Victor Wembanyama Has The Perfect Blend Of Maturity, Mentorship, And Transcendent Size And Skill To Be A Top-10 NBA Player Next Season
Greenie posted about Victor Wembanyama earlier this week based on an ESPN feature that revealed, among other things, that the basketball prodigy now stands at a stunning 7-foot-5 with shoes on. Since Wembanyama only turned 19 last month, he may not be finished growing.
Now that it's becoming clearer which NBA franchises are in the running for the No. 1 overall pick, stories about Wembanyama are dropping left and right. Sports Illustrated is the latest to build a great profile around the French phenom, and it provides some pretty interesting insight into who Wembanyama is as a person. Upon reading that, in conjunction with the physical tools and polish he already has as a 19-year-old, I'm ready to say Wembanyama will be a top-10 NBA player even as a rookie.
Nobody has drawn this much buzz entering the NBA Draft since LeBron James in 2003. Even The King wasn't considered a top-10 player in his first season as a pro. In fact, he was part of a legendary draft class featuring Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. None of those three were considered instant top-10 players. None of them made the All-Star team as rookies. Thus, I realize how bold of a prediction this is.
But if you look around the NBA right now, who are the 10 best players? In no particular order, this is who comes to mind for me:
- Nikola Jokic
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Luka Doncic
- LeBron James
- Kevin Durant
- Joel Embiid
- Jayson Tatum
- Steph Curry
- Devin Booker
- Kyrie Irving
You can make arguments for others but I think that's a pretty solid list. Look at it. LeBron will be in his 21st season when Wembanyama enters the NBA. Then you have Durant and Curry getting up there in age and always getting hurt. We all know Embiid is constantly in and out of the lineup. Kyrie is a knucklehead who's often banged up and may retire or cause his latest team to implode at any moment.
I'll hear top-10 arguments for, say, Donovan Mitchell or Ja Morant. In any event, seems pretty open for Wembanyama to put his stamp on the NBA right away.
The literal day after the 2022 NBA Draft, I posted this about Wembanyama and in that piece, went into the key mentors he's had in Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum to prepare himself for the jump to pro basketball's highest level:
This latest deep dive from Sports Illustrated touches on another French big man, Rudy Gobert, who had nothing but glowing things to say about the NBA's next superstar including this key quote:
"I know he's gonna keep doing the work, because he knows where he wants to go. He doesn't just dream about it. He doesn't just think that everything around him will happen because he's Victor. He knows that he has to work harder than everybody else."
Then there was this from one of Wembanyama's former teammates:
"'I've seen him make five threes with the right hand in a row, switch to the left and make five threes,' says Stanford's Maxime Raynaud, who grew close with Wembanyama during a shared final season at Nanterre, Victor's first club. 'That’s the craziest s— I had ever seen in my life.'"
Even more impressive is how Wembanyama's work ethic has been strong since his early basketball days. Obviously anyone who makes it to the NBA has to put in countless hours on the court, yet his training with "self-described psychopath" Karim Boubekri has laid the groundwork for a player with an almost unbelievably polished skill set given his age.
"Boubekri’s marathon training sessions typically began with at least two hours of ballhandling work. He demanded his players bring three items to each practice: a pair of soccer goalkeeper’s gloves, a plastic bag and a jump rope. Fail to do so and run 30 laps around the court. The gloves helped develop finger precision, while the plastic bag was tied around the ball, forcing the kids to bounce it forcefully. The rope was simply for jumping. Players would switch between weighted and regular balls. While Boubekri's approach was intense, he kept his team engaged and diminished the monotony of the work. 'That taught us rigor,' Wembanyama says.
"Boubekri recalls Wembanyama making huge strides in their first year together, gaining comfort with the ball in his hands and confidence experimenting in games. What impressed him most was Victor’s mind. When Nanterre would travel to tournaments, to pass time, Boubekri would often read off Trivial Pursuit cards at random, to test his players, particularly Wembanyama, who had a wide range of interests—from science to comic books to art—and esoteric information at the ready. 'Victor used to answer the weirdest questions,' he recalls."
The piece goes on to explain how Wembanyama taught himself fluent English even though he's only been to the US twice in his life. Finally, we have a former NBA big man in Ian Mahinmi who's served as a mentor to Wembanyama as well, and his take on how comfortable the teenager already is in his own skin is particularly noteworthy:
"When you’re an abnormal person—when you're tall—to excel, you first have to be comfortable with yourself. For him to be so special, and to be already so comfortable so early…it’s a very rare maturity."
You get this many rave reviews with such common themes popping up about how Wembanyama's precocious nature extends so far beyond the hardwood, and it becomes easier to buy the hype.
Wembanyama's poise and confidence in his skills don't come across as brash or arrogant, either. Plenty of proven players around him have counseled him on the pitfalls of that I'm sure. You see some early success stories get too big for their britches and end up in the mental gutter.
Brooks Koepka is a recent notable example of this, as laid out in his surprisingly vulnerable episode of Netflix's new series Full Swing. Koepka didn't toe the line of confidence and cocky well. He acted like golf didn't matter that much to him. Like it was a nerdy game and that he'd rather have played baseball professionally. Seemed like no one could rattle him. Now, he's admitted to losing his confidence and bolted the PGA Tour for a LIV Golf payday.
I'm not writing Koepka off for his whole career, or saying the four-time major champion won't win any more of those marquee events going forward. It's more to underscore how fragile confidence can be especially if you get too big-headed about it.
An even more extreme case of this in the NFL was Josh Rosen. Yikes, man. When it comes to Wembanyama, I get more Patrick Mahomes type vibes.
To tie this all together, yours truly predicted Mahomes to be a superstar coming out of Texas Tech. Sad that I didn't get that on public record. Ask anyone who knows me, though. It's true. A big reason why? This Mahomes profile by Doug Farrar from Bleacher Report. Mahomes explained how he was responsible for adjusting protections at the line, was able to audible to different plays, and broke down a play titled, "Green Rug Rock Pop 2 East Bill Log 95 Z Post B Will" in flawless fashion.
You can only watch so many highlights, game film and make your own assessments about guys without the insider knowledge teams have about them. That's where these long profile pieces can help fill in the gaps and be so valuable and illuminating. There's always the risk of the subject presenting themselves as someone they're not, of course. In Wembanyama's case, he seems genuine, humble and laser-focused on maximizing his limitless basketball potential. Like you wouldn't be surprised if he wrote poetry on the side or something a la Myles Garrett.
All these revelations only solidify how NBA-ready Wembanyama is not just from a talent standpoint, but perhaps more importantly, in terms of his mentality to deal with the scrutiny, expectations and hype that'll accompany him from Day 1. Brace yourselves, because as the Si piece calls it, "Wembamania" is coming to a court near you.