DENVER—Victor Wembanyama’s next couple of weeks are now set: He’ll be playing in the French league finals starting this weekend, and then the San Antonio Spurs will almost certainly make him the No. 1 pick in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft on June 22.
And if that means the French star’s summer league debut comes in Sacramento instead of Las Vegas in early July, the league is fine with that.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league doesn’t have a preference regarding the site of Wembanyama’s first game with the Spurs. While the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is the biggest — all 30 teams attend — and commands the most attention, there are smaller summer leagues that precede the Vegas event by a few days. Sacramento plays host to one of those events, and the Spurs are one of six teams headed there this year.
“All summer leagues are NBA Summer Leagues,” Silver told The Associated Press. “I’m very supportive of the Sacramento summer league. I remember when (Kings owner Vivek Ranadive) first came to the league and said this was something he wanted to do. I said, ‘As long as you have enough other teams who support it and players who want to play in it, it’s a good thing.’”
The Kings might be getting a lot more buzz than usual this summer. Not only are the Spurs headed there, but so is Charlotte — which holds the No. 2 pick. And it just so happens that the Spurs and Hornets will open Sacramento summer play against one another, potentially setting the stage for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup a few days before Vegas even starts.
If Wembanyama plays in Sacramento, he’d be the first No. 1 pick that didn’t debut in Las Vegas since Markelle Fultz for Philadelphia in 2017. The 76ers played in Utah’s summer league that year before going to Vegas.
Other recent No. 1 picks have opened in Las Vegas with big-crowd, big-spectacle atmospheres. Paolo Banchero’s debut in Begas for Orlando last summer had John Wall and DeMar DeRozan sitting courtside, as was Jerry West — three guys who didn’t need to see the scalpers who were working outside the arena for hours before the game. Zion Williamson played only nine minutes in his debut in 2019, in a game that was stopped by an earthquake, and his debut got LeBron James and Anthony Davis to grab courtside seats.
The Spurs have not said whether Wembanyama will play in the Sacramento event, which starts on July 3, and almost certainly won’t address the topic until they actually draft him in a little over two weeks. Wembanyama is expected to be with the Spurs in Las Vegas as well; the league has already announced him as one of the participants for its inaugural NBA Con — which runs there from July 7-9 and will celebrate many aspects of basketball culture.
“What’s made the summer leagues so valuable are really the media rights more than the individuals who buy tickets there, because it’s a very affordable experience,” Silver said. “So, the answer is, I want Victor to get playing court experience and I think the team — assuming it’s San Antonio — should make decisions completely independent of any commercial implications from where he debuts.”
Wembanyama’s Boulogne-Levallois team beat his former team, ASVEL, 3-1 in a French league semifinal series that ended Sunday. Monaco, the top seed in the league, awaits Wembanyama’s team in the best-of-five final that starts Saturday and could go until June 20 — two days before the draft.
“So proud of my guys,” Wembanyama tweeted Sunday after the semifinal win. “Job ain’t done tho.”
Wembanyama said in October that he’s 7-foot-3; some still say he’s 7-foot-4 or 7-foot-5, and given that he’s only 19, it’s certainly possible that he had a bit of growing left in recent months. Either way, he’s a generational talent who’ll come into the NBA with enormous hype, the likes of which probably hasn’t been seen since James went No. 1 overall to Cleveland in 2003.
“What I try to advise players — and I’m not making a prediction that he will or won’t live up to the hype — is to control what you can control, and I think what you can control is doing the work,” Silver said. “If he is in San Antonio, it’s an organization that led the way in terms of international scouting and signing of international players. Certainly, everyone would acknowledge they know how to develop players and particularly big men. And so, if I were in his shoes, or if I’m advising him, I’m saying, ‘Quickly become part of that organization and be a sponge and listen to the advice.’”
Image credits: AP