Spurs breakdown how to keep Victor Wembanyama the focal point on both ends of the court

Spurs are 3.5-point favorites when they host Portland on Friday night

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) has his shot knocked away by San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama (1) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – In his first 35 career games, San Antonio’s prized rookie center Victor Wembanyama became the 6th-fastest player in NBA history to hit 100 blocks.

Wembanyama’s frequent rejections often act as a spark for a developing 8-36 Spurs team that struggles to keep pace with its tough Western Conference competition.

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Although in San Antonio’s last outing against Oklahoma City who, at the time, owned the top record in the West, Wembanyama’s four blocks weren’t enough to overcome 18 Spurs’ turnovers that proved to be costly.

The depth-filled Thunder scored 33 points off turnovers in the match up where they beat San Antonio by a 26-point margin.

“When we can get our defense set, we can guard people, but if we cough up turnovers and let them hit transition (three-pointers) it’s going to be a long night,” said San Antonio veteran forward Doug McDermott.

The Spurs are 3.5-point favorites when they host Portland on Friday night. San Antonio believes improving its utilization of Wembanyama offensively and defensively will be key in earning their fourth win in 2024.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is send guys to (Wembanyama) considering he’s 7-foot-4 and he blocks a lot of shots,” Spurs Forward Julian Champagnie said. “If somebody beats me, I’m not going to keep pursuing him, I’m going to switch with Vic and Vic can go take the ball or block the shot.”

Wembanyama’s length is a significant advantage for not only blocking shots, but also disrupting passing lanes and forcing players to consider mid-range shots as opposed to taking on Wembanyama in the paint.

Offensively, the Spurs desperately need to take care of the ball if they want to limit turnovers. But McDermott says efforts to get Wembanyama the ball are worth the risk.

“We still need to overemphasize throwing (Wembanyama) the ball, and if you’re going to turn it over a few times, at least it’s trying to get our 7-foot-4 guy. I think (Gregg Popovich) can live with some of those ones,” said McDermott. “It’s the ones that are careless, in transition, on outlet passes, inbound passes that cost you. But the ones to Vic I think we’ll live with.”

The Spurs rank No. 25 in the league in defensive rating (118.6) which considers the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions by their opponents.

San Antonio and the Trailblazers tip off at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Frost Bank Center.

The Spurs will have a quick turnaround when the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves visit the Alamo City on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

About the Author

Mary Rominger is KSAT 12 Sports' first full-time female sports anchor and reporter. She came to San Antonio from Mankato, Minn., where she worked as a weekend sports anchor at KEYC News Now. She has a journalism degree from Iowa State University and grew up in Southern California. Mary enjoys golfing, sports and finding new spots around town.

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