In this myopic world, it’s hard not to think about the next thing or the next season. But when it comes to the NBA draft, it makes sense to have your eyes on 2023 already. The NBA has, and what it sees could be a next-generation draft prospect, if not the next great star.
Victor Wembanyama is the headliner of the 2023 draft. This is an understatement. He towers over him.
Wembanyama is an 18-year-old sensation from France who is widely expected to be next summer’s first choice. He may be the epitome of what the modern NBA is becoming, as a 7-2 threat from all sides of the court, who can also provide defense under the rim with his fluid movement and Mister Fantastic length. As a teenager, he has already accumulated many minutes playing for his professional team in France ASVEL and will probably play an even more important role next season.
This is a draft of promising teams that will position themselves for next season because it could change the franchise for a decade. If you haven’t heard of him yet, here’s what you need to know.
Euroleague stats: 13 games. 17.5 minutes per game, 6.5 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 1.9 blocks per game, 34.8 percent from the field, 30.3 percent on three-point attempts, 66.7 percent on free throws.
While the stats may not seem all that impressive, just know that he’s doing it at 18, against players ten or more years older than him, in the world’s second-best league, not Miss South or MAC. He scored 18 points on 4 of 5 trebles and grabbed six rebounds against AX Armani Exchange Milan – the third-place team in the league – in April.
Wembanyama scored 22 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks in a superb performance against Team USA, which included Chet Holmgren and Jayden Ivey, at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship. France lost, but by only 83-81, with Uembanyama scoring over 7 points in 27 minutes before fouling. He averaged 14 points, 7.4 rebounds and what looks like a statistical error 5.7 blocks in seven games in just 22.5 minutes per game.
“I don’t really trust people too much, but I give credit to this guy right here,” Holmgren said later. “I thought I was tall, I thought I had long arms, but he takes it to a whole other level. He moves great. He has a chance. He also has skills. One day he will be a rich man.”
For more on what Wembanyama is capable of, let’s turn to The Athletic’s NBA Draft Analyst Sam Vesenye.
Spring: Wembanyama is one of the most impressive avenues I have ever seen. His length is clearly outrageous and only matched by guys like Rudy Gobert and Mark Williams in the NBA. No wonder this makes him an amazing punch blocker. This year he led the Euroleague in blocks with 1.9 per game.
But what makes him truly special is that he’s not limited to being a rimrunner and blocker like these guys. Everything starts with balance. Wembanyama moves like a guy five inches shorter than himself, with real coordination. He is not very explosive, but his balance is wild for someone of his size. This allows him to be a true defender in space, while also effectively flipping from his weak side. He is lean, but not as skinny as Holmgren, as he has a relatively proportionate build of 235 pounds.
Wembanyama plans to become an incredible defender. But his craziest things actually tend to show up on offense. He can take and knock down 3’s with confidence, and show real prowess as a straight-line rider. He even demonstrated the ability to pull himself up with a step back, again demonstrating his coordination and balance. Big guys like that shouldn’t have that kind of influence at this level.
When Vembanyama attacks from the rebound, he covers the ground with his steps so quickly that it is almost impossible to stay ahead. He has an elite cross radius as defenders can simply throw the ball anywhere around the hoop and he can outplay the ball against just about anyone. He’s still improving his consistency in that regard, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone with that kind of length, coordination, touch, and real attacking skills.
What is it and what is its ceiling?
Spring: Wembanyama is still working to influence the game every night on offense. The defense is mostly there, even at 18 in an incredibly difficult league. Offensively, he is definitely still improving.
But with the flare and tools he displays at his size, it’s hard not to get ahead of yourself and think he could grow into a franchise player over time. He is 7ft 2in, with an elite build and excellent blocking instinct. He can defend himself in space. He can shoot from a distance. He can handle the ball. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player with these tools.
It is worth noting that he had several injuries. He missed the end of that season with ASVEL due to a muscle injury. Earlier this year, he also suffered a bone bruise in his shoulder that forced him out, and a finger injury left him out for a couple of weeks. He missed some time back in late 2020 and early 2021 due to a stress fracture. He will need to stay healthy to reach his ceiling. But it’s hard to say anything other than that Wembanyama’s ceiling is higher than anyone who has ever entered the league. These tools are so outrageous.
Can you make an NBA composition for him?
Spring: It’s almost like watching Rudy Gobert if he could dribble, pass and shoot at an effective NBA level. It seems impossible, I know. But it’s the same as watching Wembanyama. I hope he stays healthy and his body allows him to reach an incredibly high ceiling. He will definitely enter the season at number 1 in the NBA team lists.
(Photo by Victor Vembanyama: Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via AP)