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Victor Wembanyama, Still Doing Unbelievable Stuff, Is Now Doing Normal Stuff Too

HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 11: Victor Wembanyama #1 of the San Antonio Spurs grabs a rebound against the Houston Rockets during the second half at Toyota Center on December 11, 2023 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

In the five-week period since Victor Wembanyama treated the world to a psychedelic megadose of category-scrambling basketball in Phoenix, prompting NBA observers to wonder whether he'd have a case for best player on the planet by early 2024, his team has not won a single game.

Seventeen losses in a row is a brutal stretch of basketball, a full 20 percent of the season in which the Spurs have been blown out by 41, 36, and 25 points, tried and failed to transcend the point guard position, given up as many as 152, scored as few as 82, watched as Chet Holmgren has sped ahead in the Rookie of the Year race, and haven't had a player record a double-digit assist game. The Spurs are spunky and they try hard—I've watched them blow double-digit leads to the Heat and Kings, and have a valiant comeback against the Warriors fall just short—and their commitment to running (they're fourth in pace) is as admirable as their efforts have been futile. Wembanyama's had a handful of shaky Welcome to the NBA! moments in there, which included getting demolished by Holmgren and Domantas Sabonis, oodles of turnovers, and getting turned into barbecue chicken more than a few times.

All of which is to say, there aren't many reasons to watch the Spurs, so it's been easy to overlook the fact that Wemby is really putting it together. Since that shit-kicking by the Thunder, he's strung together a great month of basketball, averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds with 3.3 blocks, a steal and a half, and an assist-to-turnover ratio that's rapidly equalizing after a heinous start (he still hasn't had a game without a turnover, though he's only had one game without a block). He had a 21-20 game against Chicago last week, an eight-block gem against the Grizzlies, and a 10-stock game against Denver. The Wembanyama experience is still totally without precedent.

He's still not shooting it all that well, and he still doesn't spend that much time on the court with the Spurs' only pure point guard, Tre Jones, which he really should be: He's spent just over a third of his minutes playing alongside Jones, and the Spurs have a plus-5.2 net rating in those 241 minutes, making it the only one of the Spurs' 16-most played two-man lineups to have a positive net rating. But Wemby has started the last two games at center for the first time, an obvious and beneficial move that gives him the latitude (I mean this literally) to be the team's lone big and work within a more harmoniously spaced offense. Things have also started to slow down for him, and he's committing fewer fouls and turnovers.

There was so much to like in his 15-point, 18-rebound game against Houston last night. Wembanyama had a very slick no-look assist to Cedi Osman, a couple nice buckets off the dribble, and a polished post move over Jabari Smith. The rebounding in particular has improved. He's averaged 14 in the five games since the Warriors loss, and he's positioning himself better when shots go up. Against the Rockets, he also had multiple out-of-nowhere blocks on guys who would have been out of range for most bigs, a mega-nasty ankle turn that he shrugged off, and, of course, a vicious poster on Alperen Sengun.

You can see the seeds of the superstar version of Wembanyama beginning to sprout. His shot will get better, the hallucinatory highlights will become more regular, and the Spurs will at some point realize that they should play with guys who can throw an above-average pass to him a few times a game. It's that last part that might take the most time, as he's gotten eerily more comfortable with the grind with each passing week.

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