Blake Wesley

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Vassell, K. Johnson, Wesley, Paris

As Victor Wembanyama‘s rookie season nears its end, his teammates are still learning how to unlock all the elements to his game, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. Wembanyama turned in another remarkable performance Sunday night, posting 33 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks and seven assists while leading a late rally in an overtime win over Brooklyn. He put the Spurs ahead to stay on an alley-oop dunk with 38.5 seconds left to play and then preserved the victory by blocking a shot off the backboard.

Coach Gregg Popovich singled out guard Devin Vassell, who had eight assists, two of which resulted in Wembanyama slams. Because Vassell frequently initiates the offense, developing chemistry with Wembanyama will be vital for the team’s future.

“Every one of them is always aware of where he might be on the court and trying to figure out where he’s got to go, and be more efficient in getting it to him here or there,” Popovich said. “It’s an experience where they’ve got to be in those situations. But Devin’s going to have the ball a lot for us, so him understanding how to play with Victor is really important.”

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  • San Antonio also got a huge performance from Keldon Johnson, who was back at full strength after dealing with a stomach virus earlier in the week, according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. Johnson came off the bench to score 24 points in 34 minutes and contributed several clutch baskets. “He’s a big energy guy,” Popovich said. “He knocks down some threes here and there, takes big shots. He might not be shooting 40% on the year, but he takes shots that are important because of time and score and that kind of thing. And he’s an aggressive young man. He puts some meat on people.”
  • After Friday’s game against Denver, Popovich talked about his efforts to develop Blake Wesley into a defensive stopper, Orsborn adds in a separate story. The second-year guard has embraced the role and enjoys challenges like matching up with Jamal Murray. “The more you do it, the more consistent you will be,” Wesley said. “Me getting stops and then running out in transition, that’s my game. When I do that, I play better, I play free. It’s all about being aggressive.”
  • The NBA hasn’t selected the teams for its international games next season, but it’s expected that the Spurs and Pacers will play in Paris, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Wembanyama is thrilled about the prospect of returning home. “I’m looking forward to it very much,” he said. “Obviously it’s going to be probably the game or the games that are going to be very important for me because of course it’s me coming back from where I come from, especially might be in my city or around the city. So it’s going to be very special. Also, it is going to allow me to see maybe my family in the middle of the season, which doesn’t happen often. So it’s great.”

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Vassell, Barlow, Graham, Wesley

Ticket holders for the Spurs’ game against the Warriors on Monday got some good news on Sunday. Victor Wembanyama is not on the injury report, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets.

Wembanyama has missed the last two games due to a gimpy ankle. Second-leading scorer Devin Vassell, who is dealing with a left hip contusion, is listed as probable.

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  • Dominick Barlow, who had his two-way contract upgraded to a standard deal earlier this month, delivered a big performance at Golden State on Saturday with the star rookie sidelined, supplying 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes. “Props to him,” Jeremy Sochan told Jeff McDonald of the Express-News. “He just got an NBA contract so we’re all very proud of him. He helped us a lot, just scoring, playing good defense and just in general playing well.”
  • Devonte’ Graham got a rare opportunity to play meaningful minutes on Saturday and contributed eight points in 12 minutes to the victory, McDonald notes. “Devonte’ hasn’t played much,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He came in and gave us a real boost.” Graham’s $12.65MM contract for next season is partially guaranteed for $2.85MM, so he appears likely to be traded or waived this summer.
  • The Spurs used one of the picks they acquired from Boston in the Derrick White trade to draft Blake Wesley. Wesley, who turns 21 on Saturday, has received steady playing time off the bench and San Antonio still has high hopes for him, according to Mike Finger of the Express-News. “He’s definitely got the explosiveness of a (Russell) Westbrook,” big man Zach Collins said.

Southwest Notes: Champagnie, Wesley, Thompson, Mavs, Jackson Jr.

Julian Champagnie knows that defense and rebounding must be his calling card to remain a rotation player in the league for years to come. The Spurs forward has started 35 of 50 games this season despite modest averages of 5.9 points and 4.8 shot attempts in 16.7 minutes per game.

“Whether I have five (points) or 15 or 20 or six, I think it’s just make sure I’m not a negative defender on the court,” he told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.

Point guard Blake Wesley, a 2022 first-round selection, has received steady playing time the last two months and wants to keep it that way. He’s cut his turnovers dramatically in his second season, committing only 29 in 36 games.

