Victor Wembanyama overachieving for Spurs after just 10 games

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If San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama is this good now – 10 games into his rookie season as a 19-year-old – how good will the French phenom be next season? Three seasons from now? In five seasons? In 10 seasons?

Putting up 38 points on 15-for-26 shooting with 10 rebounds, two blocks and one steal five games into his NBA career elevated expectations of what Wembanyama can become, and they were already high – through no fault of his own other than being a supremely gifted 7-foot-4 basketball player.

Through 10 games, Wembanyama averages 19.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.1 steals and shoots 44.7% from the field and 29.8% on 3-pointers.

But the Spurs, who play the Oklahoma City Thunder in an in-season tournament game Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) have measured expectations, not asking or expecting too much, too soon. It’s a wise approach.

“At this stage of his career, he’s learning a lot and to put the whole program around him now is a bit premature even though he is a talented individual,” longtime Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “But he’s got a lot of things on his mind as far as how this game works, how we play, the NBA, people he’s never played against before, so he’s got a lot to work on. But eventually, I would think that he would be a rather large part of the program.”

In a time when instant gratification is sought, the Spurs are patient, and it helps to have Popovich, the three-time NBA coach of the year, who has witnessed about everything there is to see in professional basketball.

Popovich acknowledged, “He’s in the film sessions and he gets critiqued just like everybody else,” but he’s also resisting public proclamations.

“We promised ourselves as a staff that we’re going to watch him for a while,” he said. “I mean, he’s 19 years old. Instead of deciding ‘We’re going to work on this and this and this and you’re going to do this,’ we should probably watch him play for a while and see where he feels more comfortable, where he’s more successful, where on the court does he do this, that or the other. We’ve started working on basics about balance and pivoting, that sort of thing.

“As far as anything else, we just want to observe for a while and make sure we don’t skip steps and not overcoach right off the bat like we’ve got the answers for (him).’

Victor Wembanyama’s scoring production

Wembanyama, who is 72-for-161 shooting, leads the Spurs in scoring. It’s clear he is most efficient scoring close to the basket with 35% of his attempts and 70 of his 197 points within 8 feet of the rim including 58 points on 29-for-40 shooting (72.5%) in the restricted areas. Of those 29 shots, 21 were dunks. He particularly is difficult to guard on lobs. Throw Wembanyama the basketball high enough and not many defenders can outreach him. His length and wingspan allows him to catch the lob away from the basket and still convert.

It’s not impossible to block his shot, but it is difficult, and even more so as he moves away from the basket. He likes the mid-range jump baseline shot, and he is also comfortable shooting 3-pointers with 51 of his points coming from behind the line.

His sub-30% shooting from that distance isn’t a concern now. Young players often need an adjustment period with 3-pointers, and his form is solid. He will improve. His 3-point makes with Minnesota’s All-NBA defender Rudy Gobert guarding him illustrate both his comfort level and ability to convert those shots.

Wembanyama is patient and doesn’t try to force scoring. He averages 3.8 turnovers and had seven in Sunday’s loss against Miami. That’s too many, but he’s had two or fewer in seven of 10 games. As much as he’s going to have the ball in his hands, turnovers happen. He’s not careless or trying to make the highlight play.

It’s a learning process for the coaching staff, too.

“I feel more responsibility than excitement,” Popovich said. “There’s always pressure, but it’s not debilitating. It keeps you on the edge of your seat. It keeps you thinking so that you don’t fall into that category of thinking you have things figured out. With him in the program now, to some degree we have to figure it out all over again in how we play around him.”

Victor Wembanyama’s passing

As much as he has – and will have – the basketball, Wembanyama’s assists per game should increase, as will his potential assist opportunities per game (just 4.1).

Even at 19, he understands how the game should be played, possesses sound court vision, amplified by his ability to see over defenders, and recognizes the open shooter or where a teammate has a mismatch to exploit. This will become even more important as his shooting improves, and he attracts more double-teams. The Spurs’ 3-point shooters will benefit.

Against Toronto, he caught a pass on the baseline that would’ve sailed out of bounds with anybody else. While in the air and before going out of bounds, he throw a soft-touch pass to Charles Bassey for a layup.

Victor Wembanyama’s defensive impact

Already, he has made an impact defensively as a rim protector and shot blocker with active hands – all aided by the dynamic that makes him unique: a tremendous skillset coupled with size and length.

Against Minnesota, he blocked Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert three times. The sequence against Houston with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter of a close game saw Wembanyama block Jabari Smith who was trying to dunk on him. Smith got the rebound, and Wembanyama blocked that, too. His length and wingspan also allow him to disrupt shots on the perimeter. Besides one-on-one situations his help defense leads to blocked shots.

This is a familiar refrain, but his length allows him to get his hands in passing lanes and disrupt the opponents’ offense.

“I can’t even imagine how he’s going to evolve,” Gobert said.

The Spurs are a bad defensive team at 119.8 points per 100 possessions, 29th in the NBA. But with Wembanyama on the court, that drops to 114 points per 100 possessions. He makes a difference, and as the Spurs grow – they have the NBA’s youngest team on average at 23.52 years old – his impact will increase.

Victor Wembanyama’s rebounding

Wembanyama is San Antonio’s leading rebounder – 2.0 offensive rebounds per game and 6.8 defensive rebounds per game. He will get better at that task, and he will get stronger with muscle and weight. The Spurs know teams will try to get physical with Wembanyama.

He’s a smart rebounder, too. Once he grabs the missed shot on the defensive end, his head is up looking for opportunities. He can get the ball to a guard or bring the ball up court.

How is Victor Wembanyama handling NBA transition?

Wembanyama, who often brings a health drink to his postgame news conference, doesn’t divulge too much.

“Every game is different, but it’s always one of my priorities to be aggressive. It’s something I always think about.”

“I’m still learning where my spots are.”

“We’re learning as a young team. … We’re going to go through losing streaks and go through tough times. It’s going to happen but the most important thing is how we bounce back.”

He enjoyed the experience of playing in Madison Square Garden, but you can see he’s trying to absorb the experiences without getting overwhelmed by the attention.

“His parents did an unbelievable job with him because he’s just so level-headed and so mature for a 19-year-old with all the attention he gets,” Popovich said. “He’s able to prioritize. He’s able to focus on just becoming a better player. He enjoys the game. He enjoys his teammates. He’s blended in in that sense culturally very well. That’s just a tribute to his character.”

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on X @JeffZillgitt

This post appeared first on USA TODAY