Henderson, Nevada (AFP) – Victor Wimpanyama didn’t wait long to make an impression.
The French Phenomenon 7ft 4 Of the Metropolitans, 92 blocked shots on the edge and on the perimeter, got rebounds, ran across the floor, set screens, scored in a great spin, demonstrated his ability to dribble, dove for a loose ball, and even played the point guard property one.
Oh, and all of that was in the first two minutes.
Talk about setting the tone. NBA scouts and executives who came to see a show didn’t have to pay for their tickets on Tuesday night, but if they did, they wouldn’t be changed at any cost. Wimpanyama demonstrated all the skills that made him widely assumed to be the number one pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
His final numbers: 37 points, 11 for 20 shots, seven three-pointers, five blocking shots, four rebounds.
The bottom line, as if it matters: G League Ignite 120, Metropolitans 92115, with Scoot Henderson – the number two pick, so far anyway – finished with 28 points and nine assists for Ignite.
The teams will play again on Thursday afternoon. Then, the next time Wimpanyama plays a game of importance on American soil, it will most likely be in the summer league next July.
Much of the Wembanyama ammo was on full display, and it was as good as advertised. Make 3 throws. Jumpers are a step back. Do what seems mildly reminiscent Ignores Michael Jordan from the 1992 NBA Finals After one of those shots fell. I played through what appeared to be a slightly twisted ankle, causing him to fade 3 while doing so. He even argued foul calls like an NBA veteran and probably had a legitimate case on a couple of occasions.
There are many ways the 18-year-old is getting better. But it’s clear: He’s ready for the NBA, ready for the scrutiny that’s coming in the draft, and the scrutiny that’s coming if he really is the first pick.
“He’s a really talented player,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said.
Even the things that didn’t appear beside Wembanyama’s name in the score box were striking at times. Case in point: a play in the middle of the second quarter when he put a pick near the middle, rolled, picked up a pass a few inches inside the 3-point line, took one pass and went in the air—because by then, he was already in the middle of the lane. Try to rise above multiple Ignite players, take a shot, get fouled, ignore the contact and sink the bouncing ball.
It didn’t count, but there were still some people sitting on the field acting in disbelief.
There are always shows in Vegas, but Cirque du Soleil wasn’t the French brand that caught the attention of the basketball world on Tuesday night.
San Antonio executive RC Buford and Oklahoma City general manager Sam Prieste were chatting before the game. Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Trevor Ariza, appeared in town with the Phoenix Suns to face the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, to watch benches near the Metropolitans bench. DeMarcus Cousins grabbed a seat near the Ignite seat. Chelsea Gray and WNBA champion Aja Wilson’s Las Vegas Aces – having won the Basketball World Cup gold medal which he also won a few days ago – watched from one of the baselines. Even the WNBA Cup appeared.
And this wasn’t just Victor’s show, either. Henderson believes he should be the first choice and has more than his share of moments. He crossed Wimpanyama’s impressive 8-foot wingspan multiple times to make a pass, made it through the air to help ignite his teammates several more times, and also made 3 backwards passes.
He also experienced what would have been an immersion with 3:31 remaining. Wimpanyama crushed it easily. Henderson also tried 3 with 1:31 remaining; Wembanyama sent that to the seats.
But Henderson lives up to his end of the bargain in this made-for-TV showdown.
“This game has meant a lot to Scott,” said Ignite forward Sheriff O’Neal, son of Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. “This is my first choice.”
“I feel like I affected the match,” Henderson said.
Henderson showed some fire. He took a long look at the Metropolitans bench when time called in the second quarter and the Ignite started building their lead. Wimpanyama had a small advantage as well; He made 3-pointers from near the Ignite bench early in the second half, turned around and glanced at those seated there, then converted a four-point play on his next possession.
Nicholas Batum, who played with Metropolitans 92 coach Vincent Colette at the 2021 Summer Tokyo Olympics and the 2019 Basketball World Cup in China, tweeted this during the second half: “One thing is for sure, the first two picks are locked in for the next NBA draft.”
A lot could change between now and June. But Batum’s prediction seems very safe.
The Victor vs. Scott offer was just what the NBA wanted. Delivered.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for the Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds (at) ap.org
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