As impressive as Victor Wembanyama has been to start his NBA career, one of the next steps in his progression may come at the end of games. While the San Antonio Spurs have lost a franchise record 16 straight games, equaling a skid set just last season, they have been more competitive over the second leg of what's now a five week stretch. Finishing out games, though, remains an issue for the Spurs as the losses keep on piling up.
Spurs starting off strong in the clutch
It may be getting harder to remember with each passing loss but the French phenom has been playing great in fourth quarters right out of the gate for the Spurs this season.
In the season opening loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Wemby scored nine of his 15 points in the final seven minutes of the game to keep the Spurs close. He then scored the late basket that sent their second game of the season to overtime, where they eventually beat the Houston Rockets. On November 2nd came what's become known as the 2023 top overall pick's coming out party. Wemabanyam put up ten fourth quarter points, out-dueling Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in a 132-121 win over the Phoenix Suns. It moved the Spurs to 3-2 on the year, but they haven't won again since then.
Spurs in need of a ‘closer'
To hear Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, the team's lack of a “closer” is an extension of a greater issue.
“With the makeup of our team, it's easier for us to score with pace than to slow down in the half court and let people lock in on us,” the Hall of Fame coach said, “We're not a team that's blessed with two or three go-to guys, so it's better for us to create space to have the pace, get the ball moving quickly and changing sides and that sort of thing to get more uncontested shots.”
Of the Spurs ten losses at home, in half of them they held a double digit lead at one point, including their most recent contest on Friday, which was a 121-112 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
“I think it's more of a team responsibility. Our games don't often come down to the last minute or last second, “Wembanyama said following the loss to the Bulls in which the Spurs held an 11-point advantage at one point in time, “We just lose the lead continuously throughout the second half. I think it's just immaturity.”
Victor Wembanyama as the go-to guy for the Spurs?
The Spurs are looking for Wembanyama more, even as opponents increase their defensive efforts against the 19-year-old star.
‘We're seeing him continue to adjust. Their physical as hell with him, pushing, hanging on him, doing everything and he's been playing through it and trying not to worry about the refs too much,” Spurs guard Tre Jones said, “That's a big thing for him, just try to keep him locked in and not worrying about the fouls because he will continue to get fouled all the time. It's impressive. He continues to impress and he'll continue to just keep on that track.”
“This is what they've been doing. I mean, this is what I've seen my whole life so nothing surprising so far,” Wemby stated about the physicality he's faced with, adding, “I'm not trying to find excuses. I find ways and some guys are physical beasts but quickness and intelligence beats them so there's many ways to counter that without complaining to the ref.”
Asked if he'd like to become the Spurs closer…
“It's a responsibility that comes naturally, I think. We've got many guys who can shoot the ball and who can make baskets. We adapt. Every game is different, every match up is different and we've got to take advantage of it all,” the generational prospect answered.
The Spurs troubles with pulling out close games may suggest otherwise.