Victor Wembanyama is ready to take over the NBA

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Victor Wembanyama is ready to take over the NBA

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Victor Wembanyama is ready to take over the NBA

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We’ve never seen anything like Victor Wembanyama before. At 7’4, Wembanyama would enter the league as the tallest player with a weight number similar to Anthony Edwards, PJ Washington, and Grant Williams (all 6’7 and below). We’ve never seen someone with his combination of height, mobility and fluidity. He has unrivaled movement skills at his size that allow him to move around and hit shots at a level unseen before from a seven-footer, nevertheless someone closer to 7’6 then 7’0. There are just three seven-footers who are less than 240 lbs: 

Chet Holmgren 195 lbs
Bol Bol 220 lbs
Aleksej Pokusevski 210 lbs

Bol Bol and Aleksej Pokusevski are both skilled bigs with two-way capability, but none of them possess the scoring and self-creation talent offensively or his rim protection chops. Chet Holmgren is perhaps his closest comparison on both ends, but he lacks the athletic tools to create shots off the dribble the way Wembanyama can. 

He’s not like any current NBA stars either. He’s a much better shooter off the dribble than Giannis Antetokounmpo, he doesn’t utilize the post nearly as much as Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, and he’s a much better rim protector than Kevin Durant. Trying to figure out the right comparison for Wembanyama is impossible because there’s no one in basketball history that feels close enough.

If you want to try and find someone to compare, we have to reach back to the 1983 NBA Draft. Ralph Sampson, another 7’4 goliath, was selected with the number one overall pick. Sampson was a four-time All-Star who made it his rookie season and made four straight All-Star games to start his career. He too was an athletic seven-footer with movement tools ahead of his time and unbelievable skill. Unfortunately, his career was derailed by injury, a commonality for guys that tall. The one issue with Victor Wembanyama is that his size naturally is going to lead 

Wembanyama’s production throughout his international career has been spectacular. Right now, he plays in the Betclic Elite French league and currently leads the league in points, rebounds, and blocks on a per game basis. This league features a few former NBA players along with many other high profile international players. He just recently won the All-Star game MVP and will likely be the league MVP with his numbers and his team success. At 18 years old, Wembanyama is already the top player in his professional league. He could join Luka Doncic as a top international prospect to win MVP of his respective league (although Doncic played in the Euroleague). 

Wembanyama is not a risky pick being regarded so high because of what he could be. He’s already arguably the best player in a league full of grown men and terrific basketball players. Disregarding the injury factors, he’s one of the safest prospects in recent memory with a ceiling that is astronomically high.

Wembanyama’s ceiling comes from his high offensive potential. There’s many highlight reels of him hitting ridiculous pull-up and fadeaway jumpers and while that makes his offensive profile so tantalizing. However, he also has a massive floor as a scorer, and that’s thanks to his tremendous play finishing ability.

At 7’4 with an 8’0 wingspan, Wembanyama has an absurd catch radius. His arms look like Elastigirl from The Incredibles and he’s able to functionally use his length on both ends of the floor around the rim. Anthony Davis and Robert Williams are two of the best lob receivers because of their catch radius, but neither of them can hold a candle to Wembanyama and his long limbs.

Finishing around the rim on non-drives should be an easy task for him. He provides a massive target for guards operating in the PNR if they want to target him with a lob pass or a low pocket pass. He can also serve as the garbage man, cleaning up missed layups around the rim with putback dunks or quick tip shots.

Although his shooting numbers may not suggest it, he’s also going to hit spot-up threes at a high level. He has a quick, uncontestable release and he’s not shy to pull the trigger. All of these things combined together make for a monster play-finisher. This looks like the profile of someone who could be a 20 PPG scorer without throwing in his skills as a shooter and self-creator.

His shooting profile looks straight forward on the surface, but there’s more than what meets the eye. He’s currently shooting 28% on just over five attempts per game (32.1 minutes per game) while also shooting 81% from the free throw line on 6.6 attempts per game. The 28% suggests that, at the moment, he’s a below average or even poor shooter. However, this could not be further from the case.

Watching the tape, it’s not hard to see why Wembanyama has a poor three point percentage. Although he can hit spot-ups at a high level, he hardly ever takes shots like that. Most of his shots are either on the move, heavily contested, or self-created using his handle. His shot selection would be difficult for a guard, nevertheless a 7’4 center. 

He’s capable of making these looks but his percentage is so low because he takes so many. However, his movement shooting is something that’s going to translate from day one. He has ballerina feet coming off of screens and pindowns and the energy transfer on the shot is smooth as silk.

