Wembanyama more aggressive in stronger second Summer League game with Spurs in Las Vegas

July 9, 2023   -LAS VEGAS (AP) — Victor Wembanyama was yelling in celebration, punching the air, even got a Band-Aid on his right cheek because of some physicality.

For his second act in Las Vegas, Wembanyama showed some fire.

The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft looked much more like himself in his second game of Summer League on Sunday. He finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds, but the Spurs lost 85-80 to the Portland Trail Blazers.

He was 9 of 14 from the floor, 7 of 12 from the line, blocked three shots and led a comeback where the Spurs cut a 19-point deficit down to one, but they never got the lead.

There also were moments that reminded everyone that he’s still an NBA work in progress — he air-balled his third 3-pointer in two games, got moved off his spot a couple of times on rebound opportunities — but it was clearly a more Wemby-like game than was the case in his debut on Friday night.

He was only 2 for 13 from the field in San Antonio’s Vegas-opening win over Charlotte; he shot far better in Game 2. He missed his first shot, then missed a pair of free throws before connecting on an 18-foot jumper from the right wing for his first points, and was off and running from there.

And there were highlights. He tipped a rebound to himself with his left hand, basically alley-ooping the ball to himself for a dunk over Portland’s Jabari Walker. That seemed to energize him; moments later, after blocking a shot at one end, he ran the floor, got rewarded with a pass from Julian Champagnie and threw down another dunk over the Blazers’ Justin Minaya.

He went looking for contact in the third quarter as well; after missing from down low, he went across the lane to grab his own miss and scored off the glass with his left hand while getting fouls, drawing more yells from the crowd that was basically reacting one way or another to everything he did.

Sunday was still a sellout at Summer League — all three days have been sold out so far, a first for Vegas and clearly part of the Wemby effect — but the scene for Wembanyama’s game wasn’t as over-the-top as it was for Friday’s debut. The lower bowl at the Thomas and Mack Center was filled; the upper bowl had some rows toward the very top that were empty, which wasn’t the case Friday.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose new five-year contract with the team to remain as coach and president was announced Saturday, was in the stands for the second straight game. Jerry West was watching again as well, just as he was Friday in his customary baseline seat, and Spurs teammates Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan were among the NBA players with good seats for the show.

The NBA scheduled Spurs-Blazers thinking it would be the No. 1 pick against the No. 3 pick, just like the Wembanyama debut had him going up against No. 2 pick Brandon Miller on Friday. But the third pick in the draft, Portland’s Scoot Henderson — a player Wembanyama faced twice last year near Las Vegas in exhibitions — missed the game with a shoulder injury suffered in his summer opener.

Spurs summer coach Matt Nielsen said he wasn’t sure if Wembanyama would continue playing in Vegas. If this was the end of Wembanyama’s Vegas stint, it would continue the trend of No. 1 picks having their summer stay conclude early.

Paolo Banchero played two games for Orlando in 2022, Cade Cunningham played three games for Detroit in 2021, Zion Williamson played in just one game — just nine minutes, really — for New Orleans in 2019 before his stay was shortened by injury, and Deandre Ayton got in four games with Phoenix in 2018. There was no Summer League in 2020 because of the pandemic.

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