Friday, June 21 2024

The first active NBA seasons for Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama have exceeded all expectations. Thursday night was no different as the two top rookies battled for the third time this season with Wembanyama’s Spurs getting the best of Holmgren’s Thunder, 132-118. Wembanyama finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks while Holmgren put up 23 points, seven rebounds, five assists and one block for the No. 2 team in the Western Conference.

Each time they have met this season, it has been high-level basketball and more fuel for a budding NBA rivalry. Both players do things on the court that no other 7-foot-plus player has done at their age.

Wembanyama and Holmgren were very familiar with each other’s games well before either of them played in the NBA. In July 2021, Holmgren played for Team USA’s Under-19 team alongside other future NBA players as the team traveled to Latvia for the FIBA World Cup. Team USA was favored to win and steamrolled through the first half of the tournament, beating each team in pool play by an average of 40 points. Holmgren had 19 blocks in six games while Wembanyama put up a tournament-high 32 blocks prior to the championship game. USA faced France in the gold-medal game, and it would be the first time Wembanyama and Holmgren would square off.

Oklahoma City Thunder's Chet Holmgren (7) tangles with San Antonio Spurs' Victor Wembanyama (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)Oklahoma City Thunder's Chet Holmgren (7) tangles with San Antonio Spurs' Victor Wembanyama (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

NBA scouts and fans already had an idea of what kind of player Holmgren was heading into the tournament. At the time, he was the No. 1 prospect coming out of high school and was headed to Gonzaga, a team that was coming off a run to the national championship game, where it lost to Baylor. The hype was only starting to build for the 17-year-old Wembanyama, who was two years younger than every player on Team USA’s roster.

The big stage and intrigue of the two unicorn-like prospects drew a sold-out crowd at Arena Riga that included over 100 NBA executives and scouts. Of course, both Wembanyama and Holmgren met for the tip, and it was Holmgren and Team USA that got off to a hot start with Holmgren scoring five out of the game’s first 10 points. France finally settled in and it was a five-point game at halftime. Wembanyama came alive in the second half and was the best prospect on the court, hitting a step-back 3, being creative off the dribble and converting in transition. He was everywhere defensively and finished with an astonishing eight blocks. Holmgren was quiet the entire third quarter and finally drew a spark in the fourth, when France was up 68-64. Holmgren scored five straight points and led an 11-0 run for USA. Wembanyama hit some foul trouble and exited the game late in the fourth quarter after Team USA’s Jaden Ivey drew contact in the lane. USA closed it out in the final minute, 83-81, taking home the gold.

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Holmgren was named tournament MVP and finished the game with 10 points, five assists and two rebounds. A visibly upset Wembanyama led all players in the championship game with 22 points and recorded eight rebounds. Both players were named to the All-Tournament team along with Ivey, Purdue’s Zach Edey and the Miami Heat‘s Nikola Jovic. Both players posed for pictures, a few words were exchanged and a rivalry was born.

Even though both players were in different draft classes, with Holmgren missing the 2022-23 season with a foot injury, they will be linked together for as long as they’re in the NBA. Their combination of size, shot blocking and the way they can both take players off the dribble and knock down 3s is incredible. There’s something very unique and special when both Holmgren and Wembanyama square off, and the first three rounds this season have delivered.

The NBA eagerly awaited the first time Wembanyama and Holmgren shared the court in the regular season. Holmgren and the Thunder got the best of Wembanyama in that first game, but the matchups have continued to bring out the best and most competitive sides of both players.

It is truly a sight to behold.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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