On October 4, Victor Wembanyama introduced himself to the broader world of professional basketball. NBA scouts and nerds alike have been drooling over Wembanyama for years now, but two games in Las Vegas against the NBA G League Ignite team were his opportunity to introduce himself to the wider NBA fanbase.
From the start, he made it quite clear that he was not taking the opportunity lightly. He dropped 37 points on seven out of 11 three pointers made, and followed that up with 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks in the second game. If that isn’t a good introduction, I don’t know what is. His performances garnered praise from around the NBA world, with LeBron James calling Wembanyama an “alien,” and saying that “he’s for sure a generational talent.” All this hype for Wembanyama has people touting him as the greatest NBA prospect since LeBron, or even of all time. While these are mere speculations at this point, a better idea is to consider whether he’s the most interesting prospect of all time.
The answer to that is a resounding yes. The NBA has never seen a player like Wembanyama before. Yes, there have been players just as tall — and taller — than him. And yes, the league is filled with big, shooting, dribbling men nowadays, but Wembanyama combines these factors and multiplies them to a ridiculous degree.
The modern NBA is full of unicorns — a term used to define players that are uncannily versatile. From Kevin Durant to Giannis Antetokounmpo, it feels like ‘big men’ must possess guard skills to dominate in an elite manner. I don’t think Wembanyama will struggle in that regard. He’s a unicorn, even in a world of unicorns.
No one else can shoot Lillard-esque fadeaway threes while standing at seven feet four inches with an eight-foot wingspan. These physical attributes have never been mixed with Wembanyama’s level of skill. He can dribble and shoot at the age of 19 better than most seven-footers ever have or will. There’s truly no precedent for this type of player in the basketball world.
One comparison that has been made is to that of a 2K MyPLAYER, a character whose physical attributes and skills are created by the user. However, anybody who’s tried to create an unstoppable MyPLAYER knows that you wouldn’t be allowed to give the character this assortment of skills and attributes. A player this tall would never have the athleticism that Wembanyama possesses, and a player with Wembanyama’s ball handling ability could never be made seven feet four inches. Wembanyama’s makeup seems to bend the very rules of basketball reality.
Unfortunately, this same makeup also suggests a potential downfall. Though not a one-to-one comparison, fellow unicorn Kristaps Porziņģis may provide the closest thing to an NBA comparison for Wembanyama. Porziņģis showed heaps of potential early in his career while he was healthy — but he couldn’t stay healthy long. He’s had an extensive injury history throughout his career, primarily dealing with knee and foot injuries. Time and time again, this is the case for highly skilled big men. There is no doubt that this will be a huge factor in Wembanyama’s draft process, and career in the NBA.
Take a generational talent, the likes of which the NBA has never seen before, and drop him in the social media era, and you are guaranteed to garner conversation. Now give him a body type that has denoted extreme injuries in all other cases and the intrigue will only increase. On top of that, keep him in a European league up until the draft so average fans won’t get to watch him play on a regular basis, and you’ve created a situation that will likely breed the most interesting draft lead up we’ve ever seen. Only time will tell if he’ll also be the best.