Of all of the years to nosedive to the bottom of the standings, 2023 was the one to do it. Not since Zion Williamson has there been such a tantalizing talent at the top of the NBA Draft. Victor Wembanyama is a 7-foot-5 unicorn who can handle the basketball, shoot from outside and erase shots at the rim. He’s perhaps the most hyped prospect in the draft since LeBron James, and made teams like the Spurs, Hornets and Trail Blazers alter their season’s to get a shot at drafting him.
San Antonio lost 60 games this season to give themselves the best possible odds to land this potentially franchise altering talent. What would they get if they won the Wemby sweepstakes? Let’s find out as we break down what he does well, what he needs to improve upon, and how he could fit with the Silver and Black.
After finishing the season with the worst defensive rating in franchise history, San Antonio will likely be looking to improve on shutting down their opponents. Wembanyama would step in and instantly be a difference maker on defense.
The french big man has an eight-foot wingspan (would be the longest in the NBA,) to go alongside his 7’5” stature. He uses every bit of it to block shots that seem unreachable for most. You will routinely see him switched onto guards, who try to get a step back over him, only to find their shot going to the other end of the court. His length allows him to cover distances quickly, making him adept at switching and recovering despite slower feet. He has great instincts as a rim protector, and is always looking for drivers as a help defender.
In France, he is already an intimidating interior defensive force. Even when he’s not blocking a shot, just being in the area causes finishers to alter their shot, opting for floaters and pull ups rather than attempts right at the basket. Having a game changer on that end of the floor changes the entire complexion of how an offense attacks the defense.
His defensive ability leads to transition attempts too. He’s able to tip a lot of passes on the perimeter with his length, leading to runouts for his teammates. Wembanyama is a very strong athlete for his size. Typically giants like him move pretty slow, not providing much as finishers in transition. With Wemby, he streaks down the floor off of long rebounds and steals, sometimes in front of everyone else, for explosive finishes on the other end. The ball handling in transition is coming along as well, but could use some tightening as he is still prone to picking up his dribble or turning it over when faced with pressure.
In the half court, Victor is developing into a strong shot maker. We’ve all seen this highlight, where he steps back for a three, and then grabs his own board for a put back.
Here’s a Victor Wembanyama putback dunk off his own missed stepback 3 pic.twitter.com/1Vgcm9vPCM— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 2, 2023
Just insane stuff. He does something that will make your jaw drop every single game. It is not normal to see someone his size create space off of the bounce and sink deep three pointers. Wembanyama is hitting side step threes for goodness sakes! In France he’s averaging 21.4 points, 47% from the field and 30% from three. The deep shooting has been inconsistent, but it’s a smooth release, and nearly incontestable. As he continues to get more shots and gains comfortability, the three-point consistency should come around.
Just watching Wembanyama play makes me nervous. He’s rail-thin at 220 pounds, and has experienced injuries at every level he’s played at. Will his body hold up for the physicality of the NBA? Even in France he can get pushed off of his spot, and cleared out of the paint by shorter, stronger players. As it stands now, it doesn’t seem like Wemby can handle the physicality that comes with being a starting center in the league. He’s going to have to play the 4 for awhile, meaning you need to pair a bruiser with him who can handle the dirty work.
Getting pushed off of his spot can lead to some poor shot selection from the 18-year-old. He’s very reliant on the three right now, despite not knocking them down at a high percentage. There are times where you wish that rather than shooting a contested step back, he would use his length to get to the rim. Wemby is a strong driver when he does it, but needs to spend more possessions purposefully getting to the rack.
A lot of the inefficiencies on offense have come from an increased offensive load. His field goal attempts have doubled since last season, and the attention he gets on that end has changed. Look at this picture from a recent matchup with Monaco.
Once he catches it in the low post, three defenders are already shifting their attention to Wembanyama. One is digging down to double, and the defender on the nail is cheating over to help as well. This kind of defensive attention has been routine for the big man this season, but he still struggles to make plays for others out of a double team. Wembanyama is averaging 2.5 turnover a game this year, and makes some really ugly passes when pressured by multiple defenders.
Long term, Wemby is going to be a go-to scoring option. The potential and shot creation ability is clearly there for him to do it. It is going to be a learning process, as he figures out how to get other involved when facing defensive schemes designed specifically to shut him down. Wherever the frenchman lands, there will need to be an infrastructure in place to help him develop into a leading man.
Biases aside, San Antonio is one of the best fits for Wembanyama in the draft. Coming into a franchise that has a reputation of development, and a coach who can put the right scheme in place to capitalize on the strengths in his game will be paramount for reaching his potential. The Spurs have other playmakers like Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Malaki Branham and Tre Jones who can take some of the offensive burden off of Wemby, and give him the space he needs to develop into a go-to scorer. Zach Collins also provides a solid interior presence who has some “nasty” in him that will allow Wembanyama to play on the perimeter. I really love the idea of Collins operating the high post and Wemby cutting to the basket or spotting up for threes.
Adding him to the Spurs transition game could be lethal. San Antonio ranked second in the NBA in pace last season, which would fit Wembanyama’s style of play perfectly. Fast paced offense will get the big man leaking out in transition for easy finishes on the other end. If they end up drafting Wemby, Spurs players should work on their outlet passes this offseason.
Most importantly, the Silver and Black need a star to build around. Wembanyama is that star. He can step onto the court and be a difference maker on the defensive end, and a shot creator on offense. This is a can’t miss, slam dunk first pick if they win the lottery. Spurs fans who suffered through last season will be rewarded with a generational talent if they land Victor Wembanyama.