May 26, 2024

OKLAHOMA CITY — Victor Wembanyama‘s routine was a little off.

The San Antonio Spurs rookie typically takes a midday nap in between practices or prior to games, but Monday was different. His first NBA preseason game was around the corner. As he laid in bed, it just wasn’t the same.

“I took a nap,” Wembanyama said, “but I couldn’t sleep.”

Wembanyama, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, said he was filled with excitement as he played his first preseason minutes as a member of the Spurs. He said he had felt a fire within him since Sunday when the Spurs traveled to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder.

And it wasn’t just Wembanyama’s debut; it also was the preseason debut of the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft, Chet Holmgren, who missed all of last season because of a Lisfranc injury in his right foot.

Holmgren and the Thunder came away with a 122-121 victory, but in the limited time he and Wembanyama shared the court, they showed what they can do, starting with the opening tipoff.

Holmgren was the aggressor early, driving from the top of the key and drawing contact to earn multiple trips to the free throw line.

Wembanyama’s first points came on a putback dunk off a free throw over Holmgren. As Holmgren went to box out Wembanyama to the middle of the lane, Wembanyama stayed to his left and caught the ball on that side of the rim for a putback.

Wembanyama, who primarily guarded perimeter defenders, leaked out on the break for a couple of easier opportunities, including one drive in which he drew a foul on Holmgren.

“They went at each other a couple of times and it was interesting,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It shows their character, their competitiveness and they did it within reason.

“Neither one was shooting horrible shots, they weren’t trying to do one another in or anything. It was basic basketball, and the basketball gods will agree. They are going to be a lot of fun for everyone to watch over their careers.”

In the second quarter, Wembanyama showed off his shooting, knocking down one triple from the top of the key on an inbounds play and another from the same spot coming off the dribble.

On perhaps his most impressive offensive play of the night, Wembanyama pump faked a defender at the 3-point line, took two dribbles to his right, spun back into the lane, jumped and finished with an underhand scoop layup with his left hand around Holmgren.

“I’m just freestyling,” Wembanyama said when asked about his thought process on the play. “I think it’s reading, decision-making. I know that every time I penetrate, it’s going to be a double-team, so I just spun away from it.”

It was a much quieter second half for Wembanyama, who had only two points in his six-minute stint in the third quarter as he finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 2-of-5 from distance and 2-of-3 on free throws to go with five rebounds, two steals and a block.

Holmgren got off to a strong start in the first quarter, finishing with 14 points and seven boards in his first eight minutes of work.

The Thunder center totaled 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting and nine rebounds in just over 16 minutes.

According to Caesar’s Sportsbook, Wembanyama and Holmgren are two of the top three favorites for rookie of the year. Wembanyama is at -190 odds while Holmgren is third at +275. The Portland Trail BlazersScoot Henderson is second at +225.

Wembanyama and Holmgren squared off previously, when the two represented France and the United States, respectively, in the FIBA U-19 World Cup in 2021, a game the U.S. won 83-81 despite 21 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks from Wembanyama.

That was the first time Holmgren, who won MVP honors for the tournament, and Wembanyama went at each other, and Monday certainly won’t be the last.

“It was good, personally, I was feeling good like I had a lot of energy,” Wembanyama said. “I felt like he hurt us in the first half.

“And I know it’s just preseason, but for sure the games against OKC are going to be interesting.”

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