Victor Wembanyama’s tantalizing tools, refined skill set and 7’3+ frame have made him the best prospect we’ve seen since LeBron James was playing for St. Vincent-St. Mary twenty years ago.
Since LeBron was selected first in the 2003 NBA Draft, quite a few players have been billed as the next big thing. A few that come to mind are Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, Zion Williamson and Cade Cunningham. Most of those guys received media attention for years before they became draft eligible. But for Wembanyama, the process has been ongoing for almost five years and feels decidedly different than any of those other top overall picks.
While it is easy to focus on what Wembanyama can do offensively, it’s the defensive end that stands out the most to me. In today’s NBA, there are far too many centers that can be played off the floor due to their inability to competently defend the perimeter for just a couple of seconds. Being switchable is one of the most important things when looking for the ideal modern big, but not a lot of players possess that trait. For Wembanyama, it’s a non-issue.
In the months leading up to the draft, you’re surely going to see some clips of Wembanyama struggling to stay in front of guards. The reality is that he’s such a good prospect that people are going to nitpick his game just to try and find some areas where he legitimately needs improvement. However, Wembanyama mostly does a good job of making opposing guards beat him.
The Frenchman has good mobility in his hips, which allows him to turn his body and get going in the right direction when guards try to beat him off the bounce. Wembanyama also has a wingspan that is projected to be measured at just about eight feet. That makes it nearly impossible for guards to finish over him, and it also gives him the ability to contest outside shots from further away.
The natural comparison for Wembanyama defensively will be Rudy Gobert. Wembanyama looks like a funhouse mirror version of the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and the two of course come from the same country. But like most player comparision, that seems a bit lazy and obvious. For as brilliant as Gobert is, he has had his troubles when being switched onto the perimeter. Wembanyama doesn’t look like he’ll be a liability under any circumstances. While Wembanyama will surely be a similar shot-blocking presence around the basket — he’s averaging 3.2 blocks per game this season in a very good league — he’s a little more like a prime Anthony Davis on that end of the floor.
Davis used to be able to step out on switches and make guards extremely uncomfortable — and still can to some extent. It wasn’t effortless like it is for somebody like Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it was enough to get the job done. Wembanyama should do the same. And when you combine that with his ability to protect the rim, you’re probably talking about a guy that will be on multiple All-Defensive Teams. And that somehow feels like a safe assumption.
On the other side of the floor, Wembanyama has the potential to be one of the biggest matchup nightmares we’ve ever seen. At his height, and with his absurd wingspan, Wembanyama’s jumper would be unblockable from pretty much everywhere, but the Frenchman happens to have a high release — and a smooth one. Unfortunately, the big man is shooting just 29.8% from deep in the Jeep Elite league this year, but we have seen him comfortably knocking down shots from way outside. And his 81.6% free throw percentage says everything you need to know about his touch. The jumper is a non-issue and will soon be a weapon.
Wembanyama also has an impressive off-the-dribble game for a guy with his outrageous limbs. He might not be the most fluid-looking mover in the world, but he is plenty capable of using his dribble to put slow-footed defenders on skates. He has also been rather comfortable utilizing stepbacks to create space for his jumper, and he’ll be unguardable if he continues to improve with that move.
It's wild to think of the possibilities of an offense that features Wembanyama as a screener, as it won’t take long before he’s one of the game’s best pick-and-roll bigs. While Wembanyama might not look strong, he’s a very good finisher around the basket. And the pick-and-pop game will be just as lethal, as we have no doubts about his ability to hit open shots. And once he starts doing it consistently, he’ll start attacking closeouts with ferocity.
It's rare that somebody is the unquestioned first overall pick in the draft, but it makes perfect sense in this case. Wembanyama isn’t just a high-ceiling player, but he has the highest floor of any prospect we’ve seen in the last decade. Even if he never turns into a guy that can consistently create his own offense for himself, his ability to spot up and finish at the rim will make him an elite screening option when paried with the right point guard. And there’s seemingly no chance he won’t end up being great as a defender, at the very least.
The only thing standing in Wembanyama’s way is health. The Frenchman has done a lot of work to improve his frame over the years, and he’ll continue to do so at the next level; NBA training staffs should be able to do wonders for him. However, when a guy that looks like him goes to the ground, everybody in the stadium will gasp. But the reality is that injuries can derail the careers of any player, and Wembanyama hasn’t had any major issues just yet.
Overall, Wembanyama should come into the league and immediately turn in All-Star production. That’s just how valuable his skill set is. Look no further than the season he’s having in France this year for proof. Wembanyama is playing against grown men and he’s averaging 21.74 points and 9.35 rebounds per game, and he has received plenty of MVP buzz throughout the year.
Whoever ends up selecting Wembanyama is getting a legitimate franchise player, with the potential to be an all-time great.