Ever since scouts first laid eyes on Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren, they have been trying to tell the world that these two players are special. They showed why in their first preseason game against each other on Monday night.
In just under 20 minutes, Wembanyama displayed his tantalizing game, scoring 20 points on 8 of 13 field goal attempts, including two 3s. Holmgren matched him shot for shot. His stat line of 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 block in just over 16 minutes of play underscores his versatility and impact on the game.
The box score doesn’t even begin to do justice to how silly some of their plays were. Here’s what we learned about what each can do against NBA competition.
Wembanyama’s height allows him to do things that no one else can
Wembanyama’s first bucket of the game was revealing. At 7-1, Holmgren is no slouch himself. But the 7-4 Wembanyama made Holmgren look like he wasn’t even there, going right over him for a tip-in on a missed free throw.
Wembanyama wasn’t simply relying on his size to score, though. What makes him special is that rather than playing like a big stiff, he has guard-like mobility. You’re not going to find any highlights of Kendrick Perkins hanging in the air with an underhanded scoop finish around seven-footers like this one.
The off-hand scoop.
This isn’t normal ????
— NBA (@NBA) October 10, 2023
Wembanyama’s defense was also as advertised. We already knew that his eight-foot wingspan makes it almost impossible to score over him. But the most shocking highlight from the game was his recovery speed when he gets beat.
Jalen WIlliams, one of the better drivers and finishers in the league, had dusted past Wembanayama so badly on his drive in the first quarter that Wembanyama was facing backward as Williams gathered the ball to lay it up. No other player in the league could have come back into the play to block his shot as Wembanyama did.
WEMBY SAYS NO ⛔️
…for the first of many times.
Watch live on NBA TV: https://t.co/htyakZeFve pic.twitter.com/FF1EkDJ0WB
— NBA (@NBA) October 10, 2023
Wembanyama’s most memorable play came when he head-butted Holmgren, sending him flying under the basket and flexing after scoring. Holmgren responded good-naturedly the day after on X, formerly known as Twitter, calling it an unstoppable move.
The headbutt is an unstoppable move fasho???????????? https://t.co/Oaz7Mz8f57
— chet holmgren (@ChetHolmgren) October 10, 2023
We had all heard about the power, fluidity, and sheer size that makes Wembanayama special. Seeing it translate against actual NBA talent was a reminder that the hype is real with him.
There have been doubts about Wembanyama’s offense translating after a season in France where he shot just 27.5 percent from 3. But he showed in his preseason debut that even if his shot isn’t falling, he will find ways to get to the basket. And with his length, his defense will translate right away.
Holmgren will give Wembanyama a run for his money
Wembanyama called Holmgren “part of the great players of this generation” earlier in the week to San Antonio media, and Holmgren showed why he was worthy of that praise. Holmgren hasn’t gotten the same level of hype, but he also has high skill for a player of his size. He matched Wembanyama 3-pointer for 3-pointer in the second quarter.
Victor Wembanyama vs. Chet Holmgren is fun. pic.twitter.com/IkEIHWwCUu
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 10, 2023
Holmgren also had his own opportunity to flex, bringing the ball up after a thunderous Wembanyama dunk and taking it straight to the rim for a foul and layup.
Victor Wembanyama dunk on one end, Chet Holmgren and-1 on the other end. pic.twitter.com/2h5ePe9LeN
— Oh no he didn’t (@ohnohedidnt24) October 10, 2023
Holmgren had 14 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter alone. He’s not projected as a big-time scorer in the league, but he showed that other big men in the league are going to have an extremely difficult time guarding him out on the perimeter and trying to contain his drives.
The first preseason matchup between these two was better than anticipated. And it’s only the beginning of what should be a fantastic season-long rivalry between BetMGM’s two prospective favorites for Rookie of the Year, as Holmgren told reporters postgame.
“I plan on playing a long time, and I’m sure [Wembanyama] does too. So there’ll be no choice but to go back and forth.”