The most-hyped basketball player to enter the NBA since LeBron James arrived at the iconic Madison Square Garden this past Wednesday night. The 7-foot-4 French import Victor Wembanyamam entered his eighth league game averaging 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocked shots for the surprising San Antonio Spurs.
"I heard from so many people that this is the best basketball gym in the world and I'm eager to find out," Wembanyama told a large group of reporters before the game. "I'm definitely expecting some good team and individual performances here. It's not as big as I expected," the teen sensation added about the arena, "but still the vibe is here."
The 19-year-old Wembanyama has lived up to the hype early in his career and scorched the Phoenix Suns for 38 points in an impressive road win. His performance did not go unnoticed by 13-time NBA All-Star Kevin Durant.
"He's different, man," said Durant after the Suns dropped both ends of a back-to-back against the Spurs on their home court in the desert. "He's long, athletic, mobile. He can shoot it. He's got skills. He's tough."
"He's been very impressive. Obviously, was highly touted coming in, and he's certainly lived up to the billing," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked about Wembanyama. "So unique, obviously the size, but every aspect — his demeanor, the skill set, how he interacts with his teammates, makes other people better. And then that size. It's a lot."
But the man-child that James nicknamed the "Alien" struggled in his Garden debut as the Knicks cruised to a lopsided 126-105 win against the overmatched Spurs. The top overall pick in this year's draft was limited to 14 points and three turnovers on 4 of 14 shooting.
New York came out firing on all cylinders and built an early 13-0 lead to set the tone for the game. The Knicks led by double-digit points over the final 43 minutes of the game to earn the blowout victory.
"We were flying around early," Thibodeau said after his squad demolished the visiting Spurs. "We were very unselfish, had a good rhythm, made our 3s."
Wembanyama also experienced the highs and lows of the rambunctious Garden crowd. The rowdy New Yorkers cheered the Frenchman during the starting lineup introductions but reversed course and started chanting "overrated" at the end of the third quarter. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted it was a tough night for his young superstar.
"Of course, it's (a growing experience)," Popovich said. "He's a 19-year-old rookie who is just learning about the NBA. Of course, it's a learning experience."
The Knicks improved to 4-4 and put together their most complete game of the young season. New York's big men, Mitch Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein, put the clamps on Wembanyama early and kept him away from the rim. He exited the game after shooting 0-for-3 in the opening five minutes, including an ugly airball.
Following this game, NBA betting circles were abuzz, speculating on the Knicks' rising prospects and recalibrating odds for future matchups, especially when facing high-caliber rookies like Wembanyama.
Robinson and Hartenstein also tallied 21 points and 15 rebounds, and the trio of Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and RJ Barrett fueled the offensive onslaught with a combined 72 points. The Knicks' defense held the Spurs to 26.5 percent shooting from behind the arc, and the offense posted 28 assists with only three turnovers.
"That's the key. Ball movement," Randle said after dropping 23 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists. "Everybody gets touches. Play off each other. Everybody naturally gets in rhythm and it always finds you."
Barrett continued his torrid start to the new season and scored 20 or more points for the fourth time in six outings. The third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft has made strides on the defensive end and notched 24 points and six assists against San Antonio with some superb passes.
"Feels good, of course. To protect home court," Barrett said. "Definitely loved the fans. It was sold out tonight. So to get a win in front of them was great and we got to keep building on it."
The former Duke standout was 5-for-9 from behind the three-point line and is shooting an eye-popping 47 percent from behind the arc. He also drained all three of his charity shots and is connecting on 87 percent of his free throws. The streaky shooter is focused on becoming a more consistent scoring threat.
"I've been trying to work on it," Barrett said. "I've got to get my touch right because they're going to leave me open with Jalen and Julius constantly getting in the paint. I've got to be able to knock those down.
"We played as a team tonight," Barrett told ESPN as a small group of fans loudly chanted his name. "A lot of guys had big numbers and everyone contributed in a major way. It was fun tonight. We were driving and kicking and making all the right plays."
Although the Knicks won round one inside the old gymnasium in front of a sellout crowd that came out in droves to catch a glimpse of the 7-foot-4 dynamo, it was easy to see why the teenager has hoop fans excited about his annual visits to the Big Apple.
"I knew he was gonna be good. I don't know about this good so early on, especially what he's done defensively, and then offensively, what he's been doing," Hartenstein said. "It's exciting. I think the length he has, the different things he can do on the court, we haven't seen in the NBA before."
Although Thibodeau did not want to compare Wembanyama to a Hall of Fame center he worked with in Houston, the veteran coach noted the two had some similarities.
"I think it's hard to
"They're like guards in terms of