Ja Morant got Victor Wembanyama.
In the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s win over the Spurs, the Grizzlies star (sort of) put Wemby on a poster. He didn’t jump over or through him, but Morant used his signature crossover to freeze the rookie, then rose for a two-handed dunk before Wembanyama could react.
It was one of several times Morant and Wembanyama went head-to-head in the game. Morant’s dunk was the loudest sequence involving the two, but Wembanyama had an impressive block on him early in the first quarter. He followed it up quickly with another swat, this time on Jaren Jackson Jr.
Those blocks tell you everything you need to know about Wembanyama’s defense.
These Victor Wembanyama blocks show why Spurs rookie has Defensive Player of the Year potential
Less than a minute into the game, Wembanyama finds himself on an island against Morant.
Morant is a tough cover in those situations. He’s only 6-2 and 174 pounds, but he’s a blur with the ball in his hands and can change directions on a dime. He also has the athleticism (and fearlessness) to challenge just about everyone at the rim, which, you know, Wembanyama learned later in the game.
The Grizzlies clear the floor to give Morant the space he needs to go to work.
Wembanyama anticipates Morant’s drive well by beating him to the elbow, but Morant quickly shifts gears and creates an opening to the basket with a rather filthy crossover.
Morant tries to sneak a layup around Wembanyama, only to have it swatted away.
Wembanyama is 7-4, tying him with Boban Marjanovic for the tallest player in the NBA. He should have no shot at his size keeping up with someone as shifty as Morant. It helps that he has an 8-foot wingspan, of course, but he’s much more nimble than you’d think. In addition to Morant, he’s had moments defending the likes of Luka Doncic, Paul George and Kyrie Irving in isolation this season. He’s shown the ability to guard every position.
Teams have to account for Wembanyama when he’s not defending the ball, too.
On the next possession down, the Grizzlies try to take advantage of the 6-7 Julian Champagnie guarding the 6-10 Jackson by giving him the ball in the post. Wembanyama is on the opposite side of the court guarding Bismack Biyombo.
Knowing Biyombo isn’t much of a scoring threat, Wembanyama’s head is on a swivel, keeping an eye on Jackson without losing sight of Biyombo. That’s important because Biyombo is a sneaky offensive rebounder.
When Jackson spins toward the baseline, Wembanyama leaves Biyombo to commit to the help.
Wembanyama is actually behind Champagnie when Jackson picks up his dribble. (This might be why you’re having déjà vu.)
He’s still able to block Jackson’s shot with his left hand thanks to his go-go gadget arms. (Bonus points for not sending it out of bounds!)
At the age of 20, Wembanyama is already one of the most disruptive defenders in the NBA. He’s now up to 3.1 blocks per game, tying him with Brook Lopez for most in the league. Mitchell Robinson (1.5) is the only center averaging more steals than him (1.2), and Robinson might be out for the rest of the season. Wembanyama’s also among the league leaders in deflections.
Anyone who watched Wembanyama play in France last season knew the shot-blocking would translate. Maybe not to this degree, but it was hard to imagine someone his size with his instincts not being a factor around the rim. His rim protection alone gives him Defensive Player of the Year potential, but it’s the versatility to step out to the perimeter, guard any position in a pinch and be in the right place at the right time that makes him so special.
Getting dunked on comes with the territory when you contest as many shots and have as big of a target on your back as Wembanyama. Just know that he’s going to prevent far more scoring opportunities than he’ll allow.
Source : ESPN.com