I get the excitement around Victor Wembanyama joining the NBA. He is a young, tall man and, according to lots of YouTube highlight videos, adept at dribbling, shooting, and passing. His wingspan at work covering shooters and slashers is every defensive-minded coach’s dream.
But calling this 7-foot-4 Frenchman a game-changer is a bit of a stretch, an expectation not even his 7-foot-11 inch-wingspan can fully cover.
I’m not even sure he will become a dominant player on either end of the court, and here’s why:
Assume today is Wembanyama’s first official NBA regular season game. What do we expect to see from him?
He will start for sure since he’s probably drafted by a bottom-tier team lacking in firepower. He will be difficult to guard on a fast break because of his long strides and long arms.
But what about in a half-court set? That’s where we will start to see the many holes in Victor Wembanyama that will probably make him a ship easy to sink during a storm.
Expect his coach to remove him from high-impact, full-contact situations. I’m talking about pick-and-rolls where he will get hit by an older, stronger, beefier defender. I’m talking about low post action where bigger defenders can outmuscle him and put a strain on his back and legs, where pesky defenders will get away—many times—with hitting his arm while jockeying for position or attempting a shot.
It’s not that he’s shown reluctance to engage in physical play. He’s an aggressive offensive player game on taking a hit. But if you are the coach or front office executive, do you want your first-round pick who will put fans on the stands injured early and demoted to cheerleader role the rest of the season? Don’t we have enough stars in street clothes already?
The question of whether or not he can handle the physicality is not just about his current slim frame. The team that will draft him will also take into consideration the fact that at his young age, Victor Wembanyama has already sat out a lot of games because of injuries: psoas injury in June 2022, shoulder contusion in December 2021, fractured finger a month earlier, and a stress fracture in his fibula on December 2020.
It is possible his coach will use him to stretch the defense and put him outside the arc to wait for a kick out so he can shoot threes (not so different from today’s three-point shooting centers, right?)
After all, scouts say he has outside shooting. But will he be as lethal as the three-point shooters today in the NBA lighting up from distance?
Opposing coaches would dare him to shoot rather than give him the lane to drive. Looking at some of his 2022 games late in the year, this strategy appears sensible: 1-of-6 against Gravelines on September 23, 2-of-7 against Le Mans on October 15, 3-of-8 against Limoges on November 4, 1-of-5 against Nanterre on November 20, against Roanne on December 6, and against Paris on December 17. He was 0-of-5 against Monaco on December 11 and 2-of-9 against Strasbourg on December 26.
Fans swoon over Wembanyama as if he’s an unstoppable offensive juggernaut that will single-handedly carry a team to victories when he hasn’t even been a sink-or-swim franchise player in France. How else would you explain his team winning against Pau-Lacq-Orthez when all Victor Wembanyama can muster is a meager 10 points after shooting 3-of-10 from the field for an abysmal 30% FGA? In a three-game stretch in December against Paris, Cholet, and Strasbourg, his FGA was 36.4%, 38.1%, and 33.3%, respectively.
And how will he perform on defense?
Well, NBA teams have been playing against tall players with good footwork. Kristaps Porzingis is 7’3”. Lauri Markkanen is another agile and mobile 7-footer. But more importantly, why haven’t we seen a lot of shot-blocking in the NBA? Why is it that despite these tall players, it is common to see guards and forwards driving to the basket uncontested?
Ah yes, the defensive three seconds. The NBA wants more pace and shooting and less of that lane scrum that slows the game and diminishes its aesthetics. That and having Wembanyama cover a legit three-point shooter on the wing that will force him not to help a beat defender who is in the rearview mirror of a slashing offensive player and the shot-blocking advantage he provides is already gone.
And assuming he finds himself in a shot-blocking position a lot of times—and make no mistake, he will block a lot of shots—how will his slim frame react over time after absorbing the impact of big-bodied players driving in full stride and hitting him in force time and time again, considering his skinny physique and his history of injuries?
All these considered, tell me again how is Victor Wembanyama a game-changer?
How is he a game-changer when he can only average around 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game—a stat line many NBA players shorter than Wembanyama can easily better —despite his combined height, dribbling, and shooting?
Don’t get me wrong – I think Wembanyama will become a good player. I wish him success, I really do.
But a game-changer? That one I think you got wrong.
Even Wilt Chamberlain—the man who wreaked havoc on the league and forced the NBA to implement new rules—wasn’t crowned game-changer on his first day here.
Suggesting that Wembanyama is even Chamberlain-ish is blasphemy.