Entering the 2022-2023 NBA season, several teams are poised to lose as many games as possible, from the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs blowing up their all-star cores to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets remaining young and inexperienced.The league isn’t ready for the amount of tanking we are about to witness, all of which can be traced back to an 18-year-old French prospect: Victor Wembanyama.
The term unicorn gets thrown around a lot when describing unprecedented NBA talents, but Wembanyama truly does that descriptor justice based on the skillset he offers. Wembanyama is listed at a staggering 7’3” (with some speculation he’s even taller) with an eclipsing 7’9” wingspan. For reference, his reported wingspan would put him near the top of NBA wingspans, behind only Mo Bamba and Boban Marjanovic.
But physical attributes alone are not enough to be an elite defensive anchor. Wembanyama’s insane height and wingspan are paired with strong defensive instincts. He is extremely disciplined, rarely biting on shot fakes, while also showcasing the ability to defend opponents from all five positions.
Wembanyama’s defensive presence is eerily similar to his French predecessor Rudy Gobert. But Wembanyama is Gobert 2.0. With his length and quickness, he has shown that he’s more than capable of defending on the perimeter. It’s unbelievable how many 3-point jump shots he swats out of the air. His wingspan makes it extremely difficult for opponents to get by him. And even if they blow by him, his length and athleticism allow him to recover from anywhere on the floor.
What also separates him from Gobert is his offensive potential. His offensive ability isn’t as far along as his defense, but he shows a lot of potential and room to grow. His jumpshot and his capabilities as the screener in a pick and roll are the furthest along. He can shoot from distance, mainly off the pass or as a pick-and-pop outlet. As a screener, he is a frightening lob threat; his height, length and jumping ability allow him to catch a lob from anywhere in his airspace.
However, he’s lacking a consistent back-to-the-basket game. Because of his slender frame, weighing somewhere between 195 and 210 lbs., sturdy defenders can bump him off his spot and wall him off from the paint. Additionally, his turnaround fadeaway is too inconsistent at this point to use as an effective weapon, making his post game sorely lacking currently. His performance in the Gold Medal match of the 2021 FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup is indicative of some of Wembanyama’s potential and how far he still has to go.
Against a U.S. team featuring comparable, high-level talent like the eventual 2022 second-overall draft pick Chet Holmgren, Wembanyama recorded a dominant 22 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks. However, his monstrous stat sheet doesn’t tell the full story.
Specifically, Wembanyama’s showings versus Kenneth Lofton Jr. foreshadow some obstacles moving forward in his professional career. Lofton Jr. ‘s tanklike build, standing at 6’7” and 275 lbs., caused some problems for the French prospect. Wembanyama showed he was tall enough to dwarf several of his shot attempts, holding his ground for the most part. However, Lofton Jr.’s bully ball style of play got the better of Wembanyama on multiple occasions through sheer bulk and force. Going forward, Wembanyama will have to put on more muscle to handle the physicality of NBA bigs like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic.
Like any prospect entering the NBA, Wembanyama has room for improvement. But with a floor so high and a ceiling even higher, it’s easy to believe that he’ll live up to the hype. He’s already displayed Rudy Gobert levels of defense as an 18-year-old. Give him three years in the highest level of professional basketball and we are going to see a generational talent.