In the midst of football season, there haven’t been too many noteworthy stories in the National Basketball Association (NBA). But on Oct. 4, 2022, an event occurred that I believe will dictate the next 10 to 15 years of the NBA landscape.
Broadcasted on ESPN2, the projected number one and number two overall picks in the 2023 Draft, Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, faced off in a seemingly meaningless exhibition. What succeeded was anything but.
To be frank, I had not bought into the Victor Wembanyama hype. Admittedly, this may relate more to who I am as a person than the type of prospect Victor is. At best, I’m cautious and hesitant to trust what seems too good to be true. At worst, I’m cynical, resistant to agreeing with the majority for the sole purpose of being a contrarian.
That’s why, despite the awe-inducing highlights of the 7-foot-3 Wembanyama prancing around French club leagues looking like the second coming of Kevin Durant, I had reservations. I pointed to 7-foot-2 Chet Holmgren, a prospect with a similar build drafted second overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who recently injured his foot in a Drew League game.
As the murky hype surrounding him dissipated, the reality set in: Chet will miss his entire rookie year, and his health will be a concern for the entirety of his career. I questioned whether he was just another tall, lanky prospect who tantalized scouts and fans alike, but didn’t actually love the game. After all, when you’re 7-foot-3 you have no choice but to play basketball. Wenbanyama turned me into a believer.
It says a lot that the final statline, most notably 37 points on 11-20 shooting, 7-11 from three and 5 blocks, does not fully capture the magnitude of Wenbanyama’s performance. Wembanyama struggled in the first half, and Henderson looked eager to assert himself as the preemptive number-one pick. At the half, Henderson led all scorers with 18 points and Wembanyama could only manage 9. But in the third quarter, Wembanyama responded by raining spectacular three-pointer after spectacular three-pointer. At the end of the frame, he had 26 points.
In the fourth, Wembanyama continued to impress, blocking Henderson on a dunk attempt and continuing to induce scouts to salivate with sidesteps and stepback threes fit for a shifty guard. Moreover, the way Wembanyama was up and active on the bench, fully immersed in his desire to win, was arguably equally encouraging. He complained after foul calls and seemed to relish not only the moment but also the matchup with Scoot.
At Wembanyama’s size, he can do things that no human being has ever done on a basketball court. 7-foot-3 with a high release, his shot is unblockable but not in the hyperbolized sense we refer to Kevin Durant’s shot. There is no human being, except maybe Rudy Gobert, who can block his shot.His shot is also extremely fluid and repeatable, appearing equally reliable off the catch as well off the dribble.
His isolation game already appears equal parts advanced and multi-faceted, showcasing a steady jump hook with a complimentary faceup game in the midrange. He can also get to his shot from three with a variety of moves, as he appears to have mastered the balance and footwork necessary to generate power off of any combination.
Naturally, at his height, he is an incredible threat rolling to the basket as well. Possessing court-bending gravity that will reveal open looks for his teammates just by his mere presence coupled with his plus shooting, he projects to be a versatile pick and roll partner immediately, with the potential to be the most devastating weapon in the action in the entire NBA.
Defensively, he has quick hips and astounding mobility, keeping up with Henderson and shifty guards with ease. Yet, he is not lacking in shot-blocking instincts and a general deterring presence, making him almost a hybrid of Bam Adebayo and his fellow Frenchman the aforementioned Rudy Gobert. Let me put that into perspective: Victor Wembanyama has the tools to be the best offensive player in the NBA, as well as the best defensive player.
At Wembanyama’s size, he can do things that no human being has ever done on a basketball court. He has incalculable potential and the mindset to realize it. With his recent performance, there is no doubt, teams like the Utah Jazz, the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder will be tanking games like we’ve never seen before. Watching Wembanyama’s performance, I could not help but be reminded of a similar performance which electrified the basketball world. Victor Wembanyama has arrived.