NBA Draft: Meet 7-foot-2 Victor Wembanyama, the French prospect who could be the No. 1 pick in 2023
Victor Wembanyama does nothing on a basketball court looks Ordinary. The French phenom stands at an imposing 7ft 2in with a wingspan of 7ft 9in. Blocking shots is second nature to him. When teams target him in a switch on the perimeter, it’s like watching Rudy Gobert try to defend Kevin Hart on a hoop nerf. With long, lanky arms, even when out of position he is able to spin and recover as well as any big prospect in the sport.
At just 18, Wembanyama could be the reason your favorite NBA team is racking up draft credentials for the future. (Looking towards you, Oklahoma City.) Wembanyama isn’t eligible for the NBA draft until 2023, so the rush to “Give up wins for Wembanyama” (catchy, perhaps?) isn’t officially on, but the rare combination of his length, shot blocking, scoring, size, and versatility puts him among the most intriguing prospects on planet Earth.
Here’s more evidence why.
The disruptive length of Wembanyama
In the FIBA U19 World Cup gold medal game against Team USA last year, Wembanyama had 22 points and eight rebounds while making eight (YES: EIGHT!!) shots. His length was awkward even for top American talent, including potential 2022 No. 1 pick Chet Holmgren, another lanky great Wembanyama outplayed in an MVP-caliber performance (before Holmgren won MVP honors).
In attack, it is not enough to stay in front of Wembanyama and face him to defend the entry pass. Watch here how he stacks up behind Holmgren – a listed 7-footer who averages 3.4 blocks per game for Gonzaga as a true freshman and has elite defensive potential – for a clean look at the rim. Wembanyama misses the tap-in over the top, but gets fouled in the process by Holmgren, continuing to make both free throws. He finished the game with a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line.
Staying ahead of him doesn’t work either. With the ball in his hands, he has the shake and bake of a wing. See how he puts this poor Lithuanian defender in a mix cycle as he takes a dribble just below the free throw line, drops the steps and is cut for an easy finish, absorbing contact for one and one in the process.
In most cases, simply tossing the ball over the edge and into the general vicinity of Wembanyama is a winning game. He’s not just a lob threat; it’s practically an automatic bucket with a catch radius that puts DK Metcalf to shame. What looks like a knockdown here for Wembanyama — and probably most basketball players — turns into an easy flush for him.
Another example here from the FIBA U19 Gold Medal Game. Wembanyama throws Holmgren into a switch, and the French playmaker launches a lob with Wembanyama free throw line. This turns into an undisputed dunk because – seriously – how many people in the world could dispute that?
Blocking shots is second nature
If you’ve manually selected a professional prospect to be the assigned selfie taker for a large group, Wembanyama is the #1 choice with a bullet. His wingspan would rank third among all prospects measured at the NBA Draft Combine since 2000 (behind Tacko Fall and Mo Bamba). So, due to his length and sinewy arms – coupled with incredible timing and mobility – Wembanyama is by nature a shot-blocking wizard. Remember how I mentioned earlier that he can be out of position but still leverage his length to recover? Here is an example. He backs up from a drive and gets too deep, swallowed under the basket, but he charges quickly, jumps on the shot and with an outstretched left arm throws the shot attempt out of bounds.
Here is another example of a different game. Notice below as he is caught in a screen in the post, even as his man catches the ball for what looks like enough room to land a hook shot, Wembanyama is there just in time to raise his arm . The shot is undeterred for about a foot before being greeted with an emphatic hit.
Against Lithuania in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup, this particular game almost made my eyes pop out of their sockets. Volleyball-style swat and safety is one thing; the recovery to stay in bounds and the response to sprint to the ground and finish is another. This sequence is one of many he will flash in games in which he affects both ends of the floor as a two-way force.
good luck changing
By good luck, I mean, seriously, Good luck. Against Enes Kanter or Derrick Favors, luring them to the perimeter and putting them in a pick-and-roll might be how you can attack on offense. Against Wembanyama, it’s asking for trouble. Below, the Lithuanian playmaker swung Wembanyama on top of the sideline, then tried every jerky move in his bag before Wembanyama leaned in for a nice, laid-back jab.
This Spanish leader did not receive the same treatment. After floating around the perimeter via a switch, Wembanyama stays in front of his man then blasts the shot to the edge.
When you do this multiple times, you get into players’ heads. You begin to calculate if you have enough room to shoot. It’s the Wembanyama tax you pay playing against him – the discomfort of knowing that at any moment your shot is likely to find a place in the second row of the stands. The threat of this is enough to force even the smartest players into performing some mean and wild shots. Such is the impact a player of his caliber can have, affecting games even if in the stat sheet it doesn’t count for anything.
If blocking shots, switching screens and using his full 7-foot-9 wingspan isn’t enough to make Wembanyama a special talent, what he can do on offense — beyond just finishing lobs — l surely is. The occasional spinning cycle I showed earlier pales in comparison to this move on Holmgren. Notice how it feints right, lands left in the center of the painting and then comes back up – very high — for the hook of the sky on Holmgren’s long arms.
The shot also extends beyond the painting. The footwork in this game is a bit clunky, but check out how he sets up a defender behind his back and then blends into the baseline for one-and-one.
The 3-point shot isn’t a regular in his repertoire, but that only seems to be a volume issue for Wembanyama and not a value issue. He made 37% of his 3s last season with Nanterre (although he went 4 of 22 in the U19s) out of 46 attempts. Casually pulling off the logo like Damian Lillard isn’t a shot he’s afraid to take (and can do).
What’s shocking is how quickly and easily he can unload the blow. He has 3 and D potential as a 7-foot center. Fast, smooth loading, high release and beautiful tracking.
A lot can change by June 2023 when he can be drafted. And injuries have been a constant background concern on and off. But nearly two years later, it’s clear that Wembanyama is the early favorite to become No. 1 and could be considered the best long-term non-NBA prospect in basketball at any level. He can block shots and perform shots. He can defend the perimeter and take perimeter shots. There’s nothing at 18 he can’t do, even if he lacks the seasoning and zest to be declared a generational talent. Over the next year and beyond, as he continues to develop, there will likely be some intense jockeying for position to earn him as a reward atop the draft.