Wemby Watch: The NBA draft race for Victor Wembanyama is taking shape

Remember a few weeks when the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs sat at the top of the Western Conference while the Nets and 76ers languished under .500? Yes, turns out that was just a preseason coincidence. With more than a month of basketball in the books, the NBA is finally starting to normalize. Warriors climbed to 0.500. The Jazz are no longer the best offensive line in the NBA. Even the feel-good Sacramento Kings have lost three straight games.

That was largely predictable. Even when Victor Wembanyama hasn’t been available, teams are rarely able to sustain unusual performances for more than a few weeks. So from now on, expect the race for Wembanyama to revolve around a few teams spending the next five months battling for positions. We hope you enjoy reading Pistons and Rockets because everything they do between now and April will likely depend on how it affects their lottery chances.

Another game, another 30 burger

It’s becoming sort of routine for Wembanyama to go nuclear and elevate his team to the Victory Column, so this past week he did just that for the Mets 92 in their game against SLUC Nancy Basket, while averaging 30 points a season-high 15 rebounds, three assists, and a pair of blocks in a 92-78 win. Mets 92 improved to 8-1 for the season and extended its winning streak to eight through December.

Wembanyama was as good – and maybe better – than advertised for Mets 92 in the season. He now leads the league in goals, rebounds and blocks, in addition to affecting victory, with his team sitting first overall.

watching Wemby

Mets 92 will return to action on December 2nd with a showdown against Fos-sur-Mer and on December 6th in Roanne. Those two games — actually all of Wembanyama’s games this season — will stream for free on the NBA app.

  • December 2 – Fos-sur-Mer, 2:30 p.m. ET
  • December 6 – in Roanne, 2:00 p.m. ET

Fos-sur-Mer has a host of well-known names from the collegiate circuit, including former Clemson standout Gabe DeVoe and former TCU standout Garlon Green, the younger brother of longtime NBA veteran Gerald Green, who leads the team for the season. Roanne is mustering his own star power, led by former Ole Miss star Stefan Moody and former Kansas star Silvio De Sousa.

race down

Each week we will rank the seven teams most likely to win the coveted #1 spot on lottery night. This ranking takes into account the current record, recent performances, upcoming schedule, and injuries to subjectively rank the NBA’s worst teams.

7. Thunder from Oklahoma City: Earlier in the season, we covered OKC’s tendency to start fast and finish slow. It’s too early to say that will happen again this season, but the Thunder have now lost five of their last six and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, an early-season MVP candidate, is quietly under 41 percent from the field and 23 percent of 3 shot. range of points in this span. Six games isn’t enough to draw any meaningful conclusions, but for nearly a quarter of the season the Thunder rank 22nd in 3-point percentage and last in defensive rebound rate. Those are the numbers of a lottery team, not a play-in team.

6. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers could have escaped the bottom seven with a win over the Pacers Monday night. But LA gambled away a 17-point lead, so here they are. They had won five of their previous six games, although three of those Ws came against the aforementioned Spurs and another against the aforementioned Pistons. Still, Anthony Davis plays like an MVP, Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker thrive as high-end role players. And then…well…let’s get straight to the Pacers game. For now… Lakers will be Lakers.

5. Charlotte Hornet: It’s truly amazing that the Lakers could have the worst five-game shooting streak in NBA history … and still not have the NBA’s worst offense as of the end of November. That honor belongs to the Hornets, who score a lazy 105.9 points per 100 possessions. Granted, the absence of LaMelo Ball is largely responsible for this decline. Charlotte has scored over 110 points per 100 possessions with him, but this is a team that is paying Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward (who, you will be stunned to hear, is injured) over $200m for their combined contracts. Asking for something better than the worst offense in basketball feels reasonable.

4. Orlando Magic: The Magic have never played a boring game. They’ve lost 16 games, but 10 have been in single digits, and the blowouts have usually narrowed down to a terrible quarter, like Saturday’s 133-103 loss to Philadelphia, which was largely the result of a 31-13 second quarter. The Bol Bol move is leaving the station having averaged over 17 points per game in their last seven games and Paolo Banchero’s return to the line-up gives them just another goalscorer. If you insist on exposing yourself to bad basketball, then do yourself a favor and check out the delightful Magic.

3. Detroit Piston: Two weeks ago we used this space to mock Killian Hayes’ offense. Well, in his last seven games, he’s shot 43.5 percent from deep while averaging over seven assists per game. The Pistons are 2-5 in this stretch, and with Cade Cunningham injured they can’t ask for much better, but progress is progress.

