Victor Wembanyama strolled through the hallways at Footprint Center after the best game of his short NBA career when he passed 13-time All-Star Kevin Durant, stopping for a quick handshake and quick hug.
Some say the 7-foot-4 Frenchman is a taller version of Durant.
Durant’s first impression is that the budding San Antonio Spurs star might be even better.
“His enthusiasm for the game – you can tell that through the TV and playing against him,” Durant said. ”He’s his own player, own person. He’s going to create his own lane and is much different than anyone else who has played.”
In just his fifth NBA game, the 19-year-old Wembanyama showed why he was one of the most-hyped prospects in years, scoring 38 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a standout performance during a 132-121 victory over Durant and the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.
Wembanyama produced several highlight-reel plays in the game, including a soaring dunk while running the floor during the second quarter. But it was his poise in the fourth quarter that was the real eye-opener.
The Spurs built a 27-point lead in the first half and still had a 14-point lead entering the fourth quarter before the Suns clawed back to tie it 116 with about four minutes left. That’s when Wembanyama took over, with the precocious rookie making a 3-pointer, three free throws, a dunk and an 18-foot jumper to push the Spurs on a 12-0 run that sealed the win.
Wembanyama shot 15 of 26 from the field and added two assists, two blocks and a steal to help the Spurs complete a two-game sweep in Phoenix. He said the game also taught him an important lesson.
“I’d say it’s that a 20-point lead is nothing,” Wembanyama said. “It works both ways. It’s also something we’ve seen in FIBA when we play team U.S. or scout U.S. You could be up 15 and in a blink you’ll be down one and you don’t know what happened because they ran the fastbreak like crazy and got some defensive stops.
“So yeah, in the NBA it’s the same.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wembanyama’s strength is that he’s unselfish but can also take over a game when needed.
“He’s a multi-faceted player – he’ll pass to the open guy,” Popovich said. “He’s got confidence in himself. He made some plays that were unbelievable. That combination is pretty good.”
He certainly has a few fans on the Suns. Both three-time All-Star Devin Booker and Durant praised the rookie.
“He’s an unbelievable talent,” Booker said. “Everyone knows that. We’re just trying to figure what he is because we’ve never seem him before. We got him early in the season. Hopefully, next time we play him we can make some adjustments to make it tougher. But he has an advantage being 7-4 and being able to shoot over everybody.”
That advantage isn’t going away anytime soon.
And if Thursday night was any indication, Wembanyama is every bit the rising NBA star that many expected.
“I don’t see anyone else like him in this game,” Durant said. “We’re both skinny and I know he watched me growing up, but he’s his own player.”
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