The Sixers’ last win certainly wasn’t pretty, but after beating the Hornets on the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday, they’ve still won five straight. Heading into Monday, as they return home to Philadelphia, we’re in for what could be one of the most entertaining individual matchups for a Sixers game this season.
As the Sixers take on the San Antonio Spurs, it’s time for Joel Embiid vs. Victor Wembanyama.
While the stars of this matchup are available, the Sixers will still be shorthanded on Monday. Patrick Beverley has been upgraded to probable after sitting out against the Hornets due to illness, but Robert Covington (left knee inflammation) and De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response) remain out. Mo Bamba (right knee inflammation) and Jaden Springer (right ankle tendonitis) are questionable.
At 8-34, the Spurs have been stuck at the bottom of the Western Conference this season. As a young team, they need time to keep developing and build out their team around Wembanyama. They rank just 28th in offensive rating, 25th in defense, and 26th in net rating at -8.8.
Tre Jones has given the Spurs a boost recently, though, improving their point guard and pick-and-roll play since he entered the starting lineup on Jan. 4. The Spurs now transitioning away from the experiments of playing Jeremy Sochan at point at playing Zach Collins at center alongside Wembanyama should benefit both their rookie star and the team as a whole. As a starter, Jones has averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 assists per game with 57.1/37.5/100 shooting splits.
Devin Vassell has also put together a strong season, furthering his creation ability and play off the dribble to average 17.8 points per game with a career-high 57.4 true shooting percentage. He’ll be the main test for the Sixers’ backcourt in this one.
Anyway, let’s get back to the main draw of this game.
It’s safe to say Wembanyama has lived up to the hype to start his career. In 28.5 minutes per game, he's averaging 19.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals and a league-best 3.2 blocks, with a 55.2 true shooting percentage (mainly held back so far by his 29.6 percent shooting from three on 5.0 attempts a game). From some of his unbelievable dunks, to his surprisingly shifty handles, to his array of shot-making off the dribble and monstrous defensive talent, he's been special to watch in so many areas.
Wembanyama’s been making some improvements recently, too. He’s playing with more physicality, embracing more rolls to the rim, and cutting down on some of the high-difficulty long twos he favored earlier in the season.
Joel Embiid clearly has a significant strength advantage against Wembanyama, and there’s been little anyone can do to slow down the reigning MVP this season. Embiid’s up to 35.0 points per game on the season after scoring 30+ points in each of the last 20 games.
Wemby is truly a talent like we’ve never seen before, though. He’s already a seriously impactful defender with his absurd combination of agility, instincts, timing, and reach. With all his defensive attributes and 7-foot-4 frame and 8-foot wingspan, he can block shots in ways that often seem impossible.
wait how did Victor Wembanyama get to this one. pic.twitter.com/XbvUH5q5ca— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 21, 2024
Wembanyama’s leading the league in blocks despite playing under 30 minutes per game for a reason. Seeing how disciplined he stays (Wemby's 2.3 fouls per game is not bad at all for a rookie big man tasked with anchoring a struggling defense), contests Embiid’s mid-range game, and handles Embiid’s post-up power and interior attempts will be so interesting to watch. At the other end of the floor, it'll be intriguing to see how Embiid can use his superior strength and experience to try to put Wembanyama off balance and force him into more difficult jumpers away from the basket.
There’s obviously no doubt the Sixers should be beating the team with the third-worst record in the NBA. They should be able to take care of business on Monday and extend their win streak to six. But for a close look at Wembanyama for Sixers fans who may not get to watch him much, and to see him and Embiid go head to head, this game should be a lot of fun.
When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: The Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBA TV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic