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Wembanyama-Rama: A way too early analysis of the San Antonio Spurs

Wembanyama-Rama: A way too early analysis of the San Antonio Spurs - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Memphis Grizzlies' Desmond Bane, center, goes to the basket against San Antonio Spurs' Victor Wembanyama (1) and Zach Collins (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

This story was edited Dec. 20 at 12:48 p.m. to correct a spelling error.

San Antonians rejoiced May 16 when the Spurs received the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft. This draft class features the most touted prospect since Lebron James in 2003. 

Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-4-inch 19-year-old from Le Chesnay, France, was projected to be the first pick of the 2023 draft since the age of 16. Wembanyama wowed basketball fans across the world since joining League Nationale de Basket Pro A, France’s highest level of professional basketball, in 2019. 

In his lone season with the Metropolitan 92, he averaged 21.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and three blocks per game becoming the youngest player in the league’s history to win the Most Valuable Player award at 19 years old. 

All eyes will be on Wembanyama this season, but the rest of the Spurs team should not be overlooked. 

Despite their record the last two seasons, the team has cultivated a talented group of young players. With Wembanyama, the franchise may finally have a true cornerstone to build on and become a winning organization once again.    

Wembanyama’s addition was felt immediately. The rookie is currently averaging 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks per game. The former LNB MVP leads all rookies in points and blocks.

In his season debut, Wembanyama was in foul trouble which kept him on the bench for most of the game. Four games later, he dropped a career-high 38 points and ten rebounds against the Phoenix Suns  Nov. 2nd. 

The first thing that sticks out about Wembanyama is his activity on both ends of the floor. 

He is hyper aware of what is happening on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Shots from the three-point line and flashy dunks are sure to garner tons of attention, but it’s the little things that don’t show up on the statsheet that make him so impactful. 

His lanky frame might not boast much strength, but Wembanyama is an excellent screen setter. His creation of separation from the ball handler and the defender is enough to run the pick and roll as he pops out for a jump shot rarely contested by other players. 

When he does roll to the basket, the rookie does not hesitate to kick the ball out to the open shooter when the defense collapses. His ability to find the seams in the defense for passes is already at an elite level.

Most people focus on the offensive package Wemby can display at his size, which for a 7-foot-4-inch man is phenomenal. His fluidity with the ball is very advanced for such a large man, let alone a rookie. Wemby has a nice shooting stroke and soft touch around the rim, andt he can utilize his eight foot wingspan to grab the ball where no one else can reach it. However, his defense is what sets him apart. 

Wembanyama uses his length in a very calculated way; he is aware of just how much ground he can cover by using his wingspan and effectively changes the geometry of the court. In his final preseason game Oct. 20 against the Golden State Warriors, Wembanyama had a total of five blocks, three being jumpshots–something very few players are capable of doing, much less on a consistent basis.

In their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 18, Wemby posted a career high eight blocks.

The Spurs were last in defensive rating last season, which is sure to change with Wemby on the floor this season.

If this is what Wemby is capable of in his rookie season, the Spurs may have another all-time great like Tim Duncan, in their organization. 

A question surrounding the Spurs’ offseason was who would be the starting point guard this year. The answer: Jeremy Sochan.

Although his most prominent skill is defense, the second-year forward from Baylor University showed flashes of floor general capabilities last year–enough to earn him the starting position. 

Last season, Sochan was selected to the all-rookie team. The first Spur to do so since Kawhi Leonard in 2012. He was also the youngest player to ever start for the franchise at just 19 years old.

Sochan isn’t your traditional point guard. At 6 feet and 8 inches, he is oversized for his position, but has a very tight handle and is able to move around the court with confidence and speed. 

He judges spacing very well, is capable of pushing the pace of the game and has a very high feel for the game of basketball–all necessary skills for a playmaker. Last season, he displayed a knack for being at the right place at the right time. Now, he utilizes that skill to facilitate the team’s offense. 

This season, he is at 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and one steal. Averaging a career high in assists, but taking the reins of the offense has not been a seamless transition though.

