Inside Victor Wembanyama’s Debut and Gregg Popovich’s New Contract

It’s been a busy couple days for the San Antonio Spurs. On Friday night, Victor Wembanyama suited up for San Antonio for the first time. On Saturday, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs officially agreed to a new multi-year contract.

Behind the scenes, there was plenty of talk during this headline-worthy 24 hour stretch.

-Heading into Wembanyama’s summer league debut against the Charlotte Hornets, San Antonio’s coaches (including Popovich himself, I’m told) gave the No. 1 overall pick one simple mandate: experiment. The coaches want Wembanyama to use his time in summer league to begin to learn what he can and can’t do against NBA caliber athletes. 

Specifically, the Spurs coaches told him to handle the ball as much as possible — particularly in traffic. 

“There’s no blueprint for him to follow,” a Spurs source told me about the conversations the Spurs have had with Wembanyama so far. “He’s gotta figure it all out on his own. Step by step.”

The source continued: “He has the ball in his hands at 7-foot-3. No one has done that. There’s nothing and nobody to reference. He needs to express himself, do what comes natural and figure it out. And he will. He absolutely will.”

Anyone who watched Wembanyama’s first game in summer league saw him experimenting. He was clearly pushing the envelope. Add in a few missed shots right at the rim and you had the end result: nine points on 2-for-13 shooting with three turnovers in 27 minutes.

-Despite the inefficient shooting from Wembanyama in his debut, the mood around the team after the game was still as festive and joyous as it’s been since the Spurs won the draft lottery. 

“Look, he’s a playmaker who will make everyone around him better,” another Spurs source told me, “He has touch. He’s agile. He sees and thinks the game at a high level. He’s a problem solver. He’s the best shot-blocking prospect in a generation. He’s all that and he’s a great kid.”

I talked to a scout for a Western Conference team who gushed about Wembanyama’s shot-blocking. 

“Wemby spent most of the game out on the arc chasing smalls and he still got credited with five blocks,” the scout said. “I actually had him down for eight blocks on my scorecard. That s–t is scary. If he stays healthy, he’ll lead the league in blocks every year for the next 15 years.”

The same scout was also impressed with Wembanyama’s intangibles: “He was having a rough time. Things weren’t going his way, he was missing bunnies. But there he was celebrating the success of his teammates. He listened when coaches and teammates talked to him — asked questions, all that. Wemby obviously wants to learn, wants to be coached.”

-Speaking of coaching, I’ve been told that Wembanyama made it known that he really wants to be coached by Popovich. I’ve also been told that their early interactions have gone exceedingly well and that it’s no coincidence that Popovich agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract after spending time around Wembanyama. 

When I checked in a month ago, the talk around the team was that Popovich was ready to commit to a three-year contract. After being around Wembanyama, he’s now inked to a five-year deal. It’s safe to say the player and coach are looking forward to their partnership with mutual enthusiasm.