him getting behind the defense, his ability to handle the basketball … he’s a super talent,” Lue said after the game.
10) For a few possessions, Spurs set up a 3-2 zone, almost a 1-2-2, with Wembanyama leading the way, using his length and mobility to disrupt the ball carrier. It’s an interesting change of pace.