Only four days separated Victor Wembanyama from being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The French super prospect was born Jan. 4, 2004, just missing the age cut-off for international eligibility. Now the 2022-23 NBA season is set to offer twin prizes: the championship for teams competing at the top of the league, and the opportunity to win the rights to the best prospect to hit the draft since LeBron James for teams at the bottom of the standings.
Watching Wembanyama roam the court feels like witnessing an alien sent to Earth with the ideal package of length, skills, and athleticism to play the sport. He is listed at 7’2, 230 pounds, with a 7’9 wingspan, and that feels conservative. He has exceptional mobility for his size, not just straight line speed and lateral quickness, but also a level of agility and flexibility that is startling to see for someone with his frame. He has flashed a serious amount of skill, too, regularly splashing three-pointers, throwing eye-popping passes, and finishing plays way above the rim on both ends. The last prospect this big, this fluid, and this comfortable with the ball in his hands might be a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, when he entered UCLA in the mid-1960s.
Wembanyama can be anything and everything. He’s going to be an incredible rim protector on defense and lob threat on offense — but that’s just tip of the iceberg. He’s already taking and making three-pointers off movement. He’s moving the ball quickly on the perimeter as a passer. He’s wiping away entire sections of the floor defensively with the threat of his shot-blocking. Wembanyama is also beginning to show traits of self-creation, hinting at the enormous outcomes that will occur when he’s not just an elite play finisher, but also a go-to shot creator.
At a time when the top-three finishers in MVP voting — Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo — were each born and raised outside of the United States, Wembanyama is set to enter the league as basketball’s next international superstar. Teams at the bottom of the league can start crossing their fingers now. The bounce of the lottery ping pong balls has never felt so important.
Wembanyama is just 18 years old, but he’s already been showing out against pros in France’s top pro league, and in the prestigious Euroleague, for multiple seasons. This is everything you need to know about why teams around the league have been preparing for years for his entrance in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Victor Wembanyama has the tools to be an all-time rim protector
Wembanyama can be a wrecker of worlds defensively with his tools. His 7’9 wingspan will be one of the biggest in NBA history, and he’s already shown to have great burst to the ball as a shot-blocker. He’s averaged 3.8 blocks per-36 minutes since beginning his professional career. His ability to swat and deter shots on the defensive end is likely to be his most translatable skill early in his NBA career.
Here’s a compilation of Wembanyama erasing shots this season with his club team, ASVEL Basket.
That first clip is just a work of art: Wembanyama smothers the ball handler on the drive to prevent a shot attempt, then uses the threat of his shot blocking to scare off a look from the next offensive player after a ball fake, and finally swallows up the dunk attack from a wing with a full head of steam.
Wembanyama can be phenomenal as the low man on the weak-side. He’s long enough and fast enough to close out on the corner shooter from almost anywhere, which gives him the green light to attack the ball. His block radius is at a historic level, and lets him get to balls most players wouldn’t dream of seriously challenging. He’s already learning how to keep the ball in play after a swat, too.
The early tape is also extremely encouraging in terms of his ability to defend in space. He’s fluid laterally, and has no problem turning his hips to stay with a ball handler. He has good hand-eye coordination as a shot-blocker, and as always his length is the ultimate equalizer. Wembanyama should be extraordinary in drop coverage, but he’s already showing the signs of a big man who can execute multiple coverages on-ball while wrecking havoc off of it.
Victor Wembanyama will be an elite lob threat
Throwing the ball up to Wembanyama at the rim is the easiest form of offense. If he gets to his spot, there’s not much the opposing defense can do it stop him from catching the ball and dunking.
Here’s a compilation of Wembanyama as an alley-oop target and roll man:
Wembanyama is going to have an all-time catch radius on alley-oops. He has good hands, and the dexterity to finish from a variety of angles. For someone so talented on the perimeter (more on that later), he also does a valiant job rolling hard to the basket when it’s open. He’s not afraid to make contact as a screener, and he again shows good short-space burst to the basket.
He should be living at the rim as an offensive player early in his career.
Wembanyama is capable spot-up shooter from three-point range
Wembanyama would be an outstanding prospect even if he didn’t shoot three-pointers. Oh, but he can shoot it from three, showing good touch from deep even if the numbers aren’t there to support it just yet.
Wembanyama has hit 31 percent of his three-pointers on 5.4 attempts per-36 minutes as a pro. He is clearly a confident and comfortable shooter with NBA range on his jump shot. Here are the highlights from an April 7 game against Milan earlier this year when he went 4-of-5 from three.
Wembanyama has a pretty big dip off the catch before he shoots it, but his release is pure and he can shoot over the top of anyone. He hasn’t been a great free throw shooter yet — 68.5 percent for his pro career so far — but it does seem like he has good touch as the ball comes out of his hands.
Embiid and Jokic have both turned into good three-point shooters on decent volume. Antetokounmpo hasn’t yet, but he’s never shown the type of touch it looks like Wembanyama has. There is reason to be optimistic he can hit at or above 35 percent from three on 3-4 attempts per game eventually. And who knows, maybe one day he’ll be significantly better than that.
