Victor Wembanyama is the top-ranked prospect in Europe born in 2004 .
After a stellar appearance at the 2021 U19 World Cup in Riga earlier this month, he’s now considered the single best prospect in the world right now, and is widely expected to end up the top pick in the 2023 Draft when he is first eligible.
The seven-foot-two center first exploded into the scene as a 15-year-old in the 2019 U16 European Championship, which France placed second. He struggled in the preparation phase leading up to the event and entered the tournament as the third center in the rotation but eventually became the most productive player on the team and compiled one of the most outstanding statistical profiles ever; 34.5 PER, 15.3 points per 40 minutes on 51% effective shooting, 27.1% defensive rebounding rate, 16% offensive rebounding rate, 11.5% assist rate, 20.2% turnover rate, 9.0 blocks per 40 minutes, 2.2 steals per 40 minutes in 165 minutes.
More impressive was the fact he did all that against competition on average a year-and-a-half older than him.
The Le Chesnay native spent his teenage years developing on Nanterre 92’s youth system, spending the last two years getting most of his playing time in the French LNB Espoirs (the French U21 league). Even though he's 3-4 years younger than the average age group, Wembanyama quickly outplayed that level of competition this past season and started pushing for more regular opportunities at the senior level.
Doubts remained over whether he was physically prepared for the pro game (Wembanyama has a very thin 209-pound frame in the context of his height), so he was first loaned out to INSEP for a few appearances in the French NM1 (French third division) before returning to log 337 minutes with Nanterre’s senior side in the French Jeep Elite (French first division) and the Eurocup (Europe’s second tier continental competition).
He averaged 16.2 points per 40 minutes on 53.8% true shooting and managed a 7.3% block rate in 18 appearances in the French Jeep Elite, ending up named the Best Young Player of the year.
Wembanyama then opted to leave the club at the end of the season and signed earlier this summer with ASVEL, Tony Parker’s club, where he is expected to be a full-time pro and have a real shot of earning a rotation spot against Euroleague competition.
But it’s his latest appearance in the youth ranks that has the world of basketball buzzing.
The 17-year-old averaged 24.9 points per 40 minutes on 45.8% shooting and 10.1 blocks per 40 minutes at the U19 World Cup, where France placed second. Named to the All-Tournament team, he won’t turn 18 until next January, which means he achieved such level of performance against competition on average two years older than him.
Wembanyama is an exceptional rim protector and projects as the sort of defender who can elevate the level of the defense around him, not just due to his outstanding length, but his quickness coming off the ground to leverage it too, as well as his mobility. His nimbleness is nothing short of remarkable for someone his height.
On the other end, he figures to be at his best as a threat to score as a catch-and-dunk finisher around the basket but has shown tremendous fluidity in his release and projects as a legit asset to space the floor more than on occasion.
Wembanyama has already developed into one of the best shot blockers in the world. His numbers, whichever level of competition he is going against, are consistently incredible.
He was at times protected out of playing center full-time in Riga, with more physically developed Yvan Ouedraogo handling some of the tougher assignments, but consistently sought the action to make an impact in rim protection.
Wembanyama seems just as quick off the ground out of one- or two-foot leaps and has a massive standing reach to make plays on the ball. His timing on longer rotations and stepping up the front of the rim as the line of defense is not always superb but he more than makes up for it with his length (rumored seven-foot-nine wingspan), can block shots with either hand and has even shown the dexterity for blocking shots and securing the rebound in coordinated fashion.
Wembanyama doesn’t challenge many shots via verticality, as he is unable to absorb contact and sometimes gets knocked back in the air. He is also prone to chase some blocks he shouldn’t.
But he seems ahead of schedule in terms of making an impact in the hidden areas of the game. Wembanyama acts as a consistent threat to alter shots, flashed the awareness for making preventive rotations that denied the opposing ballhandler space towards driving all the way to the rim and shadows isolations on mismatches hunting for opportunities to intervene at the last second.
His quickness on multiple effort plays also stood out, as he proved capable of stepping up to force a drop-off and then turning around to challenge the finisher at the basket.
Upon revision of his blocks at the end of the tournament, Wembanyama averaged 10.2 blocks per 40 minutes in seven appearances in Riga, with his total of 40 blocks standing out as the highest mark in the tournament on our database (which dates back to 2007).
When brought to the ball against the pick-and-roll, the 17-year-old usually went up a step above the foul line and dropped back. He more often than not approached the ballhandler flat-footed and rarely managed to stop the ball but made up for it by being able to keep pace with dribble drivers from the foul line down to overwhelm them with his shot blocking at the rim.
Wembanyama is pretty fluid backpedalling when he does manage to keep the ball in front but hasn’t yet developed the position defense for defending the ball and tracking the roll at the same time, as he is prone of losing the dive guy behind him.
There were times where he was asked to hedge or blitz way out into the space, but Wembanyama isn’t yet particularly influential in these instances, and it was common to see him getting split easily when attempting to double the point of attack.
He picked up smaller players on switches from time-to-time but struggled badly to hold his own out on an island.
