Two of the early favorites for NBA Rookie of the Year meet when Victor Wembanyama and the visiting San Antonio Spurs face Chet Holmgren and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
Both teams are looking for their first in-season tournament wins. Oklahoma City has dropped games to Sacramento and Golden State, while San Antonio lost its tournament opener to Minnesota.
Wembanyama, the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, has been fantastic, averaging 19.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.4 blocks.
In Sunday’s loss to Miami, Wembanyama was just 8-for-22 from the field but dished out seven assists to go with 18 points and 11 boards.
“Every game is different but it’s always one of my priorities to be aggressive,” Wembanyama said. “It’s always something I think about.”
The Spurs come into Tuesday’s game averaging 29.9 assists per game, second in the NBA.
Holmgren was the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft but missed last season due to a foot injury.
The 7-foot-1 power forward is averaging 16.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 blocks.
“He’s a shot-blocking threat,” Wembanyama said. “And also a lob threat. It’s something we’ve got to keep in mind. The pair of him and Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) is going to be hard to handle, but we’re going to make it work.”
Holmgren has integrated well into a team that made the play-in game last season, complementing players like Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams.
“I just tried to come in and find the balance between being aggressive and not making it the Chet show,” Holmgren said. “It’s not that, it’ll never be that.”
Integrating into the team was not only important for Holmgren but also for Thunder coach Mark Daigneault.
Daigneault said he didn’t put expectations on Holmgren’s back beyond that, though.
“I’ve learned my lesson on that with players,” Daigneault said. “You never know how things are gonna go, how things are gonna unfold. The thing I give him credit for … is we talk to our rookie players … we talk to them about building a very strong foundation for their game inside the team.”
The Thunder have won three of their last four and are coming off a 111-99 win at Phoenix on Sunday.
After a 3-2 start, the Spurs have lost five consecutive games.
One of the biggest problems for San Antonio has been on the defensive end. The Spurs’ 119.8 defensive rating — points allowed per 100 possessions — is among the worst and their minus-11.3 net rating is the league’s worst.
But Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t too discouraged by the recent struggles.
“The effort is there. I can see the wheels turning,” he said. “Nobody likes to lose.”
The Spurs on Sunday were without backup point guard Tre Jones, who was a late scratch due to hamstring tightness.
This is the first of four meetings this season. The Thunder won all three meetings with the Spurs last season.
–Field Level Media
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