“I want to stay consistent and build on each and every game,” Wesley said. “Play hard and stay in the rotation. That’s my main goal.”

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  • Amen Thompson, the fourth pick of last year’s draft, has seen his role expand this month, including crunch-time minutes, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle notes. Thompson is averaging 13.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals in 30.6 minutes per game across nine February outings. He played 20 second-half minutes in a four-point win over Phoenix on Friday. “He’s growing on a nightly basis,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “He gives us some versatility.”
  • The Mavericks began a tough four-game road trip on Sunday but coach Jason Kidd has plenty of depth now, due to the addition of big man Daniel Gafford and the imminent return of Dante Exum from injury. Kidd said his rotation could include 10 or 11 players for the time being. “We’ve got to be playing our best basketball going into April,” Kidd told Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. “That’s the goal.”
  • Jaren Jackson Jr.‘s offensive role has grown due to the heavy toll injuries have taken on his Grizzlies teammates. He’s also had to adjust to playing center often, rather than power forward. “JJ’s handled all these recent growth opportunities beautifully,” coach Taylor Jenkins told Kelly Iko of The Athletic. “We’ve thrown a lot of things at him purposely, the nature of where the roster is at.” Jackson is averaging 25.4 points and 20.7 shot attempts, along with 3.6 assists, per game this month.

Southwest Notes: J. Smith, Eason, McCollum, Spurs, Grizzlies

Rockets forward Jabari Smith will miss a fourth consecutive game on Saturday due to a sprained left ankle, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Houston will also continue to be without forward Tari Eason, who has been hampered by a lower left leg injury for the entire season. Eason has appeared in 22 games, but has been sidelined since January 1 and his return isn’t imminent.

“He’s been doing a little bit here and there, getting shots up, just not doing the contact,” head coach Ime Udoka said of Eason earlier this week, per Feigen. “He’s feeling better. We still don’t have a definite date (for Eason to return) but the fact he’s getting out here, getting shots up, moving, it’s a good sign. It’s more week-to-week. We were giving him a few weeks initially. He’ll be reevaluated soon, and we’ll go from there.”

According to Feigen, Eason is expected to begin contact work next week and ramp up from there.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Nearly two years after the Pelicans acquired CJ McCollum from Portland, William Guillory of The Athletic explores how the veteran guard has adjusted to a new city, a new team, and a new role, which continue to evolve. McCollum has served as more of a floor spacer than a point guard this season. “I think originally we approached it as, ‘Yeah, (CJ’s) the smallest player (in our starting lineup), so he’s the point guard,'” Larry Nance Jr. told Guillory. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. He can be, but he doesn’t have to be. We can run offense through (Brandon Ingram), (Zion Williamson) or a bunch of other people in the lineup. That was one of the biggest realizations for our team and for CJ. We don’t have a Tyrese Haliburton who sets the table for everybody. We have a lot of guys who are good at passing and seeing the court. We can run the offense through a few people and that makes us harder to defend.”
  • Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News passes along a couple Spurs updates, writing that Blake Wesley appears to have taken over Malaki Branham‘s role as the backup point guard and tweeting that Victor Wembanyama is confident he’ll be available for the second end of the team’s back-to-back set on Saturday after playing on Friday. Wembanyama hasn’t played in both games of a back-to-back since November.
  • Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal takes a look at how the Grizzlies may approach the trade deadline, noting that the team currently has something of a roster logjam, with 14 of the 15 players on standard deals also under contract for next season. Xavier Tillman is the only one who is on track for free agency, while Luke Kennard has a team option — the other 13 have guaranteed salaries.

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Timeline, Jones, Wesley

The Spurs have continued to exercise caution with Victor Wembanyama as they progress through the season, keeping him on a minutes restriction since he tweaked his ankle in December. The No. 1 overall pick has averaged 25.0 minutes per night since Dec. 17 and was held out of one end of a pair of back-to-backs.

However, according to Tom Orsborn of San Antonio Express-News, the Spurs have slightly loosened the reins on Wembanyama, increasing his limit to 30 minutes per game, and all signs point to that restriction being lifted altogether soon.

I think we’re getting close and it’s a good thing for me,” Wembanyama said.

