Malaki Branham

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, Mamukelashvili, Branham, Graham

Victor Wembanyama‘s remarkable rookie season is officially over, tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Wembanyama is listed as out for right ankle injury management on the Spurs‘ report for Sunday’s finale with Detroit.

After being the most anticipated draft pick in 20 years, the French big man made a powerful impact during his first NBA season, averaging 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and a league-leading 3.6 blocks in 71 games. Lopez notes that he’s the first rookie to reach those numbers since blocks became an official statistic 50 years ago.

Coach Gregg Popovich indicated before Friday’s game that Wembanyama could be held out on Sunday, according to Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News, and that was before he played 37 minutes in a win over Denver. The Spurs have been careful with their prized rookie recently, resting him on the second night of a back-to-back last week.

“I know this has been in the air,” Wembanyama told reporters Friday night. “I mean, I felt it’s been in the air for some weeks, but I’m always going to fight to play.”

There’s more from San Antonio:

  • Sandro Mamukelashvili is making a strong case for a new contract, McDonald notes in the same piece. The backup big man wasn’t used much early in the season, but he has taken advantage of opportunities presented by injuries and is averaging 10.4 points and 10.1 rebounds over the past seven games, including a season-high 21 points on Friday. Mamukelashvili signed a one-year, minimum-salary deal after becoming a free agent last summer and is eligible for restricted free agency this offseason. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I love being here,” he said. “I love being around the guys, connecting with them, learning, growing. I’m looking forward to the future and if it’s here, I’ll be very happy.”
  • Malaki Branham missed Friday’s game with concussion symptoms and won’t play Sunday either, McDonald adds. The second-year guard was struck in the head during Wednesday’s game at Oklahoma City.
  • Teammates were thrilled for Devonte’ Graham after his game-winning shot in the final second to beat the Nuggets, McDonald writes in a separate story. It has been a difficult season for the 29-year-old guard, who only appeared in 12 games before the All-Star break, but Popovich has been impressed by how he has remained sharp and has served as a leader for his younger teammates. “He busted his ass all year long,” Popovich said. “He was always ready. I’m sure he didn’t like (not playing), but he was always there for his team.”

Spurs Notes: Wembanyama, McDermott, Branham, Barlow, Gray

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne declared during an NBA Today segment on Monday (Twitter video link) that Spurs phenom Victor Wembanyama is “ready to win” and questioned how patient the Rookie of the Year frontrunner will be as the front office looks to build out the roster around him.

However, Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link) pushed back against the idea that Wembanyama will be urging the team to accelerate the roster-building process.

“I say this without an ounce of exaggeration or hyperbole: I talk to people about the Spurs every day. And of all those people, there is one who is, by far, the most forward-thinking and relentlessly patient when it comes to the plan,” Finger wrote. “It’s the 20-year-old kid. And it’s not close.”

Armed with plenty of cap flexibility and an excess of draft picks this offseason, the Spurs will be well positioned to continue adding talent to their young core, but there’s no indication that the club will be looking to consolidate several of its assets in a win-now move quite yet.

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • Ahead of the Spurs’s game against the Pacers on Sunday, Zach Collins admitted that he was sad to see former teammate Doug McDermott go at last month’s trade deadline, though he appreciated that McDermott landed in a favorable situation. “I talked to him the day it happened and just told him I was going to miss him and that it was really fun playing with him,” Collins said, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required). “But I am happy for him that he got to go (to a playoff contender). In the playoffs you need shooting, and he is going to be really valuable for them.” McDermott was unable to suit up against his old team on Sunday due to a calf injury.
  • A full-time starter for the Spurs in November and December, Malaki Branham had been coming off the bench since January 2. However, he earned a rare start on Sunday and took full advantage by scoring 18 points and handing out six assists, much to the delight of his teammates, Orsborn writes (subscription required). “I don’t have words to say how excited I am for him,” Keldon Johnson said. “I’m happy for him and the way he stepped up tonight. We really needed it and it was big.”
  • After having been promoted to the Spurs’ standard roster from his two-way contract, Dominick Barlow earned praise from head coach Gregg Popovich for having improved “pretty dramatically” since joining the team, according to Orsborn. “He is someone who plays in a solid manner,” Popovich said. “You don’t see him making mistakes really. He is not really a shooter. He is a pretty good defender and he goes to the boards pretty well, runs well. So, all those kind of basic things he puts together and plays a game that kind of complements everybody else.”
  • RaiQuan Gray‘s new two-way contract with the Spurs will cover two years, running through next season, Hoops Rumors has confirmed.

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, 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.

We have more notes on the Spurs:

  • 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.”

We have more on the Spurs:

  • 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.”

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • 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 Notes: Wembanyama, Vassell, Johnson, Diakite

Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama has grown increasingly frustrated playing under a minutes restriction, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscription required). Since injuring his right ankle in mid-December, Wembanyama has sat out three games and has been limited to about 24 minutes per night in the five games he has played.

As Orsborn explains, the team imposed the limit due to concerns that Wembanyama may be at risk of further injury if he plays too much too soon. After being pulled with just over three minutes left in Tuesday’s loss to Memphis, Wembanyama lobbied to return to the game and surpass his usual limit.