Victor Wembanyama can bring value as a passer
It’s too early to make any big judgements about Wembanyama as a passer — he’s averaged only 1.5 assists per-36 minutes in his pro career — but you typically don’t catch him stopping the ball. He’s shown an ability to make quick decisions when the ball swings his way, and often that means moving it to a teammate.
Here are some of his better passes this season. Please prepare yourself for the first clip.
Victor Wembanyama plays with a high motor
One of the most impressive things about Wembanyama’s tape this season is how many hustle plays he made. This isn’t a player who stands around idly until he’s involved in the play — he goes after loose balls, runs the floor hard, and can produce some sensational moments attacking the offensive glass.
Here’s a compilation of Wembanyama making high-motor plays:
Victor Wembanyama is showing flashes of self-creation
The peak outcomes for Wembanyama have him just as comfortable playing with the ball in his hands as Giannis, Embiid, and Jokic. There were some tantalizing flashes of shot creation in his tape this season, with crossovers, post-fadeaways, pump-fakes into a stepbacks, and pump into rim attacks.
It’s incredible to see.
Victor Wembanyama showed out against Chet Holmgren in FIBA U19 play
The gold medal game between the United States and France in the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup was a treat to watch. The talent on the court looks even better after several players players upped their draft stock during the college season.
On the American side was Chet Holmgren, Jaden Ivey, Johnny Davis, Kennedy Chandler, and Patrick Baldwin Jr. — all possible first round picks this year. France had Wembanyama. The matchup between him and Holmgren lived up to the hype, with the Americans getting an 83-81 win, but Wembanyama putting up an awesome performance that solidified his reputation as a future mega-star. By the way, Wembanyama was two years younger than almost everyone on the floor.
Watch his highlights here:
Wembanyama finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, eight blocks, a steal, and five fouls on 5-of-9 shooting from two-point range, 1-of-5 shooting from three, and 8-of-8 shooting from the foul line. Holmgren was held to 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting with five assists, but was able to force a couple fouls on Wembanyama late that helped swing the tide for the Americans. Something tells me we’re going to be watching this matchup in the pros for a long time.
Victor Wembanyama seems like he loves to play basketball
Wembanyama said he’s had a basketball in his hands for as long as he can remember. This was a great interview with him from 2020 where he goes over his life story and his love of the sport.
“Loving basketball is inside of me,” Wembanyama says. “It’s instinctive. I turn my rage and my drive to win into happiness and success.”
Here’s another great interview with Wembanyama from Oct. 2021. “I can’t imagine my life without basketball,” he says. “It’s more than a passion. It’s a lifestyle.”
“The ultimate goal is to acquire Giannis Antetokounmpo’s strength and conditioning, and Kevin Durant’s skills,” Wembanyama says. “But I don’t have one role model.”
Victor Wembanyama has a passion for drawing
Wembanyama likes to sketch in his free time. Look at this horse!
Who are Victor Wembanyama’s parents?
Wembanyama’s mother is Élodie de Fautereau, a 6’3 former player and current coach. ESPN once wrote: “His mother was described as the ‘Kendrick Perkins of women’s basketball in France” for her tough mentality as a 6-3 big.’ His father is Felix Wembanyama, a 6’6 former long jumper in France. He has a younger brother Oscar and an older sister Eve, who also plays basketball.
What is Victor Wembanyama’s age?
Wembanyama was born in west suburban Paris on Jan. 4, 2004.
How tall is Victor Wembanyama?
Wembanyama is listed at 7’2, but it’s possible he’s actually taller than that. Here’s a photo of him standing next to 7’4 Purdue center Zach Edey and Chet Holmgren at the FIBA U19 World Cup. He really might be 7’5.
Personally I think Victor might be a legit 7’5— Pistons Draft talk (@happypistonfan) June 17, 2022
Jovic on the far left is 6’11, Zach Edey on the left is around 7’4 and Ivey and Chet are 6,4 and 7,0 tall. Brings the question to why is he not listed at 7’5? pic.twitter.com/tfmmTdoO6X
Victor Wembanyama injury history
Wembanyama has had several injuries in his young career. His season ended on June 3 after what’s been reported as a psoas injury. It was his third injury of the season. He also suffered a small fracture of his finger in Nov., and then had a stress fracture in his fibula that cost him two months starting to Dec.
The 2023 NBA Draft is impressive at the top, but Victor Wembanyama is the no-brainer top prospect
G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson has the talent to be a No. 1 overall pick in any given NBA Draft. We also love the Thompson twins — Amen and Ausar — playing in Overtime Elite. But barring something crazy, Wembanyama is going to be the top pick in 2023.
No 18-year-old can be considered a sure thing to become a future NBA superstar, but Wembanyama certainly appears headed that way if he can stay healthy and continue developing. He’ll need to add strength, cut down on his fouls, maintain progressing as a shooter, and prove he can play through physicality. But the early signs are in place: Victor Wembanyama really is that special.