If you thought there were a few teams happy to lose in the most recent NBA season, just wait until you see the next one.
A generational draft prospect looms in the class of 2023, with French big man Victor Wembanyama described as a “one-of-one-caliber prospect, a franchise changer and a future NBA MVP so long as he can stay healthy” by ESPN’s Mike Schmitz.
Both he and colleague Jonathan Givony have stated Wembanyama is one of, if not the most talented NBA prospect they have ever scouted.
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Standing 7’3” (220cm) with a 7’9” wingspan (236cm) and a standing reach of 9’7” (292cm), he is the type of freakish all-around talent you would create in a video game.
Imagine: an 18-year-old with the skills of a guard, but the freakish size to be a defensive player of the year in the mould of countryman Rudy Gobert. Oh, and he can shoot threes.
(Side note: Gobert, Wembanyama and the potential of Joel Embiid to reclassify from Cameroon to France in time for the 2024 Olympics is going to make the host nation a true gold medal prospect.)
As Defector’s Patrick Redford wrote: “He’s, uh, Rudy Gobert with a better version of Karl-Anthony Towns’s offensive skillset? Kevin Durant XXL? An even larger Giannis Antetokounmpo without any weaknesses?
“Not only are none of these quite right, it’s almost impossible to imagine any of those speculative players because we’ve never seen anything like any of them.
“Which is to say: Wembanyama is as exciting of a prospect since at least LeBron James.”
The teenager set the record for the most blocks per game in a FIBA tournament when he averaged 5.7, along with 14 points and 7.4 rebounds, as France claimed silver at last year’s Under-19 World Cup.
Despite his age he has already played at the top level in Europe. Over the last 10 games in EuroLeague and France Pro A, he is averaging 13 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 21.6 minutes – that’s against men, not kids – while shooting 63 per cent from two-point range and 50 per cent from three.
In a 2023 mock draft published this past weekend, ESPN understandably tipped him to go first.
“ASVEL is springing him free with off-ball screens like a wing, unleashing his feathery shooting touch,” Schmitz wrote.
“With his handle and footwork on display, he has been looking like a bigger Kevin Durant at times by splashing self-created step-back 3s. He’s starting to add a more advanced midpost package, fading into back-shoulder turnarounds with incredible ease. He’s getting to lobs no other player on the planet could even think of.
“On top of that, he’s protecting the rim at an elite level – well ahead of Rudy Gobert at the same stage – while also showing the ability to step out and switch onto guards unlike any player we’ve previously seen at his height.”
Adding to Wembanyama’s prospects of going No.1 is recent years proving you can take impressive international prospects and expect their games to translate to the NBA.
Josh Giddey (pick 6 last year) and LaMelo Ball (pick 3 in 2020) are the most recent examples out of the NBL, while Luka Doncic went straight from EuroLeague MVP as a teenager to US superstardom.
And it’s not even worth trying to figure out which teams would be most interested in Wembanyama – everyone would be. Everyone can fit in a player of his freakish talent.
It may be that Oklahoma City, Detroit, Orlando or Houston, or indeed any struggling team next season, is quicker to decide tanking is in order than usual because of the Frenchman. The adjusted NBA lottery odds, which give the top three teams equal 14 per cent odds of the first pick, won’t do much to stop that.
After all, more people play the lottery when the prize is enormous. A 14 per cent chance at a franchise-changing talent is worth the gamble.