Victor Wembanyama entered the NBA as one of the most hyped prospects of all time.
So, as the 19-year-old puts the finishing touches on the first month of his NBA career, how’s he looked?
As is the case with every rookie, Wembanyama has had his ups and downs. For example, he’s already had four 20-point games, one of which was a 38-point masterpiece against the Suns that had the whole world buzzing. However, he hasn’t been particularly efficient overall and he’s turning the ball over at one of the highest rates in the league.
To get a better sense of how good Wembanyama already is, his biggest areas of improvement and what he has the potential to become, let’s take a closer look at what he’s shown offensively and defensively.
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Grading Victor Wembanyama’s offense
You might not believe what you’re seeing if you catch Wembanyama on the right night.
As you’d expect, having someone who is 7-4 with an 8-foot wingspan on your team can be a cheat code. He runs the floor well for a big man, he has great touch around the basket and the Spurs are learning that they can launch the ball to the stratosphere whenever he’s cutting or rolling to the rim.
I’m fully aware of how nerdy this might sound, but Wembanyama’s catch radius is astounding.
(That was a casual left-handed tip over Robert Covington, a 6-7 forward with go-go gadget arms himself.)
The Spurs are smart to play the long game, but it’s clear Wembanyama will benefit from playing with a good passer. There have been too many times where he’s had a clear advantage but the Spurs haven’t rewarded him. It’s not a huge surprise that Tre Jones has assisted Wembanyama more than anyone else on the Spurs and that San Antonio has been much better offensively with the two of them on the court.
ROOKIE RANKINGS: Holmgren on Wembanyama’s heels for No. 1 spot
The rest of Wembanyama’s offensive game is a work in progress. He can get his shot off over just about anyone — Kevin Durant, who is usually the one towering over defenders, said all you can do is play hard and contest — but he’s shooting 36.4 percent from midrange and 28.3 percent from 3-point range, both of which are below-average marks for his position. That’s not great considering almost two-thirds of his shot attempts have been jumpers.
Plays like this are breathtaking:
But it might be a while before he’s doing things like that on the regular.
Wembanyama has also had some turnover issues, coughing the ball up 3.9 times per game. (There aren’t many players in NBA history who have averaged more turnovers in their rookie season.) He can create off the dribble, but he’ll have to tighten his handle to become a more reliable creator. He’s a legitimately good passer, but the game seems to be moving a bit too fast for him at times, which is normal for a rookie.
Wembanyama does a nice job drawing the double team and spinning away from it here, but he would’ve been better off skipping a pass to Cedi Osman, a 44.7 percent 3-point shooter this season, than trying to thread the needle to Malaki Branham:
That was one of a season-high seven turnovers Wembanyama committed against the Heat that night.
Up-and-down as Wembanyama has been on offense, it’s easy to see the vision. In time, the players who are strong enough to battle with him in the post probably won’t be quick enough to keep up with him off the dribble. If they are quick enough, then they probably won’t be agile enough to chase Wembanyama around screens. If they are agile enough, then they probably aren’t big enough to battle with him in the post.
There’s one particular play the Spurs are already running — a cross-screen with center Zach Collins in the post — that takes advantage of that triple threat. The simplest actions could become impossible to guard.
The skill Wembanyama has for someone his size is truly incredible. To think that this is his baseline is honestly terrifying. If you want to get an idea of the type of player he could become, watch his 38-point game against the Suns. He put it all on display.
Grading Victor Wembanyama’s defense
As our Steph Noh detailed here, Wembanyama is already looking like one of the best defenders in the NBA, which is quite impressive considering he’s a 19-year-old rookie. He was named the best defender in France’s LNB Pro A league last season, but it’s still incredibly rare for a teenager to be an impact defender in the NBA.
The biggest thing that stands out about Wembanyama is, of course, his size. He’s a massive presence around the basket and his length makes him a nightmare to score around the basket. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also nimble enough to step out to the perimeter. The Spurs like to put him on limited shooters so he can roam around like a free safety, but he’s had moments where he’s defended the likes of Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving and Paul George on an island.
MORE: Victor Wembanyama’s mind-bending potential in one play
George, an eight-time All-Star with six All-NBA selections, had a great quote on his podcast about what it’s like playing against Wembanyama.
“Even coming off shooting midrange shots, he would be in the corner but I would shoot it — like, he’s literally in the corner — and as I’m following through, I see his arm is like right here next to me. I’m like, ‘What the f—? Is this a bad shot? Should I pass that to the corner? I thought you was guarding the corner. That’s why I thought this was open!’
“He was doing certain s— on the court. It was like, ‘You’re in every play.'”
It really does feel like Wembanyama is everywhere sometimes. Here’s a great example of just how much ground he covers and how reluctant players are to challenge him, both in the paint and out on the perimeter:
Victor Wembanyama just takes up so much space. Raptors score but it’s fun to watch teams figure out where the gaps are. pic.twitter.com/GSj57xGd4P
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) November 5, 2023
There are times when Wembanyama overhelps and gets burned off the dribble (Duncan Robinson recently did him dirty), but the good has far outweighed the bad. He’s already blocking a ton of shots, opponents are having a miserable time scoring against him no matter where he is and the Spurs are actually getting some stops with him on the court.
Wembanyama making an All-Defensive team and receiving Defensive Player of the Year votes this season is on the cards. It’s crystal clear that he has all of the tools to be a very, very special defender.
Victor Wembanyama stats
- 30.0 minutes per game
- 18.6 points per game
- 9.3 rebounds per game
- 2.5 assists per game
- 2.4 blocks per game
- 1.0 steals per game
- 3.9 turnovers per game
- 2.5 fouls per game
- 43.2 percent field goal shooting
- 28.3 percent 3-point shooting
- 76.6 percent free throw shooting
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