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“I like being coached, threatened, sent to the G-League”: Wembanyama doesn’t want a free pass

The day and the night.

- 6 reads.

“I like being coached, threatened, sent to the G-League”: Wembanyama doesn’t want a free pass

The day and the night. Swept in the first period, the San Antonio Spurs were trailing by 35 points at the break on Monday in Atlanta. “It was undoubtedly our worst first period of the season,” notes Victor Wembanyama, not exempt from all criticism in this story. Despite playing time still under surveillance after his ankle sprain, the 20-year-old prodigy had not scored a single point at this point in the game. Gregg Popovich did not do it half-heartedly: he left “Wemby” and most of the starters on the bench to start the second half. Sanction. An electric shock above all. “The starters needed a message… Those who started in the third quarter did what they had to do and the starters came back ready to fight,” commented coach Pop.

Jeremy Sochan and company indeed attacked the second act with much more bite, discipline and energy. Enough to reverse the trend. And even rekindle the suspense. As brilliant after the break as invisible before, Wembanyama hammered the circle with appetite and largely contributed to the Texan comeback. 26 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 5 blocks in 27 minutes. In its wake, the San Antonio club returned to -6 in the last quarter... before making small errors which cost the victory (109-99 final score).

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Popovich nevertheless draws a positive assessment. “It’s a good evening,” he assures us, delighted with the reaction of his players. “The message was strong from Pop,” Wembanyama said of what was said at halftime. He told us it was embarrassing… He explained why he was going to change the five to start the second half. He wanted to put players on whom he could count 100% and show the starters how we should have started the game. I liked that he put Jeremy in that second five because he brought his energy throughout the match. He was an example,” said the Frenchman, describing a “rather angry” Popovich. A mild euphemism, we can easily imagine... The person concerned must have been mad with rage!

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One thing is certain: Wembanyama did not take offense at the sanction or the anger of his coach. On the contrary. “It’s important, sometimes, to learn a new role in order to become aware of what you have to do. Tonight, most of the players on the bench showed us the way. It worked,” he notes. And to continue, on his personal case: “I like being coached, threatened, sent to the G-League if I don’t play the right way. I like my mistakes to have consequences.” A priori, the G-League is no.

In the meantime, Spurs have been making progress for a while now. This is notably due to the tactical choices of Gregg Popovich, who for example aligns a more consistent five than at the start of the season. There are also habits that develop between players. “We are progressing and I am progressing, I am adapting my game more and more to the NBA, my percentages are increasing,” underlines the French international (4 selections), who is averaging 53.7% on shots and 30% on shots. long distance since the start of January, with 2.5 turnovers per match. His best statistics since the start of the season. Wembanyama was 46% on shots including 26.3 three-pointers and 4.8 turnovers in October for example. Despite limited playing time around 24 minutes, he also posted the following averages in January: 23.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 0.7 steals and 3.5 blocks per game.

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The progress is there. And the connection with the rest of the team is much better over the months, the weeks, which makes sense. Where does Gregg Popovich see the biggest progression in his game? “In aggressiveness, attacking the circle while not being as focused on the three-point shot, carrying the ball,” he judges. The team must find him too. He learns how to do it and set the tone for everyone. Defensively, he becomes very good in protecting the circle, it makes sense. He is long, tall... But here too, he is learning to make it a real priority. And everyone tries to adapt to it by playing around it.” And the venerable 74-year-old American coach added: “He is receptive to all types of coaching. He's very intelligent, he understands the game... It's remarkable for a 20-year-old player.

And that's just the beginning. It's up to the Spurs, still last in the Western Conference standings (7v-32d), to stay in line with Atlanta's second period. “We were just ourselves, we played together in the second half. It depends on us. No one will make the efforts for us,” analyzes Victor Wembanyama. Issue ? Even with the efforts, it might not be enough for Boston on Wednesday against the Celtics, leaders in the East and undefeated at TD Garden since the start of the season. In the meantime, there is hope for the long term. It going.

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