Now more than 10 games into the season, you can see the need for a traditional point guard has plagued the team already. Sochan hasn’t truly organized the offense in the half court. At times, the offense is chaotic and rigged. Even when the team runs set plays, it seems half a step too slow, causing hesitancy and hindering the rhythm of the game. 

Sochan has expressed his struggles adjusting to his new role, but trusts head coach Gregg Poppavich’s decision to start him at the point. 

Popovich is known for experimenting. The hall of fame coach didn’t decide on a whim to try Sochan at point guard. Popovich said in interviews last season that Sochan would handle the point and run the offense. He believed in Sochan and understands that in order for him to expand his game, he needs to get the experience of having the ball in his hands. 

The trust a coach has in a player is invaluable and has a significant impact on their on-court performance, especially for young players. 

The Spurs are not concerned with immediate success; they are invested in making sure the young players maximize their potential. 

It’s early in Sochan’s career, and he’s shown versatility on the defensive and offensive side of the ball. His confidence to try anything pushes Sochan to improve. Just like his one-handed free throws, Sochan isn’t afraid to try what works despite how unorthodox it may be. 

Keldon Johnson, 24, is now considered a veteran leader for the Spurs. Johnson entered the league during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and had a breakout season in the Orlando Bubble as a rookie during the 2019-2020 season. Johnson joined a Spurs team surrounded by veterans DeMar DeRozan, Lamarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay. Now Johnson is a seasoned player in his fifth year with the rejuvenated Spurs. Johnson signed a four-year contract extension last summer totaling $80 million.         

At 6 feet and 5 inches, the small forward utilizes his “big body” to absorb contact against bigger and taller players. Johnson averaged 22 ppg, five rebounds, three assists and 45% field goal percentage last season in 33 minutes. 

According to a FanNation article, Johnson said he wanted to see himself as a better defender and a leader for the young group while developing his own game around the Spurs system.

Devin Vassell signed a five-year contract extension with the San Antonio Spurs. The contract guaranteed him $135 million in addition to $11 million in incentives from the offseason. The 23-year-old was drafted 11th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in 2021.

Six-foot-five shooting guard Vassell is striving for a breakout year this season compared to last season, averaging 31 min, 18.5 ppg, four rebounds, four assists and 44% field goal percentage in the 2022-2023 season. Vassell continues to show his tough shot-making ability and mid-range skills while handling the ball in clenching moments.

Despite the individual talents on the team, the most intriguing factor is how well they’ve been playing Spurs-branded basketball. During their heyday, the Spurs were known for constant ball movement: moving the basketball as much as possible in order to find the best shot available. They very much beat you by committee, and this team plays at its best when they share the basketball. 

The organization has developed multiple young prospects over the past five years. Tre Jones, Blake Wesley, Malaki Branham, Doug McDermott and Zach Collins along with the players mentioned before, have been ingrained into the Spurs’ system. Most of these players have been together for a long time and that continuity has blossomed into its best version this season. 

The team trusts each other, so they play with an inherent unselfishness. Every dominant win the Spurs have had this season has been through great contributions from all players within the rotation. The team seems very focused on defensive discipline,creating opportunities on the offensive side of the ball. 

These opportunities manifest themselves in the Spurs making the right play for their teammates, connecting to the next play that can be created and so forth. 

Although it’s early in the season, Spurs fans have much to be excited about in this young team, not only for the hype of individual players, but their commitment to playing the Spurs way. 


About the Authors

Matthew (Moose) Lopez
Social Media Editor
Matthew Lopez is a senior at Texas A&M University-San Antonio majoring in communications. Matthew received his associate degree along with his high school diploma in 2018. In his downtime he likes to go to the gym, watch sports and write poetry. He hopes to have a career in journalism where he can report on anything and everything — as long as he gets to continue writing, that is enough for him.
Johnathan Peña
Sports Editor
Johnathan “John” Pena is a sophomore majoring in communications and minoring in business administrations at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. John enjoys listening to an assorted genre of music, watching movies, playing video games and videoographing with his GoPro. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in advertising and media film.

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