We don’t have the words to properly describe Victor Wembanyama. We’ve never seen a prospect like him and in most ways, we’ve never seen a human like him.
Wembanyama has long been assumed to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, but by way of him playing in the French league LNB Pro A, some American fans may still be a little blind to whether it’s just hype or not. In a recent SC Featured on Wembanyama, Jay Bilas said, “There’s no hype with this. This is fact.” Let’s dive into why.
If you haven’t already heard about his physical tools, find something to hold onto. Wembanyama is 7-foot-5 (in shoes) with an 8-foot wingspan, weighing in at 230 pounds. While the measurements aren’t necessarily once-in-a-lifetime on their own, it’s shocking to see just how easily that big of a package moves. If you somehow shrunk Wembanyama down to “only” 6-foot-8, he’d still be a good mover for his size.
From a statistical standpoint, Wembanyama sets himself apart from other European prospects in a big way. He leads the French league in three major categories: 21.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks (would be the best in league history by ~0.7). He also dishes out 2.4 assists (2.6 turnovers) while shooting 54.7% on 10.9 2PA, 29.2% on 5.0 3PA, and 83.6% on 6.5 FTA.
A self-proclaimed disciple of Kevin Durant, Wembanyama does a great job of weaponizing his handle in the mid-range to create his own shots even before considering the mismatches he poses, being able to simply rise and fire above just about any contest you want to throw at him. He’s shooting 22-53 (41.5%) on pull-up twos this season, and is proving effective at the turnaround jumper.
Wembanyama’s more than capable of stepping out to the three-point line. His process is sound. It’s just a matter of getting the touch down from such a large release point that can hinder mechanical consistencies and getting reps under his belt. He has significantly more three-point attempts in a still-in-progress season this year (161) than in his three previous professional seasons combined (129).
The success rates come and go, but he’s prone to get hot from time to time with seven games this season with at least three made threes. Per Synergy, he hits 33.6% of his catch-and-shoot chances, including 37.5% when open. The pull-up still has a long way to go (21.5%), but the willingness to try it shows a level of audaciousness that can do a lot for you in terms of development.
Many worry about how Wembanyama’s game will translate to the NBA, but frankly speaking, the NBA game is going to be so much easier for Wembanyama than it is even in the French league. Without as many knockdown shooters – and thus a bigger emphasis on cutters and three-level actions – the lane routinely becomes congested, making it a little tougher for him to operate inside than it will be once he comes to this side of the pond.
When speaking in the SC Featured about the two games he played against the G League Ignite where he scored 73 points over two games, he talked about how it gave him optimism for that transition:
“[In France], everyone [is] stepping in the paint, it’s just so hard to score here. [Playing well against Ignite] just confirmed the thoughts I had about the NBA game. I think it fits my game so well, I love playing in these games. I feel like I got so much to express on the court, I’m excited to. I know I got a lot to show.”
In an organization like Detroit where you have budding stars on the perimeter in Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, solid perimeter wings like Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks (assuming they pick up his ~$10.5 million team option), plus young, mobile bigs who aren’t confined exclusively to the dunker’s spot like Jalen Duren or James Wiseman, Wembanyama has a chance to develop in the blink of an eye, even entering the league near the upper echelon of the player hierarchy.
The versatility that makes Wembanyama so special shows up all the time from possession to possession. He’s capable of filling so many different roles that he’ll cover many tasks in a matter of seconds. On both ends, his feel for the game is already so high and it’s just amplified by a motor that’s rare in such an overwhelming talent.
Here’s a package of plays ranging from playmaking to drawn-out dominance over a full possession to just run-of-the-mill highlights from a 7-5 “alien” (in LeBron’s words):
In rare instances where it feels like Wembanyama may be fading from his usual impact, one little thing can be enough to poke that bear (a la Dillon Brooks). Sometimes that looks like a missed dunk in transition that turns into a near-steal and near-block before finally a rebound.
Later on in the same game, a second missed dunk is followed up with mind-bogglingly impressive activity on defense that guys anywhere near his size just aren’t usually capable of. (Important to note that he’s 90-93 on dunks his season, so don’t get to thinking missed dunks are a trend.)
By all indications, Wembanyama is an excellent teammate. One of the many ways he shows that is by prioritizing team success over his own. At one point Nadir Hifi – an NBA prospect in his own right – did a good job turning the corner and getting downhill around a screen. Wembanyama switched like he’s so capable of doing, but lost his balance as Hifi turned; no matter, it was a shot clock violation. In an instance where some might have left the possession shaking their head, he just shook it off, celebrating the team defensive stop.
Speaking of defense, his 8-foot wingspan, and historically great 3.1 blocks per game, Wembanyama makes your team defense so much easier. Scheme versatility is becoming more and more important for bigs in today’s NBA, and he can do it all from an abnormally potent drop to straight switches to helping in rotation and more.
His elite footwork for his size gives him room to play down the lineup alongside other bigs like Duren for example. Wembanyama is perfectly capable of shifting out to the perimeter to defend long wings so I wouldn’t worry about playing him in smaller situations.
All in all, this is a truly special prospect in front of us with Wembanyama. No matter who you compare him to, he’s got some sort of edge: better mover than Rudy Gobert, more of a complete package than LeBron James (at this stage), and thicker build than Chet Holmgren, not to mention he’s significantly taller than all of them.
It’s scary to think about how dominant Wembanyama might be five years down the road, but for right now, he’s earned the title of best prospect the game has ever seen.