Wembanyama does not bend his knees down to a proper stance and stands flat-footed defending on the ball. He hasn’t yet developed the lateral quickness to stay in front of shiftier guards who can operate out of side-to-side shake and is prone to biting on shot fakes or hesitation moves, subsequently getting blown by.
Wembanyama was often able to recover with his long strides and supreme agility for someone his size to block shots from behind but as he moves up through the levels, he will find consistently more difficult to get to the opponent before the opponent gets to the rim.
Wembanyama is not yet fit for handling his own in the most physical areas of the game.
He can’t push opponents out of deep seals in the post and cannot hold his ground. He defends with his arms up to try walling up the rim and can be somewhat effective against opponents who aren’t used to having opportunities to post up, but figures to be put in the basket repeatedly by opponents who are naturally inclined to operate out of power moves.
Wembanyama doesn’t show much attention to his boxout responsibilities and was consistently prone to giving up inside position but is explosive enough to make a living as a pogo-stick rebounder – averaging 9.9 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes in Riga by relying on his ability to track the ball off the rim at a higher point and quicker than most of the competition he faced in the tournament.
Wembanyama consistently stood flat-footed defending on the ball against face-up big men and stiffer wings on the occasional crossmatch.
He has enough agility to slide a few times one way to stay attached to these less-threatening types off the bounce and can block a shot defending on the ball but lacks the physicality to chest up and contain dribble penetration through contact, defending more with his legs and his arms than his chest and his hips.
His closeouts were the real issue, though. It’s pretty stunning to see someone so lengthy and quick off the ground be so ineffective sprinting at a shooter.
Usually slow and tentative, Wembanyama often seemed averse to try contesting within the shooter’s personal space and needed to flyby to run the shooter off the line here and there, often getting blown by of the shot-fake and exposing the defense behind him.
The most advanced skill he’s developed up until this point is his screening.
Wembanyama doesn’t yet have a wide enough frame to truly complicate the lives of peskier on-ball defenders but has shown an impressive level of versatility to his screening for a superstar prospect; widening his stance, getting his butt on the way, consistently looking to draw contact, re-screening, setting moving screens to free up shooters.
Other than the game against Korea, he wasn’t often able to roll hard down the lane. With Ouedraogo and his defender usually clogging the area near the basket, Wembanyama operated as more of a floor-spacer and hub to facilitate offense from the high post/foul line in the half-court.
He missed 18 of his 22 three-point shots in the tournament but looked like the most natural 18.2% shooter you will ever see.
Wembanyama has a very smooth approach for someone his height – rising off 1-2 footwork, getting decent weight transfer, surprising with his elevation off the ground, fully extending himself for a high release and showing fairly solid guide hand discipline on the follow through.
He even flashed some versatility to his release – launching some more challenging attempts out of the pick-and-pop, side-step three-pointers off an escape dribble, two-dribble stop-and-pop pull-ups against hard closeouts and quick long-twos roaming to a free spot around the baseline on a BLOB set.
The ball didn’t go in at all in Latvia, but his misses tended to be long or short and Wembanyama shot a more legit (or, at least, a less illegit) 27.2% from three-point range last season, at a pace of 5.8 such attempts per 40 minutes, including 36.4% on 44 shots from beyond the arc in the French Jeep Elite, which seems to have been his most consistent stretch of playing time.
Wembanyama isn’t a particularly special shot creator for others at this point of his development but proved capable of executing basic reads when asked to assist post-to- post actions, flash to the foul line against the zone and make quick kickouts out of the shot roll – averaging 2.5 assists per 40 minutes.
Though he was often seen spacing out to the three-point line, there were opportunities for him to act as a threat to score near the basket and in these instances, Wembanyama exceled playing above the rim as a target for lobs out of the dunker spot or on weakside cuts. France was also fond of calling a play where he handed off to a guard, ran a wheel route a screen and got a lob.
His running up the floor to fill the lanes in transition looked particularly exquisite and he proved himself coordinated enough to catch it high, keep it high on the move and dunk without needing to bring it down through his gather steps.
Wembanyama was also a significant putback dunk threat and impressive with his quick second jump to fight for tip-ins or 50-50 balls.
He flashed some versatility to his finishing on non-dunk attempts (a right-handed finger-roll and a floater off a jump-stop in a crowded lane) but struggled some with his touch when forced to go to his left hand.
Wembanyama also struggled operating out of the post. He is unable to secure a clean seal due to his lack of a physical playing style and isn’t very strong with the ball – averaging 3.3 turnovers per 40 minutes.
His footwork on turnaround fadeaway jumpers, hiked leg step-back jumpers, running hooks, side-step floaters out of a ball-fake, and drives around a shot fake is very sleek and extremely promising.
But the efficiency isn’t really there yet at this point of his development, as he ended up shooting 55.7% on two-point shots and has a track record of posting true shooting percentages lower than the expected for someone who stands at seven-foot-two and is a threat to dunk anything around the immediate basket area in every event he participates.