Every NBA fan was so pumped for the preseason debut of Victor Wembanyama on Monday that it wouldn’t have mattered who he was playing against. The fact that Chet Holmgren was on the opposing side made it about as intriguing a matchup as the the preseason can offer.
It didn’t disappoint.
In the first half alone, Holmgren (21) and Wembanyama (18) combined for 39 points on 14-of-19 shooting. They both hit a pair of 3-pointers. They both finished around the rim; Wembanyama with some incredible grace for a man his size, and Holmgren, slight as he is, with legit force through contact. They both made major impacts defensively.
Check out this sequence below, which Wembanyama begins by digging down to the nail from the 3-point line (absurd length) and knocking the ball loose before finishing a run-out dunk, followed by Holmgren on the other end with a get-back and-one through contact.
Here they match each other again, both on triples.
Next up: Wembanyama taking Holmgren off the dribble with a sudden, through-the-legs change of direction before finishing right through him.
This next one is a wowza. Holmgren comes to help at the rim only to watch Wembanyama go up-and-under for a lefty scoop kiss that makes no sense coming off the fingertips of a man this tall.
Meanwhile, Holmgren did it all on both ends; scoring in the paint on tough put-backs and alley-oops, self-created drives and cuts, while, as mentioned, dialing in from deep twice. There’s not much missing from this reel.
It’s going to take a few years to get there, but this matchup has the makings of the next great NBA rivalry; two modern, defensively dominant bigs operating with elite size and skill on both ends for what could be perennial contenders in San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the next decade plus.
Wemby alone puts the Spurs on a track of contention sooner rather than later. The Thunder might be in the mix to make real playoff noise as soon as this season. And these two are clearly aware of one another in an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better sort of way.
The NBA is full of great players. In almost every game there are at least two of them going head to head. But this matchup feels like it could become more than that. The buzz of these two is already starting at a level 10 and it’s only the preseason. Indeed, ESPN’s Brian Windhost reported that over 20 scouts were in attendance on Monday, the most he’s ever seen for a preseason game.
Wembanyama and Holmgren could very well become the two best defenders of their generation, and with such similar skillsets on the offensive end, this has the makings of a classic duel that could become one of the league’s true tentpole attractions moving forward.