OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren avoided adding fuel to the idea that they compete with each other, even though media and fans constantly link the slender 7-footers.
The much-anticipated first regular-season meeting between two of the NBA’s top rookies wasn’t much of a game, and apparently there isn’t much of a rivalry.
Wembanyama said he wasn’t aware he was even being compared to Holmgren.
“Every prospect is compared to everyone,” said the 19-year-old from France.
They rarely matched up 1-on-1 on Tuesday, and both had off nights. Wembanyama finished with eight points on 4-for-15 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked two shots in San Antonio’s 123-87 loss to Oklahoma City. Holmgren finished with nine points on 3-for-10 shooting and had seven rebounds and three assists.
Wembanyama, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, entered the night averaging 19.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft, missed last season because of a foot injury but has recovered in grand style. He was averaging 16.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks before Tuesday while shooting 55% from the field and 50% from 3-point range.
Fans have marveled over the versatility the 7-foot-3 Wembanyama and the 7-1 Holmgren have displayed. Both have shown impressive shooting range and passing skills and have found early success in the rough-and-tumble league, despite their slender frames. As expected, both have been elite rim protectors.
After the game, they said little about each other.
When questioned specifically about what it’s like to see someone nearly his size with similar skills, Wembanyama didn’t bite.
“Tall guys who handle the ball — there’s almost one on every team now, the way basketball is evolving,” he said.
When asked about first having played Wembanyama in the Under-19 World Cup in 2021, Holmgren focused on the team matchup.
“Just a great matchup between the U.S. and France,” the 21-year-old Holmgren said. “A lot of great players in that game that were competing. It came down to the wire and we were able to edge out a win in that one.”
On Tuesday, both got off to slow starts, but Wembanyama was first to score, getting a baseline dunk in the first quarter.
Holmgren missed his first two shots before getting on the board with a 3-pointer early in the second quarter.
Wembanyama dunked on a post-up against Josh Giddey, then hit a midrange jumper to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 39-37 midway through the second quarter.
As halftime neared, the Spurs tried to throw a lob to Wembanyama in the post. The Thunder tipped it away and went on a fast break. Giddey faked a behind-the-back pass to his right, then flung the ball over his left shoulder to Holmgren, who threw down a two-handed jam with 2.2 seconds left to give the Thunder a 58-48 lead at the break.
The game was a blowout heading into the fourth quarter, but both played the early minutes. Holmgren tipped away a lob attempt to Wembanyama in one of the few instances where they were close. Minutes later, Wembanyama blocked a shot by Holmgren.
But by then, the drama was long gone. And none was created after the game, either.
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