The arrival of Victor Wembanyama to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2023 NBA Draft was reminiscent of Zion Williamson’s arrival with the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2019 draft.
Both players were considered rare prospects, and their entrance into the NBA was greeted with exceptional anticipation.
The two former No. 1 overall picks are scheduled to face each other for the first time when the Spurs visit the Pelicans on Friday night.
Both teams are thinking long term as they manage Wembanyama and Williamson’s workload.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said Wembanyama, who was questionable because of a sore hip before playing in a 137-135 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, the Spurs’ 13th consecutive defeat, might not play on Friday.
Wembanyama, who leads the Spurs in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals, finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals in just 29 minutes vs. Atlanta. He said afterward that his hip didn’t bother him in the game.
“We’re trying to protect him,” Popovich said. “We’ll see how his hip came out of this one.”
Williamson is a two-time All-Star, but the start of his career has been marred by a series of injuries that have limited his availability.
The season is barely a month old, but the fact that Williamson has yet to miss a game due to injury is as encouraging for New Orleans as is the fact that he is averaging 24 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
Williamson is coming off his best game of the campaign. He scored a season-high 33 points on a season-best 11-of-12 shooting performance from the floor in a 124-114 home victory against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. It was Williamson’s sixth straight game with 25-plus points.
The Pelicans, whose previous two games were road defeats against the Utah Jazz, never trailed against the Sixers, who played without Joel Embiid (illness).
“We were coming off two bad losses,” Williamson said. “We wanted to get back in that win category, so I think that’s what really got us going.”
New Orleans rolled to a 20-point halftime lead and went up by as many as 29 points before Philadelphia got as close as eight points late in the fourth quarter.
“We had an awesome start to the game,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We came out in the third quarter and we continued to play well — we only ended up winning (the third period) by one, but we played with the lead and continued to try to build it.”
Pelicans forward/guard Trey Murphy III, sidelined since having left meniscus surgery in September, is expected to make his season debut on Friday. However, New Orleans announced that center Larry Nance Jr. aggravated his right rib fracture and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
The Spurs’ Jeremy Sochan had a career-high 33 points against the Hawks. However, he was called for a charge with 2.7 seconds left as San Antonio, which led by as many as 15 points in the first half, tried to tie the score.
San Antonio was hurt by 21 turnovers.
“If we cut down the turnovers by five or six, we win that game,” Sochan said.