Coach Gregg Popovich also said Wembanyama could “possibly” play both games of a Spurs back-to-back that starts Friday against the Trail Blazers. According to Orsborn, the Spurs and Wembanyama have several “practices and safeguards” in place to help keep him healthy over the course of the season.

The recovery is always the most important [thing], and even though sometimes it’s hard to sleep with time zones and travel, we’ve got to do the best we can, and my body’s reacting pretty well so far,” Wembanyama said.

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  • The 2023/24 Rookie of the Year races continues to heat up between Wembanyama and Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren and the two young centers duked it out again on Wednesday. Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express-News applauds Wembanyama’s performance in that game while breaking down the matchup. Wembanyama finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and four assists in a 140-114 loss to Holmgren’s Thunder. Holmgren finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. “I just feel like Victor’s the Rookie of the Year in my opinion,” Spurs forward Keldon Johnson said. “Other guys can feel different ways. That’s just how I feel.
  • The Spurs’ loss on Wednesday was their second blowout defeat at the hands of Oklahoma City this year, and Popovich gave the Thunder their flowers after the game, Orsborn writes. “It has been a good number of years to get where they are right now and that’s the cycle of things,” Popovich said. “We were in that position [of playing playoff basketball] for three decades and now we’re starting over. And so we’ll have to have the same patience and make good decisions in the draft and that kind of thing.
  • Guard Tre Jones started the year as a reserve but was moved to the starting lineup on Jan. 4. Since becoming a starter, he’s averaging 13.7 points and 7.1 assists per game, leading Popovich to emphasize his importance. “He is very, very important to us, more than most people would expect,” Popovich said, via Orsborn. “He is the heart and soul out there as far as keeping us together and showing the grit night after night.
  • Jones suffered an ankle injury on Monday against Philadelphia and sat out Wednesday’s game against the Thunder, Orsborn writes. Popovich said the injury wasn’t serious and Orsborn tweets Jones was upgraded to questionable on Thursday’s injury report.
  • Blake Wesley earned his second career start on Wednesday in the wake of Jones’ injury. He scored 12 points on perfect shooting from the floor, to go along with six assists and four rebounds. “I believe he did a good job,” Popovich said, via Orsborn. “He’s a young man trying to find his way in the league and hasn’t gotten a lot of minutes. I thought he tried to do everything we wanted him to do tonight.

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Coulibaly, Murray, Wesley, Branham

Childhood friends Victor Wembanyama and Bilal Coulibaly will play each other in the NBA for the first time on Saturday night as the Spurs and Wizards clash. The former Metropolitans 92 teammates both expressed excitement for the matchup, according to Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express-News.

Wemby is more than a teammate,” Coulibaly said. “That’s like my brother.

The two French stars met each other when they were about 10 years old and joined the same youth team shortly thereafter, The Athletic’s Josh Robbins writes. Neither talked much about making the NBA, but they knew it was a goal they shared.

At the time, it was just dreams and something crazy,” Wembanyama said. “But we happened to both make it here, and I’m just so proud of him. It is going to feel weird, for sure.

Wembanyama is, of course, one of the most hyped prospects in basketball history. He’s living up to the billing so far with averages of 19.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. Coulibaly is impressing in his own right, averaging 8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per night while shooting 38.8% from beyond the arc as one of the youngest players in the NBA.

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  • Even though Wembanyama is having a statistically impressive individual season, the Spurs are not — they’re stacking losses at a rapid rate. Wembanyama said the season has been “challenging,” according to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, but he still has faith in his team in the long run. “I know it’s not going to be easy,” Wembanyama said. “I know it’s going to take some time before we can be contenders for the title. I was ready for anything and I’m still ready to do any sacrifice and I’m patient. I’m patient, but for nothing I’ll ever lose time. I’m patient, but I’m not wasting time. I trust us for the long term, but I’m always ready for anything.
  • The Spurs should jump at the chance to reacquire Dejounte Murray, argues Mike Finger of San Antonio Express-News. Finger suggests that, with some core players already in place and an excess of first-rounders on hand, the Spurs probably won’t draft players with all of those future picks. A trade will likely be necessary down the line to find a running mate for Wembanyama, even if it isn’t for Murray, says Finger. Beyond that, San Antonio’s biggest need is at point guard and the Spurs wouldn’t have to give up as much as they got when they traded Murray to Atlanta in exchange for three first-round picks and a pick swap in 2022. For what it’s worth, Murray said he would “welcome” the chance to play for his old team again.
  • Guard Blake Wesley may be leapfrogging Malaki Branham in the team’s rotation. Wesley played slightly more than Branham in San Antonio’s past three games, getting roughly double the time on the floor in the Spurs’ Friday loss to Charlotte. That playing time culminated in Wesley scoring nine points against the Hornets. “[Wesley]’s making us give him minutes, with his aggressiveness on both ends really,” head coach Gregg Popovich said (Twitter link via Jeff McDonald). Branham didn’t play in the second half against Charlotte, McDonald observes. Branham started most of late November and all through December for the Spurs, but is seeing his playing time diminish as of late.

