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There’s No Ignoring Victor Wembanyama

2:44 PM EST on January 21, 2024

Victor Wembanyama #1 of the San Antonio Spurs scores against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Capital One Arena on January 20, 2024 in Washington
Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

Victor Wembanyama didn't waste much time in establishing himself as a genuinely good NBA player at the start of this season. You of course expect a 7-foot-4 arachno-man who can shoot and dribble like a guard, even one who is a rookie, to fit in on an NBA court. But it's not real until you see it, and Wembanyama was clearly the real deal as soon as he stepped on the court.

Wembanyama is now 36 games into his NBA career, and has entered a period of the season in which it is traditionally quite easy for even the best and brightest rookies to become background noise. This is usually down to the fact that such rookies are on bad teams and are starting to feel the physical effects of a grinding professional season. Also, there are just more things to talk about as the trade deadline nears and playoff seeding starts to solidify. So when Wembanyama sprained his ankle in late December and the Spurs announced that he would be playing under a minutes restriction as a result, it was easy to imagine him slowly fading out of the season as San Antonio went about piling up losses.

But something else has happened over the last few weeks. Wembanyama's brilliance has only become more vivid as his time on the floor has decreased. Wembanyama hasn't played more than 28 minutes in a single game since Dec. 21, and in the 12 games he's played over that stretch he's averaged 24.5 minutes per game. In those 12 games, he's averaged 21 points, eight rebounds, and 3.7 blocks. He scored 30 points in 24 minutes against the Blazers on Dec. 28, mixing in six rebounds, six assists, and seven blocks. He went for 26-11 in 20 minutes in a win against the Hornets, and then five days later went for 27 points in 27 minutes against the Celtics.

It's not a total shock that Wembanyama has become more productive and efficient over this stretch in which his minutes have been shrunk. A particular issue that plagued him—and the Spurs, and all good-hearted people who want to see fun things happen on a basketball court—throughout the early part of the season was his teammates' inability or unwillingness to pass him the damn basketball. Now, Wembanyama's shortened stints on the court, combined with Tre Jones getting more run in the starting lineup—he's an infinitely better option at point guard than Jeremy Sochan—seems to have earned him increased focus from his teammates. Maybe the 7-foot-4 dude who can dunk pretty much any ball that is passed to him anywhere near the rim only being available for 25 minutes per game has impressed upon Wembanyama's teammates that they should stop fucking around during those 25 minutes.

When Wembanyama checked back into Saturday's game against the Wizards with 5:48 left to play, his team was down by 11 points. Over that last 5:48 stretch, Wembanyama went 3-of-5 from the floor, scored seven points, grabbed three rebounds, and blocked two shots. His last make of the game, a pick-and-pop three from the wing, tied the score at 121 with two minutes left to play. The Spurs ended up winning, for just the eighth time all season, 131-127.

Filling out all the efficient, box score-stuffing performances that Wembanyama has been putting together lately are plenty of those discrete, eye-bulging moments that began catching everyone's attention back in October. Saturday's entry into the Holy Shit, Victor Wembanyama: Vol. 1 was a clutch block in the final minute that preserved a one-point lead for the Spurs and needs to be seen several times to be believed.

Right, so, that's Victor Wembanyama transitioning from "looking in the wrong direction while an opponent is taking off for an uncontested layup behind him" to "spinning around and spiking that shit off the backboard with his offhand" in the blink of an eye. Good luck not noticing a player who can do that.

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