Wembanyama heads Spurs revival as NBA season tips off
LOS ANGELES – Victor Wembanyama launches his bid to lead the San Antonio Spurs back to basketball's top table while the defending champion Denver Nuggets are chasing a dynasty as the NBA season tips off on Tuesday (Wednesday, Manila time).
After a hectic off-season that saw a slew of coaching changes and blockbuster trades, the NBA's marathon 82-game season gets under way with a double-header featuring four teams from the Western Conference.
The Nuggets host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in a rematch of their Western Conference finals duel last season, while the Golden State Warriors entertain Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns.
French teenager Wembanyama, meanwhile, the No. 1 draft pick hailed as a once-in-a-generation talent, will get his first taste of competitive NBA action when the Spurs face the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
The 19-year-old from the outskirts of Paris has given every indication so far that he is ready to deliver on the hype that led James to label him an "extra-terrestrial" before he arrived in the NBA.
Wembanyama averaged just over 19 points a game in four pre-season appearances for San Antonio and did enough to suggest that his goal of returning the Spurs to the playoffs this season is well within reach.
At 7ft 4in (2.25m) tall and with a wingspan estimated at 8ft, Wembanyama's rate combination of size and skill signals the emergence of a game-changing talent.
Perhaps more significantly, Wembanyama possesses the sort of even temperament that suggests he will be unfazed by the lofty expectations placed on his slender frame.
San Antonio's revered coach, Gregg Popovich, has no doubt Wembanyama can take the hype in his stride.
"One of my major concerns was to figure out how to protect him," Popovich said.
"I said to myself, 'I'm going to give him speeches about this and how to deal with that.'
"But I found out very early when I'm talking to him that he's kind of looking at me like 'Why is this guy telling me all this stuff?' — he already knows it.
"He has been through it. He has got character. He has got a sense of humor. He's intelligent. He knows how to handle it."
The Spurs — and preseason opponents — have