“I just talk to the coach and I say, ‘Yeah, I played 25 minutes already. What is two more?'” Wembanyama said after the game, per Orsborn. “Looking back, I understand their point of view, but at the moment it is hard and frustrating.”

Asked on Tuesday if Wembanyama’s minutes restriction will be lifted anytime soon, Popovich suggested that the big man’s ankle will have to be examined again before the team makes a decision.

“In a certain amount of time, we will take more pictures and that will determine whether the minutes thing changes or not,” Popovich said. “It is the same (number of minutes) every night. I think we were a minute off tonight. Twenty-four minutes is the deal.”

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • Popovich is pleased to see Devin Vassell and Wembanyama continuing to build chemistry on the offensive end of the court, Orsborn writes for The Express-News. The development of their two-man game was cited as one reason for Keldon Johnson‘s move to the bench. “They’re starting to read each other,” Popovich said. “They’re figuring out that he’s 7-3, you can throw it up in the air and when he rolls you got to get a pocket pass in there. (Wembanyama) makes good decisions and can either score or kick it to someone else because we really haven’t had that to a great degree in the past, so seeing those two guys meld together is important for us. They’re doing pretty well.”
  • Johnson’s points and free throw attempts per game have both increased since his move to the bench, and the Spurs wing acknowledged that he’s playing more aggressively in his new role, per Orsborn. “I guess you can say that,” Johnson said. “… I try to bring a lot more energy and try to assert myself a little bit more coming in out the bench and just boost the team any way I can.”
  • After signing a two-way contract with the Spurs, forward/center Mamadi Diakite referred to the franchise as “the best” at player development and expressed excitement about playing for Popovich, according to Orsborn. “I was starstruck because I have watched him since the beginning, before I started playing basketball,” Diakite said. “So, getting to meet him and greet him and play for him is a great accomplishment so far for me. When we first met, I said to him, I had been watching him since I was young. And he answered, ‘You are still young and you have a lot more to go.'”
  • Diakite’s two-way deal covers only the rest of the current season, not 2024/25, Hoops Rumors has confirmed, so he’ll be eligible for restricted free agency in the summer.
  • The injuries continue to pile up for the Spurs, who were already missing big men Zach Collins and Charles Bassey and now have starting guard Malaki Branham dealing with an ankle injury, according to Orsborn. With Branham’s status for Thursday’s game and beyond still unclear, Popovich downplayed San Antonio’s health problems. “We miss Malaki and we miss Zach, but everybody’s got somebody that’s out, so that’s not a big deal,” he said. “But for us it is because they’re such a young team and they need all their bodies. But I’m pleased with their effort. They just have to keep the attitude up.”

Southwest Notes: Branham, Spurs, Irving, Doncic

Malaki Branham suffered a right ankle sprain during the first half at Memphis on Tuesday and was ruled out, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets.

The Spurs’ staff has been willing to allow Branham to work through his mistakes at the point, according to Orsborn.

“It’s a whole new world for him and he’s absorbing it every game, basically trying to figure out the role,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s a tough role. It’s the most difficult on the court really in some ways. So, he’s been very successful in taking steps each time to understand how he can help the team, with being aggressive, decision-making, all those sorts of things. He’s dealing with all that, been doing well.”

Here’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Discussing the right ankle sprain that is expected to sideline teammate Zach Collins for two-to-four weeks, Spurs sharpshooter Doug McDermott said he appreciates the franchise’s conservative approach to injury management. “They look after your body,” McDermott told Orsborn. “They are very player-friendly in that regard. Pop is one of the best I have been around with that stuff. They care about your career. We all appreciate how they go about that.”
  • Kyrie Irving returned on Monday from a heel contusion that had sidelined him since Dec. 8. As Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News details, the Mavericks guard admitted he was very concerned when the injury occurred, as teammate Dwight Powell fell on his leg. “Oh, yeah, I was scared, man. I was very scared,” Irving said. “My daughter was at the game. I was trying to make sure she was good first, so I went into daddy mode right after. But once I got home, man it was a struggle, just even going to sleep. You could feel the throbbing. I wasn’t sure of the significance of the injury and how long I was going to be out.”
  • Luka Doncic is grateful the Mavericks signed Dante Exum, who is currently dealing with a heel injury, as a free agent last summer, Grant Afseth of Sports Illustrated writes. Exum has made an unexpected impact since returning to the NBA from the EuroLeague, starting 14 games and making contributions across the board. “Honestly, he’s been amazing so far,” Doncic said of Exum. “Not just really good, but amazing. His IQ is insane. He’s driving to the basket. His layups, he’s been hitting threes. I’m really happy that he’s on the team because he’s been a great addition to our team.”

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.

And-Ones: Zagars, Sophomores, Super-Max, Best Offseason Deals

World Cup standout Arturs Zagars has officially signed with Turkish club Fenerbahce and has been loaned to Lithuanian team BC Wolves, as Johnny Askounis of relays. A recent report suggested that was the likely outcome for Zagars, who attracted NBA interest based in part on his strong play for Latvia at this year’s World Cup.

Zagars averaged 12.4 points, 7.4 assists, and 2.6 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game across his eight World Cup appearances, making 48.6% of his shots from the floor and 41.7% of his three-pointers. The 23-year-old, who spent last season playing in Lithuania, was named to the All-World Cup Second Team.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world: