Victor Wembanyama

Southwest Notes: Wembanyama, McCollum, Mavs, Exum, Hill

Victor Wembanyama has been posting eye-popping numbers across the board but the Spurs coaching staff knows he’s just scratching the surface of his true potential, Tony Jones of The Athletic writes.

The Spurs wants the star rookie to grow at a comfortable pace.

“We want to continue the process. We consistently remind him to be disciplined, and to do the little things. We want him to be strong when he’s catching the ball. We go over different nuances on the scouting report, things like that,” Spurs assistant coach Mitch Johnson said. “One of the hardest things for us is knowing that he’s capable of doing so much. So, we don’t want to open up the floodgates and put too much on him. We want him to figure things out as he goes. We want to provide the structure where he can continue to grow.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans guard CJ McCollum didn’t play against Chicago this weekend due to a sore left ankle but he went through a full practice on Monday, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times Picayune tweets. McCollum and Zion Williamson (left foot contusion) are listed as questionable to play against the Knicks on Tuesday, Will Guillory of The Athletic tweets.
  • The Mavericks have an open roster spot but that may change in the near future. Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News hears that the front office is definitely looking to add a player if it finds the right fit.
  • Mavericks swingman Dante Exum hasn’t played since Jan. 26 due to a knee injury but he’s close to returning. Exum practiced on Monday, though he’s listed as doubtful to suit up against Cleveland on Tuesday, Townsend tweets.
  • Malcolm Hill‘s two-way contract with the Pelicans is a two-year deal, Keith Smith tweets. Hill, a third-year swingman, signed his two-way deal on Thursday.

Southwest Notes: Wembanyama, Jackson, Mavs, McCollum

Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama became the youngest player to record an elusive 5×5 on Friday, recording at least five points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and five blocks in the same game. Wembanyama joined Jamaal Tinsley as the only rookies in league history to accomplish the feat and he became just the second player, behind Michael Jordan, to record back-to-back games of five steals and five blocks.

What Wembanyama is doing as a rookie is unheard of, as emphasized by his stat line against the Lakers: 27 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and five steals. In his last four games, the rookie is averaging 24.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.8 blocks, 5.5 assists and 3.3 steals.

Still, Wembanyama’s postgame comments suggest he’s more concerned about trying to win games than individual stats. When asked about joining Jordan in the history books, Wembanyama said “I wonder if he did it in wins,” according to ESPN’s Andrew Lopez.

Lakers superstar LeBron James had high praise for the 20-year-old rookie phenom after the game, calling Wembanyama one of the best rookies he’s ever seen.

He doesn’t have a ceiling,” James said. “He can do whatever he wants to do with his career. It seems like he enjoys the game. It seems like he puts in the work. Just from the outside looking in, I’m not with him on a day-to-day basis, but I said a long time ago how special he was, and it’s literally that simple.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies rookie GG Jackson II has been one of the bright spots of an unusually tough season in Memphis and it looks like his offensive role with the team is going to continue to grow. According to Damichael Cole of The Commercial Appeal, coach Taylor Jenkins said the team will look to transition Jackson from a secondary creator to a primary one and will put the ball in his hands more, though he’ll likely continue to come off the bench. “I feel like they put a lot of trust in me and they see the confidence in my game,” Jackson said.
  • The Mavericks are on a seven-game win streak despite having dealt with a plethora of injuries all season, writes Tim Cato of The Athletic. To illustrate just how unhealthy the Mavs have been, Cato points out that Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic have played fewer total games together (45) since Irving joined the team midway through last season than Bucks stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard have. Now, after trading for P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford at the deadline and getting players healthier, head coach Jason Kidd will have rotation questions to sort through. “We’re deep,” Kidd said. “This is the first time the Mavs have been deep in a long time.” Outside of Doncic, Irving and their new trade acquisitions, Dereck Lively, Josh Green and Derrick Jones Jr. are among those who have impressed this year.
  • Pelicans guard CJ McCollum suffered a left ankle injury on Friday night against Miami and did not return after initially being deemed questionable, according to team PR (Twitter link). McCollum is averaging 18.8 points and 4.6 assists per game this season for New Orleans.

Despite Losing, Wembanyama Happy To Be With Spurs

Even though Victor Wembanyama hasn’t transformed the Spurs into an instant contender, he’s still happy that he wound up in San Antonio, writes Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. Wembanyama was thrilled when the Spurs won the draft lottery last May, and he stressed his love for the organization on Saturday at his first All-Star Weekend appearance.

“This is really the best place for me,” he told reporters. “I said that over and over. I couldn’t dream of being in a better place.”

In his first NBA season, Wembanyama has lived up to the hype that made him the most anticipated draft prospect in 20 years. He’s the clear favorite for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 20.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and a league-high 3.2 blocks per game, and he regularly produces highlight plays that seem impossible for almost anyone else.

The only real disappointment is the Spurs’ 11-44 record, which has them at the bottom of the Western Conference for the second straight year. But Wembanyama said that hasn’t affected his enthusiasm for the team or his belief in its future.

“Being a Spur, you have to have standards,” he said. “The main thing is the Spurs get good players. But what matters most is to be a good person. This is why (former players) are still around the team, helping the team. These are values I like.”

Wembanyama figures to eventually become a regular in the All-Star Game, but this weekend saw him participate in two other events. His Rising Stars team lost to a team of G League players Friday night, and his Team First Picks squad finished last in all three portions of Saturday’s Skills Challenge.

He plans to return next year and indicated that he may try the dunk contest or the three-point competition.

Wembanyama was a topic of discussion among some of the league’s more established players at Saturday’s media day, Orsborn adds. Giannis Antetokounmpo said, “As long as Victor is healthy, the league is his,” and Kevin Durant added, “It’s just insane how dominant he’s going to be as he gets more comfortable in the game.”

Asked about the rest of the season, Wembanyama focused on team goals, including trying to exceed the 22 wins the Spurs got last year. While he’s flattered by the attention from the league’s top stars, he said he won’t let the comments affect him.

“Of course, I appreciated it, especially from guys I’ve looked up to for years since my childhood,” Wembanyama said. “But I don’t let — coming from anybody, it could be my family, my agents, my favorite players — these (compliments) define how I feel about my career and my progression. I appreciate it. It’s very nice, but I’m keeping my head light.”

Southwest Notes: Grizzlies, Jackson, Udoka, Wembanyama

The Grizzlies aren’t ready to shut down any of their players, but Mark Giannotto of The Commercial Appeal questions whether that’s a sound strategy. Before Memphis ended its nine-game losing streak Wednesday night, coach Taylor Jenkins told reporters that the team will bring back as many injured players as it can over the season’s final two months.

“We’re actively preparing and training these guys as if they are playing,” Jenkins said. “We haven’t had any conversations about shutting down guys. This is a competitive bunch.”

Injuries have made this a nightmarish season for the Grizzlies, who were one of the West’s top teams the past two years. Players such as Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart could still return, but Giannotto believes it’s wiser for the organization to hold them out to avoid any further injury risk while seeing what the team’s young talent can do after the All-Star break.

Giannotto notes that general manager Zach Kleiman didn’t offer any timeline for Bane or Smart in a news conference last week, but he indicated that it might be beneficial for Brandon Clarke to see some action when he’s cleared to return from an Achilles tear he suffered last season.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies rookie GG Jackson called it a “joyful experience” as his two-way contract was converted to a new four-year deal last week, per Damichael Cole of The Commercial Appeal. The second-round pick has excelled as the team’s injuries have given him an unexpected chance to play big minutes, and he had been hoping to land a standard contract. “I kind of had a feeling with the way everything has been panning out, but I tried to keep the main thing with basketball,” Jackson said. “But nonetheless, I’m grateful.”
  • Rockets coach Ime Udoka said lineup changes may be necessary following Wednesday’s loss at Memphis, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Houston faced an early 23-point deficit as its pattern of slow starts continued. Jalen Green sat out the entire fourth quarter for the second time in four games, and Feigen notes that little-used Nate Hinton played more second half minutes than Green did. “Maybe I have to look at the rotation and the lineup I have out there starting and try to get five competitors out the court at one time to avoid poor starts like that,” Udoka said. “I will look at all of that over the break, look in the mirror myself and figure out the best way to move forward to get us off to better starts.”
  • Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press previews what Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama can expect as he prepares for his first All-Star Weekend.

Spurs, Lakers Leading Suitors For Trae Young?

The Hawks‘ decision to hold onto Dejounte Murray at the trade deadline has rival teams speculating that they might part with Trae Young this summer, Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack column (subscription required). If that happens, Stein expects plenty of suitors to line up, with the Spurs and Lakers possibly leading the way.

Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports published a similar report in the wake of Thursday’s trade deadline and also identified San Antonio and Los Angeles as prospective suitors for Young.

There have been rumors for months that San Antonio might be a realistic location for Young, according to Stein. His ability to stretch the floor would provide more space for Victor Wembanyama to operate, and Wembanyama’s size and shot-blocking could help cover up for Young’s shortcomings on defense. Stein states that it’s “believed in some corners of the league” that Young would be interested in joining the Spurs if Atlanta decides to move him.

Stein also cites the Lakers as a potential destination, considering that Anthony Davis is a good complement for Young’s skills as well. L.A. was rumored to be among the leading contenders to acquire Murray, and general manager Rob Pelinka will have a lot more trade ammunition to work with during the offseason.

“In terms of what was available at the trade deadline, we had one first-round draft pick,” Pelinka said after this year’s deadline passed. “It was our only sort of hook to fish with. And this summer in June, at the time of the draft, we’ll have three first-round draft picks to look for deals, which I think will really unlock an access to potentially a greater or bigger swing.”

Stein points out that the Lakers aren’t completely sure about the future of LeBron James, who faces a decision on a $51.4MM player option. While it seems likely that he’ll choose to take the money, the organization is preparing for all scenarios, according to Stein, and the draft prospects of his son, USC freshman Bronny James, could enter into the equation.

Bronny is no longer considered a first-round prospect, but Stein hears that at least two teams — and possibly more — believe LeBron would considering signing with them for much less than his option figure if they were to select his son in the second round.

If that were to happen, Stein adds, the Lakers would need a marquee name like Young to take his place and Pelinka would be relieved that he held onto the 2027 first-rounder at the deadline.

Southwest Notes: Williamson, Wembanyama, Adams, Irving, Doncic

Zion Williamson scored the game-winning layup against the Spurs on Friday night. Afterward, the Pelicans forward lavished praise on Victor Wembanyama, who finished the game with 16 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and two steals.

“Vic is a very special player,” Williamson said of the Spurs rookie, per ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “We were just talking about it in the locker room. He’s a dude that can get two or three Defensive Player of the Years and also, I don’t want to put a limit on it, but he can get Defensive Player of the Year and MVPs. We haven’t seen nothing like that. We’ve seen things close, but not like that. He’s an amazing player. Especially with [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] over there, he’ll continue to develop.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Wembanyama played 27 minutes against Cleveland on Saturday the second night of a back-to-back and appeared visibly fatigued at times coming off the floor, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News noted. The Spurs big man admits the NBA grind is starting to wear on him. “I’m glad my body’s healthy, even though it’s hard,” Wembanyama said. “It’s not giving me any red flags. Of course, I like everything, the conditioning to be perfect, but you got to pick your battle.” He has also battled allergies in recent days. “My immune system is also impacted,” Wembanyama said.
  • The Rockets’ acquisition of Steven Adams shows they are determined to make deals for their long-range impact, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes. Adams is out for the remainder of this season but will give Houston a quality backup center behind Alperen Şengün. It’s highly unlikely the Rockets will pursue a star-level player before the trade deadline, especially since they included Victor Oladipo’s contract in the Adams deal. They are also cautious about acquiring players who would take minutes away from rookies Cam Whitmore and Amen Thompson.
  • Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving is listed as questionable for Monday’s game against Philadelphia, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets. Irving has missed the last six games with a sprained right thumb. Luka Doncic is also questionable after aggravating his sore right ankle.

Spurs’ Wembanyama, Hornets’ Miller Named Rookies Of The Month

Spurs big man Victor Wembanyama and Hornets wing Brandon Miller have been named the NBA’s Rookies of the Month for January, the league announced on Thursday (Twitter link). Wembanyama, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft, won for the Western Conference, while Miller, the No. 2 pick, won for the East.

A 7’4″ French phenom, Wembanyama spent much of January on a minutes restriction after suffering a sprained ankle, but was extremely effective while on the court. In 26.7 minutes per night over 14 games, the 20-year-old averaged 24.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 3.4 blocks on a .506/.324/.831 shooting line.

Wembanyama currently leads the NBA with 3.2 blocks per game while also chipping in 1.1 steals.

Miller, meanwhile, averaged 16.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 14 games for Charlotte last month (30.3 minutes per game). The 21-year-old posted a .421/.333/.833 shooting line.

According to the NBA, Chet Holmgren and Cam Whitmore were the other nominees in the West, while Bilal Coulibaly and Jaime Jaquez were nominated in the East (Twitter link). Holmgren and Jaquez took home the monthly awards for October/November and December.

NBA Announces Player Pool For 2024 Rising Stars Event

The NBA has officially revealed the 11 rookies, 10 sophomores, and seven G League players who will take part in the Rising Stars event at All-Star weekend in Indianapolis next month.

The following players, as voted on by NBA coaching staffs, made the cut:

Rookies

Sophomores

G League Players

As was the case last season, the Rising Stars event will consist of four teams and three games. The seven G League players will comprise one team, coached by former NBA forward Detlef Schrempf. The other 21 players will be drafted to three squads coached by former NBA and WNBA stars Pau Gasol, Jalen Rose, and Tamika Catchings.

The four teams will be split into two first-round matchups and the winners of those two games will face one another for the Rising Stars championship. The two semifinals will be played to a target score of 40 points, while the final will be played to a target score of 25 points.

All three contests will take place on Friday, February 16 as part of All-Star weekend’s opening night.

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.

We have more on the Spurs:

  • 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.