2023 NBA 2K24 Summer League

Victor Wembanyama eyes improvement after uneven Summer League debut

Despite some rust and inexperience with the NBA game, the No. 1 overall pick flashes playmaking ability and unselfishness.

Victor Wembanyama hosts a block party in his NBA 2K24 Summer League debut.

LAS VEGAS – Emotionless and unaffected by a shaky NBA 2K24 Summer League debut, No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama ran off a checklist of improvements needed ahead of the start of the 2023-24 regular season.

“There’s a lot of conditioning to do to be able to play an 82-game season,” he said. “When I was sent out [of the game], I was always tired and exhausted.”

That certainly showed over the course of 27 minutes Friday as Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs dropped No. 2 pick Brandon Miller and the Charlotte Hornets 76-68 in front of a sellout crowd that packed the lower bowl of the Thomas & Mack Center nearly five hours before tipoff in anticipation of greatness. The fans screaming “we want Wemby” on multiple occasions throughout the night instead received a heaping dose of reality.

The 19-year-old scored nine points on 2-for-13 shooting to go with eight rebounds, five blocks and three assists while tying for the team lead in turnovers (3). The French phenom misfired on each of his first five 3-pointers, before eventually nailing a bucket late in the fourth quarter that raised the crowd from its seats.

“Special moment. It was really special to wear that jersey for the first time,” Wembanyama said. “It’s really an honor. Overall, I’m glad we won this game. Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing on the court tonight. But I’m trying to learn for the next games. The important [part] is to be ready for the season.”

Nabil Karim and Greg Anthony discuss what went well for Victor Wembanyama in his first NBA Summer League game.

The heavy Spurs contingent in attendance would certainly agree. Coach Gregg Popovich made the trek back to the Summer League for the first time in recent years, chatting throughout the game with assistant coach Brett Brown and 2022 first-round pick Jeremy Sochan, as general manager Brian Wright and CEO R.C. Buford looked on from nearby.

Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell also attended their new teammate’s Summer League debut, having practiced with the rookie for a couple of sessions in San Antonio before traveling with him to Las Vegas.

“There’s a really good dynamic with this group. It’s not every team that would have almost the whole team on the sideline like this,” Wembanyama said. “Of course, they were always supportive. I practiced with them a little bit. So, they gave me advice. They trust me. They believe in me. It’s really comforting.”

Fans gobbled up all 17,500 tickets available and many sprinted into the arena once the doors opened.

Wembanyama seemed poised to bless them with a show early on by flashing playmaking ability, ballhandling, unselfishness, and prowess as a rim protector, as well as a knack for finding teammates with pinpoint passes in tight quarters.

Once the forward handled the ball near the basket, though, he dribbled it too often, leading to avoidable turnovers. The rookie also attempted too many moves near the bucket as defenders collapsed onto him.

Those struggles appeared to stem from a combination of rust and inexperience with the NBA game after finishing up a season in the French League just before San Antonio drafted him No. 1 overall. Once the club’s Summer League squad departed last week to play in the California Classic Summer League, Wembanyama joined veteran teammates in San Antonio that are expected to play significant roles for the Spurs next season for a couple of workout sessions.

One practice session Thursday and the debut on Friday marked Wembanyama’s most extensive time on the floor with the Summer League team, and it showed.

“He hadn’t played with those guys yet,” assistant coach Matt Nielsen said. “He did a good job. There was a lot of attention on him. Overall, I thought he executed really well.”

Just not all the time.

Still, nobody should place too much stock in a rookie’s performances over the summer. Five-time NBA champion Tim Duncan didn’t exactly struggle when he debuted during the summer of 1997. But he also didn’t showcase the pedigree that would carry him and the entire franchise throughout a Hall of Fame career and 20-plus year run of dominance.

Wembanyama receives another opportunity Sunday (8 ET, ESPN2) when San Antonio plays Portland and No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson.

“Sometimes I was off-rhythm with the plays and the calls,” Wembanyama said. “I think the biggest improvements I’ve got to do is be ready to react to the plays that were called by the point guard and stay connected.”

Similar issues popped up defensively, he said, when asked about the poster dunk Kai Jones slammed home in the third quarter off an alley-oop from Nick Smith Jr.

“We’ve got a lot to adjust on defense because I often guard [players that are] not the big man,” he said. “This is what I was talking about earlier [as far as] staying connected with what the defense is. We’re gonna get scored on sometimes. It’s gonna happen. The good thing is it’s the Summer League and we’re here to learn.”


Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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