Friday, June 14, 2024

Wemby Watch: Pelicans’ Victor Wembanyama chances fading away as Lakers claw back near .500

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New York Knicks on Tuesday to move to 24-28 on the season. Across the country, the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Denver Nuggets to fall to 26-26. Since starting the season 2-10, the Lakers are 22-18 despite injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Both of them are now healthy. The Lakers are trending in the right direction. Since starting 18-8, the Pelicans have since gone 8-18 due to a variety of injuries. Zion Williamson has not yet returned. There’s still plenty of time for them to right the ship, but for right now, they’re trending in the wrong direction.

At one point this season, the Pelicans held the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference while the Lakers languished at the bottom of the standings. It created one of the season’s most interesting subplots: could the Lakers send an already young and competitive Pelicans team the No. 1 pick and the rights to Victor Wembanyama thanks to the 2023 swap rights they owe New Orleans from the Anthony Davis trade? At one point, it looked plausible.

Now, we’ve reached the other end of the spectrum. At the rate these teams are going, there is a reasonable chance that the Pelicans don’t even exercise their right to swap picks at all. Even if they do, with both of these teams hovering around .500, neither pick is looking especially valuable. Sadly for Wembanyama, he’s almost certainly headed for a run-of-the-mill bad team instead of an immediate contender.

Mets 92 falls to Roanne (again)

The regular-season race in the LNB Pro A gained a little more clarity this week as Mets 92 and Wembanyama fell — for a second time this season — to Roanne. The loss extended Monaco’s lead in the standings over second-place Mets 92. It wasn’t for lack of effort on Wembanyama’s part, though. After scoring 15 points against Roanne in early December, Wemby doubled that up and then some in a 31-point, 14-rebound, five-block effort, his eighth double-double of the season and the fifth time he has had five or more blocks in a game.

It was an on-brand stat line for Wembanyama but an uncharacteristic way in which he got there. Despite finishing a respectable 12 of 28 shooting overall, he missed nine of his last 10 shots in a sprint to the finish.

Watching Wemby

A bounceback should be in the cards this week for Mets 92 and Wembanyama with a matchup slated for Saturday against relegation candidate Blois. Mets 92 won the first meeting 113-88 in October even with Wemby going for a ho-hum 17-7-6 on the day. Blois is next-to-last in the LNB Pro A standings entering the game having lost 10 of its last 11 games, including most recently to Fos, the team currently last in the league standings. As always, games can be seen for free on the NBA app

Here’s a look at Wemby and Mets 92’s schedule upcoming.

  • Saturday, Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. ET: Mets 92 vs. Blois
  • Friday, Feb. 10 at 2:30 p.m. ET: Mets 92 vs. Dijon

Mets 92 will be off the rest of February following the next two games vs. Blois and Dijon. 

Race to the bottom

Each week, we’ll rank the seven teams likeliest to earn the coveted No. 1 slot on lottery night. These rankings will take current record, recent performance, upcoming schedule and injuries into account to subjectively rank the NBA‘s worst teams.

7. Toronto Raptors: We need to think of a catchy nickname for the retool Toronto is about to endure. Two years ago, we got the Tampa Tank, a wasted year in which the Raptors, playing in Florida, lost their way to Scottie Barnes. Now they’re out of the top 10 in the Eastern Conference and facing trade rumors involving key players Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. At this point, it feels like more of a matter of when and where they get traded than if. 

6. Chicago Bulls: Don’t look now, but Chicago is only 3.5 games away from the No. 5 slot on lottery night. Now, if they don’t wind up in the top four, their pick goes to Orlando, but the longer the Bulls sustain their mediocrity, the easier it becomes for them to talk themselves into a mini-tank. A few bad months seems like more than a fair trade for a realistic shot at Wembanyama.

5. Orlando Magic: Since Dec. 6, the Orlando Magic are 15-11. They have a better record in that time than the Lakers, Warriors, Suns, Clippers and Cavaliers. Their 6-20 start is still going to get them a top pick, but this is a sustainable enough sample to believe that Orlando is, in its current state, at least a .500 or so team. 

4. Charlotte Hornets: The Action Network’s Matt Moore recently reported that the Hornets are looking for a first-round pick in exchange for Mason Plumlee. Welcome to the post-Rudy Gobert world Danny Ainge has thrust us into. Everyone is worth a first-round pick now, apparently. The 13th man on a lottery team? Worth a first-round pick. The copy machine that the Nets purchased with the extra cash they received in exchange for Kyle Korver? Worth a first-round pick. It’s not going to be long before an insider reports something along the lines of “Atlanta is open to moving its second-round pick in exchange for a first-round pick.” This is anarchy. Plumlee is a fine backup center. He does not warrant a first-round pick. Get out of here with this nonsense, Charlotte. 

3. San Antonio Spurs: We’ve spoken plenty about Jeremy Sochan in this space, and he’s earned another mention with a 30-point game against the Suns on Saturday, but the broader context here is that it’s fascinating to watch San Antonio of all teams allow a rookie this much leeway to explore his game. DeJounte Murray only played 322 minutes as a rookie. Derrick White was at 139. Kawhi Leonard was a starter, but he barely shot. The Spurs have an incredible developmental infrastructure, but it typically takes them time to pull this out of their players. That is no longer the case, and when the Spurs actually are ready to start winning again, Sochan will be ready.

2. Detroit Pistons: There’s been plenty of buzz lately about the high asking price Detroit has set for Bojan Bogdanovic. You could be forgiven for skipping out on the Eastern Conference’s worst team, but if you have been, you’ve missed some of the best basketball of Bogdanovic’s career. Luka Doncic scored 53 points against Detroit on Monday and Bogdanovic still nearly outdueled him down the stretch. He has been much more than a standstill shooter this season, and if no team meets Detroit’s asking price, the Pistons will happily keep him for a play-in push next season.

1. Houston Rockets: Alperen Sengun mania is still ongoing. He’s up to 20.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game since Kevin Porter Jr. has been out. The Rockets still have the worst record in the league, but Sengun’s Nikola Jokic impression makes them arguably the most watchable team on this list. 

Loss of the week

It’s the end of an era! Even as the San Antonio Spurs have slipped into mediocrity in recent years, they’ve maintained their Tim Duncan-era excellence against one, single opponent: the Washington Wizards. For 8,451 days, the Spurs were undefeated at home against the Wizards. Really think about what that number means. Bill Clinton was president the last time the Wizards won in San Antonio. Deni Avdija, who played 33 minutes for Washington on Monday, wasn’t even born yet. We’ve cycled through eight standalone Spider-Man movies featuring three different Peter Parkers without seeing a single Wizards victory in San Antonio.

But on Monday, it finally happened. The Spurs fell at home to Washington, 127-106. The times, they are a changin’. There could be no more fitting exclamation point on San Antonio’s first outright tank of the streak. No matter how healthy they were, where they were on their schedule or who they had on their roster, the Spurs always found a way to beat the Wizards at home. It took San Antonio deciding not to try for the Wizards to get that win and start their own streak. They’re only 8,449 days away from matching San Antonio’s. 

Games of the weak

Thursday, Feb. 2 — Hornets at Bulls: TNT flexed the last Hornets-Bulls off of national television, but that won’t be an issue this time, as the game was always going to be limited to local audiences and League Pass junkies.

Thursday, Feb. 3 — Hornets at Pistons: If you’re not gonna watch the Hornets while they’re fresh you probably shouldn’t watch them on a back-to-back either.

Sunday, Feb. 5 — Magic at Hornets: Yes, it’s Hornets week. It’s called “Games of the weak” for a reason, and it doesn’t get much weaker than Charlotte.

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