We Are Hurtling Toward The Age Of Wembanyama

It’s rare for an historic NBA stat line to actually tell you much about the player who produced it. ESPN Stats & Info comes barging through the door to inform you that Paul George (or whoever) just became the first player since 1976 (or whenever) to put up a 34-13-11 triple-double while also getting two steals, two blocks, and shooting 57 percent from the field (or whatever), and all you can really do is give a thumbs-up to that information and move along with your day. Here, however, is a never-before-seen stat line that actually tells you a great deal, not just about the guy who made it, but about where the NBA is headed: 28 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks, and five three-pointers made.

From left to right, those numbers tell a funny story. Twenty-eight points: OK, so this guy is a good scorer. Thirteen rebounds: OK, he’s also huge. Or maybe small but really tough and good at jumping? Seven assists: OK, well, he’s clearly a gifted playmaker, so he must not be that huge. Five blocks: Uhhh, wait, this has to be the largest man to ever exist? Five three-pointers: What the fuck is this?? At any other point in NBA history, you’d need a pretty active imagination to conjure up a hypothetical player capable of crafting those numbers, but today there is an obvious answer to the question of who did this. Victor Wembanyama did this.

Wembanyama became the first player in NBA history to record at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five blocks, and five made threes in a single NBA game, while leading his Spurs to a 132-118 victory over the Thunder last night. In a game where the Spurs had nothing to play for as a team, Wembanyama seemed to relish the opportunity to get one over on Thunder big man Chet Holmgren, who is Wembanyama’s chief rival for Rookie of the Year honors. Wembanyama made sure to leave award voters with a lasting image from this game, when he swallowed up one of Holmgren’s shot attempts down the stretch, and in doing so made a guy who is listed at 7-foot-1 look like a small tyke who wandered onto an NBA court by accident:

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The rest of Wembanyama’s highlights from the game are no less delirious. He hit pull-up threes, erased shots with ease, dropped the ball into the hoop from unreachable heights, and functioned as a hub for his team’s offense. More than that, he looked like the future.

It is meaningful that in a league where LeBron James has been plying his trade for 21 seasons, where Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid have won MVP awards, and where Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic have expanded our understanding of how an NBA game can be controlled, Wembanyama is the first player to have a game exactly like the one he had last night. We are well into the era of positionless basketball—the league has been dominated in turns by big guys who can shoot and facilitate, little guys who can defend and rebound, and medium-sized guys who can do everything—for years now, and yet none of them ever stumbled into a performance like the one Wembanyama had last night. That says something about where the league is headed, and where Wembanyama’s place in it will be. We’ve witnessed some incredible evolutionary steps in the NBA in our lifetimes. Another one is approaching.

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