Victor Wembanyama becomes first rookie with 40-20 game since Shaquille O’Neal as Spurs outlast Knicks in OT

Victor Wembanyama has proven time and time again that his basketball potential knows no bounds, and yet some of the things he does still leave us with our jaws on the floor. That was the case on Friday night, when the 7-foot-4 rookie put up an ungodly stat line of 40 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists in the San Antonio Spurs’ 130-126 overtime win over the New York Knicks. The point total was a career-high for last June’s No. 1 overall pick.

Wembanyama went 13-for-22 from the field, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range and 10-for-12 from the free throw line as he led the Spurs to victory in front of his home fans. He became the first rookie to put up 40 points and 20 rebounds in a game since Shaquille O’Neal over 30 years ago, and the first player in Spurs history to log a 40-point, 20-rebound, five-assist game.

“These efforts, these results, we wouldn’t have gotten them at the start of the year,” Wembanyama said as he addressed the Frost Bank Center crowd after the game. “Seventy games into the season, I still see this place packed every night. Love you guys. Love the support. Go Spurs go!”

These weren’t empty calories stats, either, as Wembanyama went toe-to-toe with Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, who scored a career-high 61 points — one off Carmelo Anthony’s franchise record of 62. The Spurs rookie came up with clutch play after clutch play, none bigger than this dagger 3-pointer to put his team ahead for good with just over a minute left in overtime.

The Spurs began the season on pace to become one of the worst teams of all time, lowlighted by a stretch of 18 straight losses. They have turned things around of late, however, winning seven of their last 15 games. Wembanyama has been essential to their improvement, as he’s become the clear Rookie of the Year favorite. He’s shot poorly recently, but over a 25-game stretch from January to March, Wembanyama averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks on 49/39/81 shooting splits. It’s notable that four of the five highest-scoring games of his career have resulted in wins.

The way that the Spurs have closed the season raises questions about how they’ll operate with their cap space this summer. The initial plan seemed to be to bring Wembanyama along slowly, but the 20-year-old phenom could enter next season with the potential to be the best player on a championship team. If he’s been able to string together a handful of wins with the roster around him right now, imagine what he could do with some proven veterans at his side. It will certainly be something to monitor this summer when free agency begins.

“I’ve just witnessed so much greatness, and I want to be a part of it,” Wembanyama said. “I always wanted to, but more and more, I’m seeing that I’m already able to compete with those guys. I’m not there, but I’m on the right path. I know it, and I’m gonna get there one day soon.”

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