Victor Wembanyama is a talent beyond compare, retired great Yao Ming told Reuters, as the San Antonio Spurs’ first-overall pick makes his highly anticipated National Basketball Association (NBA) regular-season debut on Wednesday.
Not since LeBron James 20 years ago has a prospect generated excitement on the level seen for the seven-foot four-inch (2.24-meter) rookie, who will start at home against Texan rivals Dallas Mavericks after a remarkable preseason. Wembanyama, whose combination of height, reach, skill, and smarts has prompted comparisons to both the unguardable Kevin Durant and the tallest NBA Hall of Famer Ming, is expected to be the next big thing from overseas.
There have been times Wembanyama has struggled, which is natural for any rookie to go through as he finds his feet against NBA opposition. But he has also showcased his rare ability to generate highlight plays despite not having the ball in his hands. One standout came in a game against Oklahoma City, where Wembanyama pump-faked a defender at the 3-point line, took two dribbles to his right, and spun around the back of the lane before launching an underhand lefty scoop layup against Thunder big man Chet Holmgren.
The play, which was highlighted in a Fox Sports video, left fans in stitches and instantly put Wembanyama on everyone’s radar. It was just a tiny sample of what the future could hold for the teenager from Paris, who grew up idolizing his father and mother’s professional sports careers, and his older sister Eve, a professional high jumper.
Those moments have made the Spurs’ front office believers. They believe that Wembanyama will develop into a two-way player and are not worried by the fact his numbers do not currently match his expectations. He shoots a lot of 3-pointers but does so at a 31 percent rate — similar to the rates of Devin Booker, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant — while his inclination to force pull-up jumpers drags his overall shooting efficiency down to the middle of the pack for international lottery picks.
He is expected to get better, especially as he learns more about his role on the team and how best to distribute the ball. His teammates have already praised his work ethic and how he takes direction from the coaching staff.
While there are still some questions about how he will fare on the defensive end, it is clear that he has the tools to become an impact player for the Spurs this season.
Gilbert Arenas, who was a one-time top-10 draft pick and former MVP, believes Wembanyama will grow into his potential naturally if given time. He is not expecting him to be a “Dancing with the Stars” contender but says he will be able to play at an All-Star level in his second season.