The Victor Wembanyama show is here. Coming off back to back wins over the Phoenix Suns, the San Antonio Spurs host the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
I’ll get to the Raptors soon, but we all know why you’re here. Only 5 games into his NBA career, Victor Wembanyama is a human highlight reel. He boasts not only the height to nearly dunk the ball without jumping, but also bring the ball up the floor, pull up from three and knock it down. We’ve seen other “unicorns” before in the NBA, Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Durant come to mind, but Wembanyama is truly video game-like.
Wemby is coming off a career-high performance. Against Phoenix, he played 34 minutes, dropping 38 points on 26 shots, 6 of those coming from behind the arc. All of those are career highs.
Now, he faces one of the league’s toughest defenses in the Toronto Raptors, as they currently sit 9th in the league in defensive rating. Toronto is no stranger to taking on dominant big men, not just historically but recently as well. In just the past week, the Raptors faced both Giannis Antetokounpmo and Joel Embiid. They had a lot more success against the former than the latter, limiting Giannis to his season-low in points thus far.
On the other side of the ball, the offense has seen improvements over the last few games. The three ball has been hitting at a rate much closer to league average than it was through their first week of the season, which has greatly improved their offensive production. As well, Dennis Schroder has been a breath of fresh air in the pick and roll game and half-court offense. The German guard has posted 10 assists in three of his last four games and leads the team in that department.
In their Sunday matinee, the Raptors will look to continue their offensive improvements and limit production from the most hyped prospect in decades.
The details are as follows:
How to Watch:
Sportsnet, at 3:30 pm ET
Toronto: Dennis Schroder, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl
San Antonio: Tre Jones, Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, Victor Wembanyama, Zach Collins
Toronto: Christian Koloko (Out – Respiratory), Precious Achiuwa (Doubtful – Groin)
San Antonio: Devin Vassell (Out – Groin)
Young Star of Their Own
Yes they’re going up against the most hyped player to enter the NBA since LeBron James, but the Raptors have a young superstar of their own. Scottie Barnes has been phenomenal to start the year and will presumably be tasked with guarding Victor Wembayana. His defensive performance against Giannis Antetokounmpo on Wednesday night was noticeable enough that the 2-time MVP gave Scottie his flowers when asked post-game.
https://x.com/BryanMeler/status/1719909823553090012?s=20 (help again)
Barnes has evidently taken a step on both sides of the ball this year. He currently leads the team in scoring and has not scored less than 20 points since their season opener against Minnesota. We’re seeing a much more efficient Scottie, whose offseason work on his jump shot is paying off. He’s attempting 2 more threes per game than last season, and knocking them down at a career best 39%. Barnes’ performance on both sides of the ball against San Antonio will be a large factor in Sunday’s matchup.
Three Point Battle
Talk about polar opposites when it comes to defending outside of the arc. The Raptors are currently allowing the least amount of threes per game, with opponents shooting a measly 30.7% from deep when facing them. San Antonio on the other hand is allowing the fourth most threes, and fifth best percentage at 38%.
Both teams are only shooting at a league average clip from three so far, but perimeter defense is clearly where they differ. Taking advantage of this poorer San Antonio perimeter defense will be key for Toronto, especially when you consider their interior presence consists of the tallest player in the league.
It goes both ways as well, where limiting the Spurs from three will force them to pack the paint. Again, the tallest player in the league may be an issue in that regard, but he can’t take every shot. Outside of Wembanyama, the Raptors hold the advantage when it comes to size and length. With Devin Vassell out, the Spurs are already down one of their lead scorers. Shutting down Keldon Johnson, Zach Collins and the rest of the Spurs secondary options will be key in this one.
Win the Non-Wemby Minutes
Unsurprisingly, Victor Wembanyama is a huge benefit to his team when on the court. He ranks in the 82nd percentile in overall on/off differential, and in the 99th percentile in defensive on/off differential. For those who aren’t complete stats geeks like myself, I’ll break down what that means. Of all the players in the NBA, only 18% of them have more of a positive impact on their teams performance from when they’re on the court, compared to off of it. Defensively, only 1% of NBA players are positively impacting their team than the former 1st overall pick.
Obviously this outlines that Wemby is a huge defensive presence, but so far he’s averaging only 29 minutes per game. He’s off the court for nearly a third of each game, meaning the Spurs are vulnerable quite often. Taking advantage of Wembanyama being off the court will be huge for Toronto, who’s offensive output so far has not been overly great. Winning the minutes when Wembanyama is sitting on the bench could be the difference in the Raptors picking up the win.