LAS VEGAS — The thousands who came out to watch Victor Wembanyama’s NBA Summer League debut left muttering to themselves about his ability as a ball screener.
In other words, what we saw from the No. 1 pick, the international sensation, in his first game in a San Antonio Spurs uniform was largely forgettable.
Wembanyama pushed through much of his Summer League lid lifter, scoring nine points with eight rebounds and five blocks on 2-of-13 shooting in a 76-68 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Wembanyama, 19, from France, who starred for Metropolitan’s 92 LNB Pro A’s this season, looked like he hadn’t played basketball in a while. He was not included in the Spurs’ summer league games in California this week, and after weeks of the banquet circuit and the celebrity that comes with not only being the presumptive top pick, but also a teenager with an enormous amount of expectation on him, his rust/lack of conditioning evident.
“I’ve had a few practices with the guards … and yeah, that’s pretty much all the basketball I could do,” Wembanyama said. “I trained by myself for a few days before this. And yeah, it was a really special time for me because it’s between the end of my season and the draft and then the summer league.
“I really need the rest that would come after and this summer is going to be great for my future.”
The Spurs’ next summer league game is Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers. No. 3 pick Scoot Henderson is on the Blazers, but he injured his shoulder in the third quarter of his debut on Friday and it remains to be seen if he will play.
Wembanyama was arguably outplayed by the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft, Charlotte’s Brandon Miller, who didn’t exactly light it up either, but was faster and sharper with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Miller drained a 3-ball over Wembanyama in the fourth quarter in one of several possessions on which they were matched; fans still there murmured collectively.
A sellout crowd at Thomas and Mack arena on UNLV’s campus filed out from the upper deck and behind the baskets in the lower bowl well before the end of the game.
“It was a special moment, really, really special, to wear the jersey for the first time,” Wembanyama said.
The hype of Wembanyama’s debut rivaled Zion Williamson’s in 2019. Williamson didn’t quite live up to expectations in his summer debut (or since), but at least there was an earthquake that night that shook the scoreboard and stopped play. The only shake in the building tonight was the rim when Charlotte’s Kai Jones caught a lob and hammered it over Wembanyama in the third quarter.
Jokes about ball screens aside (they were pretty much his role in Spurs’ attack after the first quarter), Wembanyama’s sheer size and presence in defense was what stood out. At 7-4, he not only blocked those five shots, but also altered several others as a springy disrupter. The shot, handles and rim attack he has shown on offense – for the Metropolitans or Team France – will come.
He was headed for a scoreless second half until he finished on a 3 and was fouled with 2:50 left in the game. On his previous 3-point attempt a possession earlier, Wembanyama was wide open and hit the backboard (and nothing else).
“The biggest improvement I have to make is being ready, being ready to respond when the play is called,” he said.
Spurs summer coach Matt Nielsen added: “Overall, I think he did a good job. Obviously, there’s a lot of attention on him. You can talk about the external things, but the physicality, and that was something they obviously wanted to line up as you wanted, and overall I thought he came out pretty well.”
Wembanyama’s week had already begun, befitting one destined to spend the next two decades in the public eye. He was involved in a strange, awkward incident between Spurs security and pop star Britney Spears, who grabbed Wembanyama from behind to try to say hello as he entered a restaurant on Wednesday night at the ARIA Resort and Casino.
According to the Associated Press, law enforcement officials will not file charges against Spears’ security after police determined that Spears accidentally hit herself in the face when the guard tried to separate her from Wembanyama. She had claimed the Spurs official slapped her.
“I haven’t been here long,” Wembanyama said of his first week in the NBA. “Everything is calculated and there is a really good organization around me. Yeah, I think it’s all connected.”
(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)