The NBA media hype train has been full steam ahead for the alluring potential of Victor Wembanyama. Even more moderate takes of his potential have him dubbed as the best prospect since LeBron James. Others have declared him as the best prospect period. To be fair, LeBron James himself called Wembanyama an alien, usurping the typical “unicorn” label for something that is at least more imaginative.
None of this is Victor’s fault obviously. After going first overall in the 2023 NBA Draft to the San Antonio Spurs, Wembanyama has had heft expectations hoisted upon his gigantic, but slender frame. However, as many have already pointed out, what is it about Wembanyama that truly makes him special? Being a giant with ball-handling skills, and a shooting touch is certainly not unprecedented. Players like Bol Bol and Kristaps Porzingis are already the prototypes for this type of player. And while there is an argument that can be made for Wembanyama being an evolution of those players, the preponderance of evidence would seem to suggest otherwise.
Realistically, though it seems Wembanyama’s size and skillset seems to be the ultimate marriage for creating a perfect NBA player – there are diminishing returns for perimeter skills in a player that size. As an example, Kevin Durant‘s is a special talent largely due to his height and skill set. The presumption tends to be that if someone like Durant were even taller, he would just be even more special as a talent.
While this sounds great in theory, one needs only consider the reality of human physiology to think about how absurd this assumption is. Would Vince Carter have been a more spectacular athlete and dunker if he were 6 inches taller? The question doesn’t even make sense. At 7’4″, Wembanyama’s skill set likely will not translate to the NBA as well as those drooling over his potential seem to think it will.
Does Wembanyama have a great ball-handling skills for someone his size? Yes, but the key phrase there is for someone is his size. No one is going to get him confused with Kyrie Irving. And how exactly does this skill set benefit him going against the best basketball athletes in the world? Sure, the ability to handle the ball well reduces the likelihood of unforced error turnovers, without the requisite elite speed to accompany his ball-handling, he’s not really going to be blowing past players to get into the post. Even though his shooting is good for his size, Wembanyama’s perimeter shot is incredible average at best.
Of all the praise that get placed upon Wembanyama, no one has accused him of being an elite post player. Victor is essentially a giant with average perimeter and post skills. The idea that this will translate into a game that can dominate in the NBA is equally short-sighted as it is delusional. Reality remains that the perfect height for a true unicorn is in the 6’8″ to 6’10” range.
Players in that height range, with the right skill set and physical tools can be match up nightmare for most players. Giannis Antetokounmpo is fast that most post players, and just as strong if not stronger than many of them. This combined with his length, quickness and touch around the rim, makes him a unicorn. Every additional inch of height above 7 feet comes with increased injury risk, reduced foot speed and reduced coordination.
In theory, having someone like Allen Iverson in the body of Victor Wembanyama would essentially be the perfect basketball player. All of the skills, quickness and explosiveness of a smaller player, with all of the obvious advantages of being the biggest player on the court. This just isn’t possible however, and NBA fans are doing a disservice to Victor with unrealistic expectations.
What Wembanyama does represent however is a player with incredible defensive potential, and perhaps an average output on offense. This is totally fine, and represents an above average find even for a lottery pick. However, while it is premature to call Wembanyama a bust, it is fair to say the expectations defy reality.