SAN FRANCISCO – The biggest story in basketball, literally and figuratively, will make his first appearance in the Bay Area on Friday night.
Victor Wembanyama, the top pick in the 2023 pick and San Antonio’s best prospect since Tim Duncan, will give a glimpse of the future to the team once considered by its owner to be “light years ahead of the league”
Warriors center Dario Šarić figures to be one of the Warriors’ primary defenders against the rookie.
Having played with other talented bigs such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton and reigning MVP Joel Embiid over a six-year career, the 28-year-old veteran acknowledged Wembanyama’s abilities.
“He’s a sensation,” Šarić said after the Warriors’ 116-115 victory over the Kings on Wednesday. “He’s 7-foot-4, shooting and dribbling the ball like a guard, so he’s going to be a challenge for us.”
It’s the kind of skill set that is straight out of a basketball video game.
“He’s like a 2K create-a-player, like every point guard that wants to be 7 feet,” Stephen Curry told the media last October. “Cheat code-type vibes.”
Wembanyama, who averaged 21.6 points and 3.0 blocks per game in the French league last season, has put to rest any concerns of an adjustment period for the international rookie, scoring 20, 23 and 15 points in limited minutes across three preseason games.
“He’s smart, and he understands he’s got a lot of attention on him,” longtime Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told the media after a game against the Rockets on Wednesday. “It doesn’t bother him. He just plays.”
7 feet 4 inch Wemby goes through the defenders legs
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Wembanyama has the towering build of a dominant post player, and perhaps 20 years ago, he would have been coveted for his ability to float in jump hooks after carving out a spot on the low block.
But after watching Wembanyama operate in the pick and roll, or swish a sidestep 3-pointer in the corner, it is obvious the No. 1 overall pick is very much a product of the Stephen Curry generation.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Wembanyama cited the Warriors as his hoops inspiration.
“Taking, like, bad or weird shots, it isn’t new for me,” Wembanyama says. “You can ask any coaches I’ve played for. They’ve seen me do crazy stuff. Sometimes they thought I was crazy.”
Although he underwhelmed in Summer League, he has been a highlight machine in the preseason. Against the Thunder, Wembanyama Euro-stepped from the 3-point line for a dunk. Playing against the Heat, he dribbled downcourt like a point guard and nailed a pullup jump shot. Playing the Rockets, he dribbled through a defender’s legs.
Each of those highlights racked up millions of views on social media, but fans aren’t the only ones impressed by the rookie.
One common comparison for the Wembanyama, at least offensively, is Hall of Fame power forward Dirk Nowitzki. The former Dallas Maverick scored 31,560 points and spent his entire career torching Western Conference teams like the Warriors with a pure jumper.
But even the sixth-most prolific scorer in NBA history is in awe of Wembanyama’s talent.
“Running a step-up pick-and-roll to a crossover between the legs to a stepback? At his size? Stop it,” the 7-foot Nowitzki told Mark Stein.
A host of Warriors should get a chance to guard Wembanyama. Aside from Saric, rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis, Kevon Looney (who sat out Wednesday’s win vs. the Kings with an illness), Usman Garuba and Jonathan Kuminga could all spend time defending the phenom as Golden State figures out its frontcourt rotation.
“For now, we’re giving everyone a chance to play, and see what we have and piece it together,” Kerr said.