Wemby, or not Wemby? That's not the question.
Victor is absolutely going #1 overall Thursday night. But if I was Spurs GM Brian Wright, I'd have done everything possible to make sure it was a different team Adam Silver announces him to while I ogle over my kings ransom of trade booty in return. Call this my legacy take. Call me a moron. Call me whatever you want. History is basically screaming from the top of it's lungs that it's about to repeat itself. TL;DR: What this all boils down to is that you just can't be this tall and this athletic and stay healthy.
Rebuttal from everyone else:
Welcome to Tall Ball. A play off my absolute favorite NBA analytics book, "Sprawlball", by noted Spurs fan Kirk Goldsberry. Maybe this blog can be a chapter in Kirk's next book "Sprawlball 2: Skyscraper's Invade Suburbia". I even commissioned Barstool's very own Trigs to make a couple graphics like Wemby above and I generated some absolutely inferior looking heat maps in a very Sprawlbally style to improve your advanced "Per 100 scrolls" reading statistics.
The real question is if Wembanyama is going to live up to his hype or his height. Spurs fans better pray it's just the former and not the latter. I scraped every player that ever played in the NBA using basketball-reference to analyze solely the health of the tallest players ever and the more important subset of tallest ever who played more than just center. By that I mean - the ones that weren't just tall potted plants rooted into the ground.
We'll get to the tall shifty bigs soon, but first let's have a little fun exploring the absolute tallest straight up potted plant centers that ever played in the NBA. These are your professional athletes with every bit the athletic ability of a 7-ft tall grade school librarian.
Let's review some shooting heat maps for four out of the top five. Manute Bol played before shot coordinate tracking began so I don't have anything for him, but it's not like were covering anything wildly unexpected here. I'm not even interested in their success rates, just attempts to remind everyone how immobile these guys were and yet they STILL couldn't stay on the court.
Gheorghe Muresan (only year available)
If I'm being honest, this heat map shot attempt distribution is more diverse than I thought for the tallest player to ever play the game. Then again, it's possible that Gheorghe was just taking flat footed layups from 14 feet on the baseline. But if you think that's bad, let's talk Tacko.
The thing about heat maps is that they only shade areas where a player shoots the most, so you can see the overlaying trend. For example, if Michael Jordan only shot one 22-ft jumper left of center in his career, that one single shot would never register on the map. This does not apply to Tacko Fall. With just 55 career shot attempts, his one rogue 22-footer pops up on the radar like an F-22 aiming to land on an aircraft carrier.
I fully realize I'm getting a little off track with this single random shot from a random big but it was too much fun to explore. I mean, this shot was almost three times as long as Tacko's second longest career shot attempt (all of 8 feet). That's about two full lengths worth of Tackos as shown below.
What led Tacko to taking such an out of character shot? Had to be a end of quarter heave, right? Nope. Just a garbage time heat check.
Nothing but net. And glass. And a lot of rim. Tacko was so out of place he looked like he was about to ask for directions to the basket before taking what I guess can be described as a failed attempted three-point, two-point conversion. But you know what? No one in NBA history will ever have a better shooting percentage from 9-22 ft than Tacko Fall. 1/1 baby.
Sorry. Thank you for allowing me to binge on some Tackos. Back on track!
Shawn Bradley at least expanded his game to posting up for baseline jumpers - particularly on the stage right side. Fun fact: Bradley also attempted only one 22-ft shot in his career and he ALSO made the shot! Is this some NBA 2K like glitch in the matrix for seven footers?
I did my due diligence into Yao's 22-ft accuracy and am sad to report he went 0-4. No glitch.
Yeah, Yeah, Whatever. What About Players That Did More Than Reach For the Hoop?
OK, you probably didn't need me to tell you all those guys were immobile, but the point is despite how little game they had, they still broke down. Plus I needed to do some heat maps for the Sprawlball theme. Then the Tacko thing happened. Whatever, let's get to it.
Imagine how much worse it gets when seven footers start thinking they're Derrick Rose. The list below is the better comp to go off because it includes the tallest players that ever played more than just center. The assumption is this requires much more out of their tall, awkward bodies. Here's the top-12 with a brief injury synopsis based on some quick googling. The very first name is an almost perfect comp to Victor Wembanyama.
Ralph Sampson - The Wembanyama of NBA Past
Ralph Sampson was Victor Wembanyama. The hottest draft sensation leading up to the 1983 NBA draft. So much that the commissioner joked "we have a surprise here" right before announcing him to the Houston Rockets at #1. Before Ralph even chose a college, Red Auerbach literally laid a briefcase with a million dollars on Ralphs kitchen table to try to convince him to skip college and go to the Celtics. Literally.
Sampson was the guy everyone said would not only be the best player in the league, but would also change how the game was played. A 7'4" big man who played power forward and moved like a guard. And once Hakeem showed up shortly after to form the two towers, the Rockets were the team everyone thought might be the next Celtics or Lakers. The first three years went great health wise, but Sampson would never sniff playing a full season after that due to chronic knee issues.
The Sampson era was well before my time, but as I understand, he came back way too early from his initial knee injury which people say destroyed his career. That might be so, but given the history of tall ball players who don't just play center (and even the ones that just do that), another injury would not have been far off. It's really just a biomechanical reality. Mother nature is like that old Bill Cosby joke. She might get you in the league with the gift of height, but that bitch will take you right out. That's Tall Ball.
If there's one lesson these 2023 playoffs should have taught us it's that champions generally aren't do-it-all me first super star teams outside of having a top-five player all time in LeBron or Steph Curry in their prime. Or a guy named Mike. So yes - if I was an NBA GM - I would absolutely have looked to trade the pick for a kings ransom. Hornets for #2 and bunch of picks would stock you up for the future and give you an unselfish star with a history of finding an open shooter. The Hornets are never good, so those picks will have value. OKC also makes some sense. Who knows, maybe Fox/Sabonis plus four firsts every other year to the seven year max to Sacramento? I don't know, but seeing how enamored everyone is on Wembanyama, selling high seems like it might have that kind of market.
You could even sign a sharp shooting mid-range guy off the streets afterwards. You need someone who's consistent from 9-22 feet. I know a guy.
Anyone else in the mood for tacos?