Spurs Notes: Jones, Wembanyama, Wesley, Collins

Tre Jones came off the bench the first two-and-a-half months of the season, but he has returned to the Spurs lineup as the starting point guard. Jones has started the past six games and racked up a season-high 12 assists in a 10-point loss to Atlanta on Monday. Jones is averaging 6.3 assists per game in those starts.

“Tre’s a guy who is going to get everyone organized,” forward Doug McDermott told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “It’s been a big thing for our offense, playing a little faster right out of the gate.”

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  • Victor Wembanyama likes being coached hard, which makes him an ideal fit for the Spurs. Wembanyama feels his growth is tied to coach Gregg Popovich holding him accountable, McDonald writes in a separate story. Wembanyama bounced back after a scoreless first half against the Hawks by scoring 26 points. “I like to be coached,” Wembanyama said. “I like to be threatened to be sent to the G League if I don’t play the right way. I like when there are consequences to my mistakes.”
  • Blake Wesley has received rotation minutes lately, with 12 appearances in the past 13 games heading into Wednesday’s contest at Boston, according to McDonald. Wesley has cut into the playing time of Malaki Branham. “He’s in a kind of difficult position with the roster that we have right now and not knowing how much he’ll play or if he’ll even play,” Jones said. “I’m just trying to tell him to stay ready and be patient. He’s doing a great job. He’s a professional.”
  • Reserve center Zach Collins is getting close to returning from the right ankle sprain that has sidelined him for the past eight games. He could return as early as this weekend, as McDonald writes. “It’s feeling better,” Collins said. “I maybe just need a couple more games.”

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Jones, Osman, Wesley

The Spurs fell just short on Thursday in a hard-fought battle with Milwaukee, dropping a 125-121 decision to the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, but it was another big night for Victor Wembanyama. As Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News details, the rookie big man racked up 27 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks in just 26 minutes of action, earning praise from two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for his performance — and his potential.

“Everything that he dreams of, it’s going to happen for him,” Antetokounmpo said, adding that he’s “never seen anything like” Wembanyama.

Antetokounmpo also suggested that Wembanyama, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Thursday, is ahead of where Giannis was at similar points in their respective careers, telling reporters that the Spurs youngster is having a “Rookie of the Year season.” However, it was Chet Holmgren who earned Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for a second consecutive time earlier this week, which Wembanyama says he’ll use as motivation.

“Of course, of course,” Wembanyama said (Twitter video link via Hector Ledesma of Clutch Points). “I’m dedicated and I know at the end of the day I’m going to get what I deserve, and every game is a statement from now on.”

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  • Wembanyama remains on a minutes restriction for now, which head coach Gregg Popovich has said won’t be lifted until the big man’s ankle gets reevaluated. According to Popovich, that exam is “coming soon,” per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link). “It’s within the next week or two, I believe,” Popovich said on Thursday. “But I don’t know the exact date.”
  • With Malaki Branham out on Thursday due to a right ankle sprain, the Spurs moved point guard Tre Jones into the starting lineup for the first time this season. The move worked well, according to Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News, who notes that the ball flowed nicely on offense and San Antonio’s second unit held its own without Jones. Asked why San Antonio hasn’t been starting Jones all season, McDonald explained (via Twitter) that the team already knows what it has in the fourth-year veteran and has been more interested in learning what players like Branham and Jeremy Sochan can and can’t handle when tasked with the job.
  • Forward Cedi Osman, who has seen his role and his production fluctuate in his first season as a Spur, told Orsborn (Twitter link) on Thursday after scoring 19 total points in his previous seven appearances that he’s still working to understand “what the coaches are asking from me” from game to game. Osman expressed confidence that things “will be better” for him and followed up those comments with a nice showing on Thursday — he scored 13 points to go along with five assists and three steals vs. Milwaukee.
  • After not playing more than 12 minutes in any of the Spurs’ first 31 games, Blake Wesley has averaged 17.6 MPG in the past three and has earned praise from Popovich, tweets Orsborn. “He’s played freely,” Popovich said. “He doesn’t look like he is worried about making a mistake. He’s been excellent at the defensive end.”