2nd Houston Rockets / 1st San Antonio Spurs: We have a new leader in the clubhouse! Houston’s constant incompetence has given him an edge for most of the season, but the Spurs come like… what’s the opposite of a freight train? A late train? It’s a lazy rhyme, but a fitting one for a Spurs team that spent a couple of weeks pretending to be decent only to fall off the face of the earth in recent weeks. The Spurs have lost 13 of their last 14 games. Their minus-10 net rating is worse than any other team at 2.4 points per 100 possessions. Only two Spurs even average 13 points per game at this track. This is a master class. The Rockets are the old heroes, but right now there’s no question that the Spurs are the worst team in the NBA.

defeat of the week

The Lakers went into the game against Indiana on Monday with an insane 347-0 record, leading by 17 or more points in the fourth quarter for the past 20 seasons. With 9:59 in the fourth quarter, the Lakers led 101-84. checkmate. Game over. Let’s get to the games of we–

What?

You are joking. Come on, this is serious, you can’t…

Oh. Oh no. In less than 10 minutes, the Lakers were beaten 32-14 at home to a team that lost 116-115 on the second night of a straight game to a Pacers team so eager to put their hat in the Wembanyama ring tossing that it spent the offseason selling its second- and third-best players to those very same Lakers. For most teams, it would be perhaps the most embarrassing regular-season loss in regular-season history. It was only Monday for a Lakers team that gambled away a 26-point lead over the humble Thunder about a year ago.

So how can a team lose a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter at home? It starts with bad communication. The Lakers allowed six 3-pointers in the last 10 minutes. Almost all of them amounted to defensive errors. You can see the frustration on Anthony Davis’ face as he points out a wide-open Myles Turner and nobody goes to dispute it.

That transition jumper is just as frustrating. Both Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder follow Buddy Hield, leaving Andrew Nembhard wide open for a 3-pointer of his own.

Of course, it’s fair to ask why Westbrook and Schroder were on the ground together in the first place. While the Lakers don’t exactly have the kind of complementary role players that would allow for sensible closing lineups, Westbrook and Schroder’s playing styles aggressively clash. Neither can shoot. Both need the ball to be effective. Yet for a stretch of the fourth quarter, the two played with Davis and LeBron James with Troy Brown Jr., a 32.7 percent 3-point shooter this season, who finished fifth on the floor. Lonnie Walker IV, arguably the third-best Laker this season and a 36.3 percent 3-point shooter of the year, didn’t play for the last five minutes.

In that sense, this was an organizational loss. Rob Pelinka created a squad so closely spaced that 14 points in 10 minutes was possible. Darvin Ham abused what little talent he had on the track. The players could not communicate properly on the ground. The result? Well, you’ve surely seen it before.

The Lakers managed to snatch a 12th loss from the jaws of victory. Now they face what is probably the toughest stage of their entire schedule. Of the next 18 games, 13 are on the way. Almost all of them compete against teams at or above 0.500. The Lakers just aren’t good enough to give away games like this. When their season falls apart next month, they’ll look back on this game as the beginning of it all.

games of the weak

Wednesday, November 30: Spurs at Thunder: There is a full circle theme here. San Antonio’s dynasty began when it was picked No. 1 in the 1997 NBA draft and drafted by Tim Duncan. Sam Presti hailed from this San Antonio front office and is widely credited with discovering Tony Parker. He joined the Seattle SuperSonics where the lottery gods gifted him Kevin Durant before the franchise moved to Oklahoma City. Now, for perhaps the first time since leaving San Antonio, Presti is directly competing with the Spurs for the draft position.

Wednesday, Nov. 30: Blazers at Lakers: The Lakers folded a year ago after losing that 26-point lead over Oklahoma City. If they can’t beat the Blazers at home without Damian Lillard on Wednesday, we know they will do the same this season. Seems like an easy win, right? Recall that the Lakers played the Blazers the night before the trade close last season without Lillard. They lost by nine to a team that gave serious minutes to CJ Elleby and Greg Brown III. The Lakers are quite capable of collapsing on Wednesday. when they do? Make all the bets on the entire season you can find because that means they’re done.

Sunday. December 4: Bulls at Kings: Neither team here is in the last seven, but we’re watching both very closely. The Kings have lost three times in a row and even when they won, their defense was a disaster. The bulls are below .500 and have every incentive to sneak into the bottom four with a veteran trade or two as it is the only way to keep their first round picks rather than sending them to Orlando.

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