Wembanyama is going to thrive as a popper out of ball screens and can be someone who can come off handoffs, pindowns, elevator screens, etc. His shot versatility off the ball is special, and the discussion on his jumper shouldn’t be focused on the raw percentages he posts and rather the fluidity of his mechanics and difficulty of his attempts.

What really sells people on him is his ability to self-create looks for himself off the dribble. Wembanyama has otherworldly flexibility for a guy his size and has some real handle flashes creating jumpers. There’s been lots of highlights of his one-legged, running three-pointer that he’s patented and he’s also able to create space for stepbacks and sidestep jumpers on the perimeter. 

While a lot of these shots aren’t efficient and are mostly flashes right now, the fact that someone of his stature can even pull off those moves is jaw-dropping. What really goes under discussed about Wembanyama is how good of an athlete he is. He’s insanely quick and mobile, can generate unique shin angles and create space laterally through east-west movement, and it makes him super shifty on the perimeter for other bigs. Simply put, his coordination, movement, and athleticism that help him pull off these moves really complete his offensive game.

Wembanyama’s passing isn’t a major focal point of his offense, but he’s a very solid passer for someone his size. He attracts a ton of double teams and early help due to his scoring which opens up skip passing windows and he’s terrific at capitalizing on scrambling defenses. He can also fit next to another big on offense because he’s terrific at finding interior players and making high-low passing reads. 

He’s not a high-level facilitator, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to capitalize on open passing windows and leverage his scoring gravity to create easier looks for his teammates. 

A lot of the discussion around Victor Wembanyama’s ceiling is predicated on his defensive ceiling. In terms of tools, he’s the complete package. 7’4 with an 8’0 wingspan and lightning quick feet. In theory, he can be a traditional rim protector, play multiple coverages in the PNR, and switch onto wings and guards when he needs to.

In reality, a lot of this is still true. Wembanyama is a fly-swatter around the rim, spiking shots like they’re volleyballs when they come anywhere close to his vicinity. He has superb timing and plenty of recovery length. If he gets beat, it doesn’t always matter because he covers ground so fast. 

Because of his quickness, patience, and IQ, he’s likely going to be able to play a variety of different ball screen coverages. He can hard-hedge and use his length to get deflections, play drop coverage and dare his defenders to challenge him at the rim, or soft hedge and help if he needs to. Big men aren’t always the focal point of offenses like they used to be, but they are still the centerpieces of every defense. Having a defender like Wembanyama simply makes life for hell for opposing offenses, and allows you to play more aggressive perimeter defense knowing that he’s backing you up. 

The one qualm with Wembanyama is that he’s not necessarily a “switch-big” just yet. He could hold his own on possessions against forwards and occasionally guards, but his footwork laterally isn’t good enough yet for him to be considered a multi-positional defender.

You see this on the perimeter most commonly, but this also happens down low in a few ways. He gets pushed around a lot due to his lack of core strength, which hurts his positioning for boxing out and grabbing rebounds. Strength programs in the NBA will mitigate a lot of these issues, but it’s still noteworthy that his defensive positioning is not up to par.

His defensive upside is still monstrous, he’s just not as polished as a lot of the great big defenders that have entered the draft in the past few years. Chet Holmgren and Evan Mobley were superior defensive prospects in my eyes because they were more technically sound and had longer lasting motors. Due to Wembanyama’s offensive load, his motor can wane from time to time and you can see when he’s not always giving a ton of effort defensively. 

The “Tank for Wemby” sweepstakes are going to be something to monitor as the season progresses. The Spurs immediately stand out as a team that he’d fit in excellently with. They have a ton of terrific secondary pieces but no true superstar to connect everyone together. Wembanyama could play the four early on in his career as he gradually gains weight and he’d have a terrific high-low partner on the offensive end of the floor with Jakob Poeltl. The Charlotte Hornets feel like another team who he’d love to join. LaMelo Ball is one of the best passers in the world and his ability to throw Wembanyama lobs and feed him entry passes feels like a match made in heaven. It’ll be fun to see which tactics teams deploy in order to give themselves a better chance at securing him.

Victor Wembanyama is undoubtedly one of the greatest prospects we have ever seen. He’s a few key steps away from being the total package on both ends of the floor, and his combination of high floor and unthinkable ceiling make him a force to be reckoned with. There is a reason why the number one pick is a foregone conclusion despite it only being January. Victor Wembanyama is ready to take over the NBA.

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