NBA Hoops

Victor Wembanyama’s rapid development, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s clutch gene and the Suns’ Small Three

Yaron Weitzman

Believe it or not, we’ve only got a few weeks remaining in the regular season. Meaning playoff basketball — the real most wonderful time of the year — is almost here

 In the meantime, here are three trends that have recently caught my eye.

1. Wemby’s the NBA’s Most Improved Player

Not only has Victor Wembanyama avoided the dreaded rookie wall; he’s actually gotten better as the season’s gone on. This has been especially so on the offensive end, where he’s increased both his usage and efficiency, the mark of true progress. Here are the numbers:

In 28 games before Jan. 1, Wembanyama averaged 18.9 points on 44.2% shooting. In 38 games since the New Year, he’s averaged 22.9 points on 48.6% shooting. 

The difference has been his shooting, and specifically understanding where on the floor his best shots can come from. Early in the year, Wemby was settling for lots of inefficient long 2s. Over the past three months, he’s almost eliminated those from his diet, trimming the percentage of his looks that come from that area. Since Jan. 1, only 7% of his shots have been long 2s, compared to 16% before, according to Cleaning the Glass

Instead, Wembanyama is taking more shots at the rim and more 3s. He’s also boosted his 3-point percentage. He hit just 28% of his deep looks before Jan. 1; since then he’s up to 35%. A sign that not only is he taking better shots, but that he’s not fatigued, even this late into the season. 

His passing and court vision have improved as well. He’s upped his assists from 3.0 per game to 4.1. 

Wembanyama was already one of the five best defensive players in the NBA. But the fact that his offensive game is progressing at this rate should terrify the rest of the league. It also should put him at the top of voters’ Most Improved Player ballots. We almost never see this sort of in-season growth. It’d be nice to see it rewarded.  

Of all the impressive things the Oklahoma City Thunder have done this season, the most surprising might be how good they’ve been in close games, an area where young teams typically struggle. OKC is 22-13 in “clutch” games — defined as contests that are within five points at any point in the game’s final five minutes. Only three teams have won more of these games. And while there are a bunch of reasons the Thunder have been so good in these situations, chief among them has been Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 

Entering Tuesday…

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