How Spurs super rookie Victor Wembanyama surpassed Gregg Popovich’s massive expectations

As grand as the hype was coming in, Victor Wembanyama managed to meet it — and then some — for his head coach.

Gregg Popovich with heart emojis for eyes looking at Spurs' Victor Wembanyama

None of the postseason notoriety that Victor Wembanyama gets nowadays comes as a surprise. Not after a season that ranks among the best rookie years in NBA history. Given the hype and expectations that followed the San Antonio Spurs’ French big man into the league, perhaps his place as a finalist on awards lists shouldn’t shock until it becomes evident that the phenom probably surpassed expectations that seemed unrealistic. Even to his Hall of Fame coach, Gregg Popovich.

“Oh, sure,” Gregg Popovich responded when ClutchPoints asked if Wemby exceeded whatever initial thought the winningest coach in the league may have held back in the summer.

The five-time championship coach went much further.

“He’s made me understand that he has those Tim Duncan qualities of innate basketball IQ and a fire that he wants to be the best.”

Popovich has often been reluctant to compare players. When it came to Wembanyama, he couldn’t help but invoke Tim Duncan’s or David Robinson’s names at points during the season.

Aiding Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama

San Antonio Spurs forward Victor Wembanyama (1) reacts after a victory over the Denver Nuggets at Frost Bank Center. Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike Robinson, who landed in San Antonio two years after graduating from the US Naval Academy because of his commitment to the Armed Forces and unlike Duncan, who proved as polished as an NBA rookie can possibly be, Wemby arrived with unprecedented ability for a man his size. With that came a game that focused on the perimeter.

“He was much more malleable and accepting, expanding his role, expanding his game both defensively and offensively,” Popovich told ClutchPoints during the Spurs end of the season media availability.

“I’m not sure, you’ll have to ask him if he was planning on leading the league in blocks when he came but that was, like, a requirement. We wanted him at the basket and we wanted him rebounding and blocking shots. He likes to shoot that three, so that was probably not exactly what he was expecting from me off the bat. But, he’s a competitor,” the 75-year-old coach continued.

Wemby’s leading of the league with 3.6 blocks per game is a key reason he’s one of three finalists for Defensive Player of the Year.

“He wants to win. Obviously, he’s gifted but I needed to show him that he’s gifted in a whole lot more ways than he knows. Expanding his game was really a priority,” Popovich said.

The Spurs held their leading scorer and rebounder out of the season finale because with an afternoon tip time it essentially served as back-to-back after he’d played 38 minutes in a thrilling upset of the Denver Nuggets. The move continued the team’s approach with Wemby’s ankles, both of which were injured during the season. The reason for the caution? Simple, according to Popovich.

“He’s got a long career ahead of him.”

A season in, Popovich has a better idea of what to expect from Wembanyama. Though he wouldn’t mind if those expectations are again exceeded.

“Anybody can tell you anything about a player but you have to be with them so that you get to understand their gut, and their mentality, their philosophy, what makes them tick. He is and will continue to be special.”

Related Posts

Our Privacy policy - © 2024 News