Victor Wembanyama, the NBA’s most heralded rookie since LeBron James entered in 2003, didn’t exactly light up the Summer League scorecard in his debut.
But if opening night jitters held him back a tad on the scorecard, it didn’t matter on the scoreboard. The San Antonio Spurs topped the Charlotte Hornets 76-68, as former St. John’s star Josh Champagne led the Spurs with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
Wembanyama made some slick passes in his 27 minutes of action, but shot a poor 2-13 from the field. He finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, although he did a solid job of protecting the rim with 5 blocks. He showed a good handle in bringing the ball up, and hit a 3-point shot, reflecting his all-around game.
We last saw Jabari Smith Jr. in early April as he completed his rookie season in strong fashion, tallying 15.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in his final 20 contests on a healthy 47.2 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from three. Can he carry that success into a strong showing at Summer League? The annual July circuit is often a space in which upcoming second-year players steal the show, and Kings forward (and 2022 No. 4 pick) Keegan Murray did just that in the California Classic late Wednesday night with a 41-point performance against the Heat. Judging Smith on his Summer League shooting percentages is foolish, but it would be encouraging to see Smith rise up with confidence while asserting himself as a force on the low block and near the free-throw line. After an oft-shaky and occasionally encouraging rookie season, a strong performance in Summer League could provide a promising sign.
Eason, the No. 17 pick in last year’s draft, will likely be the best Rockets player in this event. His game is tailor-made to feast in contests with sloppy offensive output, and I expect to see Eason be a defensive force diving into passing lanes and swiping the ball from careless guards and wings. The real question comes on the offensive end. Eason showed increasing verve off the catch last season as the year progressed, and he’s more capable working to his spot and hitting off-the-dribble jumpers than his pre-draft profile suggested. Perhaps we’ll see a big scoring effort from Eason against the not-so-stiff competition of Summer League.
Phoenix’s new assistant coach Quinton Crawford has a zero-tolerance policy for his team at the Summer League. During the team’s Thursday media availability, Crawford explained his code of conduct to his current 14-man roster.
“The only thing I say is you gotta be smart,” Crawford said. “Just like I was told, these are adults, they gotta be adults. They gotta understand that this isn’t a trip to Vegas to have fun. This is the job interview. Everybody here is interviewing for a job. So as long as this mentality is a worker’s mindset and a worker’s mentality, hey, we’re going to Vegas to work.”
“I’ve been there. I’ve been a young adult going to Vegas to party,” Crawford said. “I also understand the value they put into this and the hard work they put into this. They don’t want to mess that up by going out and getting in trouble.”
Phoenix’s recent second-round pick Toumani Camara was signed to a four-year rookie deal on Monday, and said he’s focused on trying to impress his coaches, teammates, opponents, and the tournament’s attendees. This isn’t his first time in Las Vegas.
He started off slow, missing his first three shots as the crowd buzzed each time he touched the ball. His first basket, an and-one layup in the first quarter, prompted fans to chant MVP as he shot his free throw.
Much of Wembanyama’s skills that left scouts enamored were displayed early in the game, especially his ball handling. He had a quick crossover dribble from the 3-point line then a pass that led to free throws. The 7-foot-4 center comfortably brought the ball up the court, too, after grabbing a rebound.
It is expected that Wembanyama will play one more game in the Summer League on Sunday before shutting it down until the NBA preseason. Wembanyama’s French season ended on June 16, so the Spurs will likely want to give him some time off.
One player he may face on Sunday is No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson: The same player who was opposite of Wembanyama in Nevada, last year. Those performances created unprecedented hype. For now, it seems unclear if he can match it.
Wembanyama didn’t attempt a shot in the third quarter, and later was crossed up by Hornets rookie Brandon Miller.
Finally, Wembanyama got a 3-pointer to fall late in the fourth quarter. He drew a foul on the play and converted the four-point play. Julian Champagnie led the Spurs with 20 points and eight rebounds. Malaki Branham added 17 points
Miller, who went No. 2 overall in the draft, led the Hornets with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Bryce McGowens added 15 points, and James Bouknight finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Though Wembanyama’s debut wasn’t as flashy as many may have liked, there’s no reason to overreact. The 19-year-old has played in only one Summer League game so far. He’s got plenty of time to settle into the league.
With a beard and short haircut, Mannion looks bigger and stronger than the guy who had all that frizzy red hair and wore t-shirts in his one-and-done year at Arizona.
Mannion has overcome an intestinal virus back in 2021 in which he lost a ton of weight. He first started experiencing the health issue with the Italian national team during the Tokyo Olympics.
“Moment where basketball had to be put to the side,” he said. “Health was first priority, of course. Difficult couple of months for me, difficult year to return to playing. That’s all in the past. I feel 100 percent now. I feel good. Since I returned, I never missed a game.”
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