Grading Victor Wembanyama's NBA debut (and 3 striking Spurs observations)

Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs
Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs / Christian Petersen/GettyImages
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1.) Defense is a work in progress

You could see everything Head Coach Gregg Popovich envisioned for the tall-ball lineup when San Antonio sprang out to an 18-9 lead with 7:41 left in the opening frame. Their enormous wingspans, defensive intensity, and attention to detail caused problems for the Mavericks, and it felt like there was a hand looming in the passing lanes or a help man waiting to swallow every drive Kyrie Irving or Luka Doncic made early on. The Spurs rotated on time and communicated to perfection.

All good things must come to an end, and their discipline fell apart after a routine breather for Wembanyama in the first quarter. Calls stopped going their way, and pent-up frustration from one-sided whistles led to multiple players trading honest effort for overly physical defense. Foul trouble had their rookie sensation glued to the bench for extended stretches, and that misfortune also left the Spurs in shambles. Without a weakside deterrent to protect the rim, Dallas feasted all evening.

Devin Vassell cooked in the midrange, Keldon Johnson assailed the rim, Zach Collins picked apart mismatches with his back to the basket, and their ball movement had genuine synergy. Regardless, their impactful playmaking and versatile scoring failed to offset their deficiencies on the opposite end of the floor. Their focus diminished throughout the game, opening the floodgates for Luka and Kyrie Irving to take over for Dallas when the action reached a critical juncture in the fourth quarter.