Spurs Exercise 2024/25 Options On Sochan, Branham, Wesley

The Spurs have exercised their third-year team options on the rookie scale contracts of Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley, the team announced today.

While the moves won’t impact the players this season, the trio now have their 2024/25 salaries guaranteed. Sochan will make $5,570,040 next season, Branham will carry a $3,217,920 cap hit, and Wesley will earn $2,624,280.

The Spurs will have until the end of October 2024 to decide whether or not they want to pick up the fourth-year options of Sochan, Branham and Wesley.

The No. 9 overall pick of the 2022 draft, Sochan earned a spot on the All-Rookie Second Team last season after averaging 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 56 games, including 53 starts (26.0 minutes per contest). He posted a .453/.246/.698 shooting line.

Head coach Gregg Popovich previously stated that the 6’9″ Sochan would be the de facto point guard of the Spurs’ super-sized starting lineup to open ’23/24. However, on Friday, he cast some uncertainty on whether that five-man group would remain the long-term starters, as Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News relays (Twitter links).

Branham, a 6’5″ guard who was the No. 20 overall pick in 2022, averaged 10.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists on .440/.302/.829 shooting in 66 games last season (23.5 minutes).

Wesley, meanwhile, was the No. 25 pick last year. He averaged 5.0 points, 2.7 assists and 2.2 rebounds on .321/.381/.591 shooting in 37 NBA games in ’22/23 (18.1 minutes). The 6’5″ guard also spent some time in the G League last season.

The full list of ’24/25 rookie scale team option decisions can be found right here.

Southwest Notes: Adams, McCollum, Eason, Spurs

Grizzlies center Steven Adams has been out since January 22 after spraining the PCL in his right knee, but he appears to be nearing a return. Head coach Taylor Jenkins said Adams has begun 5-on-5 work in practices and the team is hopeful Adams could play by the end of the upcoming road trip, though that isn’t set in stone (Twitter link via Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian).

The road trip Jenkins is referring to starts Wednesday in Houston and ends next Tuesday in Los Angeles, so Adams could be back within around a week. Remarkably, despite missing the past 13 games, Adams still leads the NBA in total offensive rebounds with 214 (Ivica Zubac is second with 196).

The 29-year-old is averaging a career-high 11.5 rebounds (5.1 offensive) in 27.0 minutes per game through 42 games in 2022/23. The Grizzlies have gone 5-8 without Adams over the past month-plus.

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • Pelicans guard CJ McCollum has been bothered by a right thumb injury, which he described as a ligament issue, and plans to undergo an MRI “soon,” per Christian Clark of (Twitter links). “It’s not ideal,” he said. “I’m playing. I have to be better, and I will be better. I understand what’s at stake for us. What’s at stake for our seeding. And how these next few games are going to define our season.” As McCollum noted, the 30-31 Pelicans’ spot in the postseason is quite tenuous — they’re currently the No. 10 seed, but three teams are right on their heels for the final spot in the play-in tournament.
  • Tari Eason‘s offensive numbers are solid, if unspectacular for a rookie — he’s averaging 8.7 points on .442/.347/.750 shooting splits in 19.6 minutes per game. However, the 21-year-old forward has made his presence felt on the other end of the court for the Rockets, as Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes. “I see a lot of people talking about some of the best defenders in the league,” Eason said as part of a larger quote. “I want to be one of those dudes they talk about. I feel like I’m the best rookie defender in this class.” Eason ranks sixth among rookies with 5.6 rebounds per night, per Feigen, and second in steals and deflections. His 2.8% steal percentage ranks fifth in the entire NBA, according to
  • The Spurs have had to use a couple of 19-year-old rookies — Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley — at point guard lately due to a mysterious foot injury to starter Tre Jones. According to Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News, the Spurs aren’t quite sure what’s going on with Jones’ foot. “It’s a strange injury,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s one of the toughest young men on the planet. There’s nothing on the (MRI) film or anything like that. He just can’t go.”