San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich unveiled his preferred super-sized training lineup alongside Victor Wembanyama.
In a rush to celebrate former assistant Becky Hammon and the Las Vegas Ace’s second consecutive WNBA title, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich squirmed in his seat ready to bolt.
“I thought about getting booted tonight,” he said Wednesday after his team’s 117-113 victory over the Houston Rockets. “But I just thought this [had] to be my priority. It was close.” Victor said.
Fortunately, Popovich stayed long enough to coach Prized No.1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama and the rest of the Spurs through preseason game No.3, which was billed as a dress rehearsal for the start of the regular season. The club released a lineup that competed in live action alongside one another for just the first time all preseason.
Headlined by Wembanyama, that group, according to Popovich, represents San Antonio’s starters for the October 25th regular-season opener against the Dallas Mavericks.
That and more will be discussed in these three takeaways from Wembanyama’s third exhibition outing.
Big ball, best 5
The Spurs chose to use a gargantuan starting five against the Rockets. With the 6-foot-8 Jeremy Sochan running point for the second straight exhibition outing, San Antonio tipped off with Wembanyama (7-foot-4), Zach Collins (6-foot-11), Devin Vassell (6-foot-5) and Keldon Johnson (6-foot-5), and the group ran off a 17-2 lead in less than five minutes to begin the game.
Besides clogging the paint with Wembanyama and Collins, this lineup has the collective length to consistently disrupt passing lanes. Count on this team to be the team’s most effective lineup this season. Wembanyama’s gravity, scoring prowess at every level, and passing ability only lift the lineup’s ceiling, offensively. But with what happened on Wednesday, fans can expect some ups and downs as San Antonio keeps experimenting.
“They better play well or we’re in trouble,” Popovich said. “Those are the big guys. They’re tall. They’re big. They’re gonna start. They’re getting used to each other, trying to figure out where to be in relation to the perimeter players.”
A 7-foot Manu
Manu Ginobili retired in 2018 from the Spurs. But if people ever wondered how this Hall of Famer might have looked in a seven-foot frame, Wembanyama showed a glimpse in the first quarter. Picking off a pass from Aaron Holiday, the Frenchman pulled off Ginobili’s flashy nutmeg move on the ensuing break by dribbling the ball in between the legs of Reggie Bullock Jr., before hitting Charles Bassey with a behind-the-neck pass under the basket.
“I’ve been waiting for the occasion to try it,” Wembanyama said. “I don’t want to limit myself to what’s conventional. I want to expand my game as much as I can. I think that was a good move.”
The play signified yet another example of the 19-year-old displaying something spectators probably have never witnessed before from a player his size.
It is not just Victor Wembanyama
Keldon Johnson led the San Antonio Spurs in scoring last season (22.0 points per game), but Wembanyama will get more help on both ends in 2023-24 from rising fourth-year veteran Vassell, who looks poised for a breakout season. Vassell averaged a career-high 18.5 points last season. But he appeared in 38 games due to a knee injury that led to surgery.
Now healed, Vassell, according to reports within the organization, has taken a leadership role, and has made strides shooting the 3-ball, even after knocking down at least 34.7% from deep in all of his first three NBA seasons. In three exhibitions, Vassell has connected on 12 of 20 from range. He drained six 3-pointers on October 13 (his career regular-season high is five).
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