Wembanyama: Draft Bust?

Alan Cai

June 23, 2023

Victor Wembanyama was drafted into the NBA first overall on Thursday by the San Antonio Spurs. The 19-year-old began his professional career in France, earning numerous local basketball accolades. Before and after the historic draft night, Wembanyama was widely believed to be the next greatest NBA player in a generation, garnering the most attention for an NBA prospect since Lebron James was drafted out of high school in 2003.

Much of the media coverage and publicity surrounding the seven-foot giant(7’2” to 7’5” depending on the source) is not unfounded. His enormous height, incredible speed, and respectable shooting prowess contribute to his extremely versatile and comprehensive skill set. His ability to shoot three-point shots and defend all 5 positions is truly remarkable, drawing parallels to Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kevin Durant. However, Wembanyama’s reputed potential as the founder of a new basketball dynasty may be overexaggerated.

When viewing highlights from Wembanyama’s games in France and his exhibition games in the United States against NBA G-League team Ignite(featuring fellow first-round pick Scoot Henderson), a few minor flaws may hamper his capacity to fulfill the aforementioned expectations.

For a seven-footer, Wembanyama’s mere 210-pound frame puts him on the lighter side. When seeing his gameplay, glimpses of the shortcomings of having a skinnier body are revealed. On rebounds and when attacking the basket, Wembanyama overtly relies on his height to dominate the floor. Although height alone would be sufficient for overseas and G-league gameplay, a much stronger and bulkier frame is necessary for success in the NBA. Wembanyama may be able to mirror the tremendous growth regimen employed by Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Atentokoumnpo which gained the latter over seventy pounds but may be forced to sacrifice some agility and speed to achieve such ends.

In general, players over seven foot two rarely make it far in the NBA, and notable exceptions such as Yao Ming and Ralph Sampson had their careers cut short due to the heightened risk of injury accompanying players with such statures. A quick glance at any greatest-of-all-time list or even an average modern NBA team would reveal that Wembayama’s lanky frame would be an outlier among his peers.

Furthermore, Wembanyama’s notable skillsets will not ensure dominance over the world’s premier basketball league. In an era in which three-point shooters dominate, Wembanyama’s shooting ability is not unique and can be easily replaced by other players. His ability to block shots near the rim may additionally be futile against larger and more aggressive players such as Atentokoumnpo and Lebron James who can easily push him to the side.

Generational talents must have something new and different they can offer to upset the balance of power within the league. Michael Jordan had unmatched athleticism; Shaquille O'Neal could treat fellow NBA players like toys; Tim Duncan possessed the most complete set of fundamental skills the league had ever witnessed; reigning Finals MVP Nikola Jokic has impeccable court vision. Wembanyama’s greatest attribute is his height, which will not be the game-changing force he is projected to make.

Wembanyama is undoubtedly a spectacular player. His career will inevitably lead to several all-star and playoff berths. However, whether his skillset is on par with the likes of Lebron James or Michael Jordan can be seriously called into question.