You know you’re a superstar in the making when you force fans to turn into otherwise meaningless games. In his second taste of preseason NBA action, Victor Wembanyama put on an absolute display in the San Antonio Spurs‘ 120-104 win over the Miami Heat on Friday night, showing every varied skill that made him the best basketball prospect since LeBron James.
Wembanyama finished with 23 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks on 10-for-15 shooting in just under 23 minutes, leaving spectators in awe of everything that he’s capable of doing on a basketball court.
“I’m most comfortable when I change the way I play — from game to game, but also in the middle of a game,” Wembanyama said after the win. “I think it’s the key for me for my development.”
Let’s just get the obvious caveat out of the way: This was a preseason game against a Heat team that played only one of its regulars from last season, Duncan Robinson. That being said, the stuff that Wembanyama was doing would be impressive at a local YMCA, let alone against NBA players in a nationally televised game.
His highlights from Friday night give us a tantalizing glimpse at the 7-foot-4 phenom’s incredible versatility.
Wembanyama started things off on the defensive end, showcasing his 8-foot wingspan and incredible instincts with a block on Haywood Highsmith’s spinning hook. With his chest facing the rim, Wembanyama looks over his shoulder and executes a 180-degree turn in a split-second to locate the ball and send it back the other way. Just remarkable athleticism and timing for a player of his size.
Then it was time to go to work on offense, showing patience and body control on a pair of pull-up jumpers — a standstill bucket from the free throw line and a pretty fadeaway from the elbow.
After that, it was time to get freaky. Off the Jeremy Sochan steal, Wembanyama ran the floor like a gazelle, caught the pass behind the free throw line and, without dribbling, went immediately into a eurostep that took him all the way to the basket for a two-handed dunk. The speed, the skill, the ferocity. It’s all there.
Finish at the rim in transition on one play, pick-and-pop for a 3-pointer on another. Simply unguardable.
When asked after the game whether he prefers playing inside or outside, Wembanyama gave an honest answer: “I think I’d get tired of doing the same thing.”
This next one was one of the best highlights of the game, but take notice of a couple things. First, watch the awareness of Wembanyama to read the switch and immediately call for the lob (from the 3-point line!), knowing that Miami center Thomas Bryant had vacated the paint, leaving a free run to the rim. Second, look at where Spurs guard Tre Jones throws this thing. It might have scraped the rafters, but he knew that Wembanyama was more than capable of hauling it in comfortably and finishing with a dunk in one motion.
At this point in the game we hadn’t quite seen the handle yet, so Wembanyama put on a little clinic, getting low for a stutter-step, crossover into a step-back jumper from the elbow. Please try to remember, this man is 7-foot-4.
Then came the showstopper — a reminder that, when in doubt, Wembanyama can always extend his Go-Go-Gadget arm to throw down a vicious dunk from beyond the restricted area. Bryant is 6-foot-10 and could only look up at Wembanyama and accept the poster. No chance.
And to cap things off, how about coming from underneath the basket with one gigantic step to reject Highsmith’s floater. Players will quickly learn to rethink shot attempts such as these with Wembanyama in the vicinity.
Yes, it’s a preseason game. No, this does not mean that Wembanyama is guaranteed to be a superstar, or even have an impressive rookie season. But there is absolutely no denying the versatile, jaw-dropping skillset that the No. 1 overall pick displayed on Friday night. And the scary part is, he can only get better from here.
“For most of my short career so far, my teammates have had to learn to play with me, because sometimes I know they are surprised to see me do some stuff,” Wembanyama said. “I’m in the best league in the world now and the guys just learn quicker. I feel like we’ve already got a connection. I’m really thankful for that.”