April 24, 2024

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NBA All-Star Weekend: Victor Wimpanyama continues to set high expectations, refusing to skip steps along the way

NBA All-Star Weekend: Victor Wimpanyama continues to set high expectations, refusing to skip steps along the way

INDIANAPOLIS – Victor Wimbanyama made his NBA All-Star Weekend debut at the Rising Stars event on Friday night to much cheers when his name was announced for Team Pau. It didn't take long for him to get going, as he scored the first basket of the game on a pick-and-pop with Warriors guard Brandin Podzemski. Wembanyama faced a big block late in the game, but it was G League Ignite winger Matas Bozelis who hit a baseline shot for Team Detlef to end the game and advance to the final against eventual champion Team Jalen. Wembanyama finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.

“I was hoping we would come away with the win, but it is always fun to face great competition and play alongside other talented players,” Wembanyama said after the match.

31 players selected for Rising Stars Tournament Wembanyama entered the weekend favored to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors as he currently leads all rookies in points per game, rebounds per game, total steals, blocks and field goals. He separates himself from the pack and makes his presence known in the NBA.

Victor Wimbanyama, right, of the San Antonio Spurs, defends against Oscar Tshiebwe, left, of the Indiana Mad Ants, during an NBA Rising Stars basketball game in Indianapolis, Friday, February 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

“I knew how good he played with him last year in France, but now the whole world is seeing it,” Washington Wizards winger Bilal Koulibaly, Wembanyama’s teammate at Metropolitans 92 last year, told Yahoo Sports. “There is a lot of young talent coming up in France, and a lot of kids are now playing basketball because of Victor and what he is doing in the NBA.”

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Wembanyama is the most anticipated player to enter the NBA in recent memory. He has exceeded all expectations, but that is nothing new for the 7-foot-4 Frenchman, who will also compete in the Skills Challenge on Saturday night. Throughout his life he had lofty goals and a different mentality than other players.

When asked during his media presence on Friday what a 12-year-old would say about making his first NBA weekend, Wimbanyama replied: “I was going to say something like, 'Why not earlier? What took you so long?' When I was a kid, my goal was to participate in the 2016 Olympics with my national team [French] The national team, so, unfortunately, I was a little late with that. “I already had high expectations for myself at a very young age.”

Coach Tim Martin, who has also worked with Dwyane Wade, Tyrese Maxey and Trae Young, has been working with Wimpanyama since 2020 and recognized his unique mentality early on. Martin early predicted what Wimpanyama's immediate impact would be in the NBA, telling Yahoo Sports in November 2022: “If Victor were in the NBA today, he would be the best defensive player in the league. On the ball he can switch,” he said. “He can get down to a level Low, shooting the difference, everything. He probably changes 40% of the shots taken when he's on the court.”

He wasn't wrong. Wembanyama leads all NBA players with 156 blocks in 49 games and leads all rookies with 56 steals. To put these numbers into perspective, in Rudy Gobert's 2018 Defensive Player of the Year season, he recorded 129 blocks and 44 steals throughout the entire season. Wimbanyama has done things this season that no other player in the league can do.

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“His whole thought process is very methodical, and he's very present and breaks down the game differently than any player I've ever worked with,” Martin told Yahoo Sports recently. “He wants to go through the process, and for him, understanding every step and what it's going to take to become one of the best players to play the game, that's where he learns the most.”

In his first season with Spurs, there were definitely growing pains. San Antonio has the third-worst record in the NBA (11-44), and his teammates struggle to find him for easy buckets at times. It may be more difficult for Wembanyama to survive in the moment and grow slowly in the rebuilding process rather than looking forward to what the franchise could be in a few years. But it appears to have been built for this purpose.

“I've been told not to skip steps my whole life,” Wimbanyama said. “Right now I'm just a student in this league. The high expectations continue throughout the season, so there's no reason to change anything in what I'm doing. It's something I hope will continue for the coming years because we want to be in the playoffs soon and we want to win.”

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Wembanyama is currently averaging 20.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 3.2 assists in 28.4 minutes per game. He recorded his second triple-double of the season in a win over the Toronto Raptors on February 12, recording 27 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks in just 29 minutes of action.

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“I didn't expect him to do that much while playing less than 30 minutes a game,” Martin said. “Nobody expected that, and that's what separates him from everyone else. For Victor to do what he does in less than 30 minutes a game, that's never happened before.”

In LeBron James' rookie year of 2004, he averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 39.5 minutes. James is now in his 21st season and has been named an All-Star 20 times. It is not far-fetched to expect Wembanyama to have a similarly successful career.

Wimbanyama welcomes pressure, and whatever levels others think he can reach, he has higher goals for himself. In his first year participating in All-Star Weekend, he was already thinking about his next big goal.

“It's been a lot of fun experiences so far,” Wembanyama said. “Just playing Rising Stars and everything.” He paused for a moment and smiled, “And next year, hopefully it will be the big game.”