NBA top draft pick Victor Wembanyama delivered a lackluster performance in his long-awaited San Antonio debut, struggling for long stretches as the Spurs defeated Charlotte 76-68 in an NBA Summer League contest Friday.
The 19-year-old French prodigy, who stands 7-foot-4 (2.24m), knows he has a lot to learn to live up to his hype as the NBA’s best prospect since LeBron James some 20 years ago.
Wembanyama made only 2-of-13 shots from the floor, just 1-of-6 from 3-point range, and finished with nine points, eight rebounds, five blocked shots and three assists in just over 27 minutes on the court.
“Honestly, I really didn’t know what I was doing on the court tonight,” Wembanyama said. “But I’m trying to learn for the next games and the important (thing) is to be ready for the season.”
After his first taste of on-court life in the NBA, coming against his fellow young talents and newcomers, Wembanyama learned he needs to move faster and react better when plays are called.
“The hardest for me was understanding — sometimes I was off with reading the plays and the calls,” he said.
“The biggest improvement I’ve got to do, it’s being ready to react to the plays that were called by the point guard. Stay connected.”
A sellout crowd of 17,500 spectators jammed the Thomas & Mack Arena to watch Wembanyama wear a Spurs jersey for the first time.
“Special moment, really special, to wear that jersey for the first time. It’s really an honor,” Wembanyama said. “Overall, I’m glad we won this game. There’s no better way to start for a premiere.”
His five blocked shots were the most by a Spurs player in a Summer League game since 2018, a sign his NBA education is already paying some dividends.
“Going to get acclimated to the NBA style of play,” he said. “Next time I’m going to do better. I hope to do better every time.
“I’m trying to learn as much as I can as quickly as possible to be ready for the start of the season.”
Wembanyama, expected to play again Sunday against Portland, will have pre-season training camp and tuneup games before the Spurs begin the regular season in October.
“We have to take a patient approach with him,” Spurs general manager Brian Wright said during ESPN’s telecast. “He’s extremely unselfish, a really good passer and he’s all about the team.”
“He’s intelligent but he’s also incredibly curious,” Wright said. “You don’t see that a lot of times in somebody that’s that highly touted. It’s what makes him unique.”
Wembanyama started, won the opening tip-off and had an assist on the first Spurs possession, but missed his first three shots — a baseline jumper, an outside jumper and a layup attempt.
The Frenchman made his first basket in a Spurs uniform with 7:02 remaining in the first quarter, banking in an inside turnaround jumper in the lane while being fouled. He sank the free throw to complete a three-point play.
Charlotte, which made forward Brandon Miller the second overall pick, saw Wembanyama guard Miller at times, when he wasn’t being a defensive force near the basket.
“I was kind of excited he was actually guarding me,” Miller said. “I was having fun with it. I know he’s going to get his.”
Wembanyama got his first lesson in what to avoid when Charlotte center Kai Jones delivered a leaping slam dunk over the Frenchman with 5:16 remaining in the third quarter.
After missing his first five 3-point attempts, Wembanyama sank one with 2:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.
‘A lot of potential’
Legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said Wembanyama will need to learn the NBA “style of play” and had some advice for the teen prodigy.
“Just to be patient and to pick up what he can pick up as he goes along,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He’s not going to get it all at once.”
Wembanyama’s Spurs debut was played hours after Las Vegas police said no charges will be filed from an incident where guards protecting Wembanyama were involved in an incident with Britney Spears.