February 21, 2024

Last summer, the San Antonio Spurs drafted one of the most exciting prospects in recent history — Victor Wembanyama. 

The rookie has already created some highlight reel-worthy plays this season, and he added some jaw-dropping moments to his resume during Thursday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The game also marked the French phenom’s first matchup with two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks superstar finished the high anticipated first meeting with 44 points and 14 rebounds, while the Spurs rookie had 27 points and nine rebounds.

After the game, Antetokounmpo praised Wembanyama’s unique skill set. “He’s special,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s going to be an extremely good player. He plays the right way. He plays to win. I’ve never seen anything like him.”

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Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) loses control of the ball while driving to the basket against San Antonio Spurs forward Victor Wembanyama (1) during the first half at Frost Bank Center. (Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports)

Wembanyama, who also celebrated his 20th birthday on Thursday, said he grew up admiring Antetokounmpo’s game. He said playing against someone of Antetokounmpo’s caliber fuels his motivation. 

“It’s always extra motivation, and I know I’m a competitor,” Wembanyama said. “So I want to go at everyone and be the bad guy on the court. So it was a great matchup.”

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The Spurs only managed to win 22 games during the 2022-23 NBA season and landed the top pick in the draft. Despite Wembanyama’s impressive play, San Antonio’s woes have carried over into this season. Thursday’s 125-121 loss to the Bucks dropped the Spurs record to 5-29. 

Only one team, the Detroit Pistons, has won fewer games so far this season. The Pistons recently snapped a record 28-game losing streak. 

Bucks star Damian Lillard also delivered a strong performance, scoring 25 points and committing zero turnovers.

Victor Wembanyama, #1 of the San Antonio Spurs, blocks a shot during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on January 4, 2024, at the Frost Bank Center in San Antonio, Texas. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

First-year Bucks coach Adrian Griffin said the matchup between Antetokounmpo and Wembanyama was special.

“Two of the most unique, talented big men,” Griffin said. “I use that [big-man] loosely because they are very versatile players. Man, that was fun. I thought Wemby was great. I thought Giannis was phenomenal.”

Victor Wembanyama smiles before a game

Victor Wembanyama #1 of the San Antonio Spurs smiles before the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on January 4, 2024, at the Frost Bank Center in San Antonio, Texas. (Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images)

Three-time All-Star Khris Middleton also lauded the Spurs rookie for his fearlessness. 

“To be competing, not scared of the moment,” Middleton said. “Not scared of taking the shot and making a move or making a pass or just taking a chance in a close game, especially late in the game. You can tell that he’s not scared of the moment. He loves the challenge. That’s going to be big for him going forward.”

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Wembanyama noted that the experience of going up against a championship-caliber team could be beneficial for the Spurs going forward.

“It’s promising,” Wembanyama said. “That’s the first thing [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] told us coming back in the locker room. We had some moments in the game where everything seemed to work. And I could feel the crowd believing in us and getting going. Some of this was satisfying tonight.”

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