SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Victor Wembanyama era is underway in San Antonio.
Wembanyama made his NBA debut with the Spurs against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night and made an immediate splash.
“He’s going to be amazing, he already is,” Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic said. “The size obviously (stands out), like everybody talks. The way he moves for (7-foot-3), he moves incredible. He moves like a point guard almost. It’s pretty amazing to see.”
The No. 1 pick in the NBA draft blocked a shot in the opening minute of the game and misfired on a 3-point attempt from the top of the key. But the 19-year-old who stands nearly 7-foot-4 found his spot and scored his first NBA points with a 3-pointer — again from near the top of the key — at the 8:25 mark of the first quarter. He added another 3-pointer from the right wing with under two minutes left in the opening quarter.
“I was just focused on being the best I can be when I stepped back on the court,” Wembanyama said.
That six points was all the scoring for Wembanyama in the first three quarters as he was slowed by foul trouble. But he provided a glimpse of his outstanding skill by scoring nine points in the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting (3 for 5 from long distance), with five rebounds, two assists and a block in more than 23 minutes in a 126-119 loss to the Mavericks.
Wembanyama was forced to exit after picking up his fourth foul with 8:37 remaining in the third quarter on a touch foul while attempting to set a pick on Derrick Jones Jr. The Mavericks took their first lead 37 seconds later at 73-72.
Wembanyama returned midway through the fourth quarter and quickly scored seven points to electrify the crowd. His first bucket came on an alley-oop that rolled over the rim, and he punctuated the run with a thunderous dunk.
Wembanyama was limited to only four field goal attempts in the first half, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort. He continually ran down the court asking for the ball against smaller defenders, but his teammates did not see him.
“I think even in transition where we missed him,” Spurs guard Devin Vassell said. “He is running ahead. I mean you got to see them. Those are easy buckets. Those are gimmes. We need those. So, it’s an adjustment to say it like that. You know what I’m saying? Every day you don’t have a 7-4 player running down, running down the wing, being able to post stuff and get easy catches and stuff like that. We got to see them. We’ve got to take advantage of it. So, like I said, first game, it is what it is. We’re going to learn.”
Wembanyama played pro basketball in France before being drafted. His first game in the NBA had the world watching.
“How can I deny that,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said prior to Wednesday’s game. “It’s pretty obvious. Victor’s had a lot of attention pointed toward him for a very long time and that’s not going to change. Fortunately for us, he’s a really mature, prioritized young man that knows what he wants. He’s already a pro.”
Wembanyama drew the undivided attention of fans and media filling the lower bowl of the Frost Bank Center while simply practicing free throws before the Wednesday opener.
Dubbed “The Extraterrestrial” by Nike, Wembanyama has been astounding with his otherworldly play. In preseason action, he blocked 3-point shots with his 8-foot wingspan and Euro-stepped from the free throw line to the rim for a dunk in two strides without a dribble.
Wembanyama’s presence has energized San Antonio’s fanbase unlike any time in the franchise’s history.
The Spurs have won five NBA championships and had numerous stars, yet nobody has received this kind of attention.
San Antonio received more than 200 media credential requests from eight countries, rivaling the interest shown during the NBA Finals.
Wembanyama’s jerseys and T-shirts dominate the stands. Jerseys from Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were worn by fans during the Big Three Era, but Wembanyama is the clear darling of a city desperate for its sixth NBA title — even after failing to make the playoffs the last four seasons.
Wembanyama’s presence forced the Spurs to sell standing-room only tickets for the opener, a move that comes just months after the team struggled to sell tickets during its 22-60 finish last season.
“I had a hard time even giving my tickets away last year,” Spurs fan Melvin Voight said. “A 200% turnaround. Big demand.”
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