Confessions of a Victor Wembanyama Skeptic – and How I’m Betting Against Him

Confessions of a Victor Wembanyama Skeptic – and How I’m Betting Against Him article feature image
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Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images. Victor Wembanyama of the Metropolitans 92 of the LNB Pro A

The hype for Victor Wembanyama is out of control.

Pick a superlative, and we've heard it.

Mike Schmitz called Wembanyama the best prospect he's ever evaluated. Kevin O'Connor dubbed him Gen-Z Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and labeled him "potential GOAT." Adrian Wojnarowski called Wembanyama "the greatest prospect in the history of team sports." He says NBA execs have told him Wemby could be the best offensive and defensive player in the league by his third year.

Zach Lowe listed Wembanyama alongside Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic as the top four choices to build a franchise around the next five years. That's two NBA champion MVPs, another guy expected to get there someday – but who hasn't sniffed the Finals or MVP in his first five seasons – and a guy who's never stepped foot in the NBA.

Chris Broussard said, "If Wemby is Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant or Hakeem, that’s a disappointment." He added, "I expect him to be one of the best players ever — to have a career like LeBron, Jordan, Duncan, Shaq or Kareem."

I'm not buying the hype.

No, I'm not out on Wembanyama, nor suggesting he'll bust. He's the clear No. 1 pick.

But I'm also not ready to label Wemby a future GOAT just yet. I have a few questions, starting with his rookie season.

Let's look at a scouting report and projection for Wembanyama, and why I'm betting against the best prospect in the history of sports by fading him for Rookie of the Year.

The Tantalizing Wembanyama Upside

You've never seen anything like Victor Wembanyama.

Wemby stands 7-foot-4 with an eight-foot wingspan and a standing reach near 10 feet.

Imagine two park benches side by side. That's Wembanyama's wingspan. It's four inches longer than Rudy Gobert's!

In Hoosiers, Coach Norman Dale memorably has a player perched upon a teammate's shoulders measure the rims to find them 10 feet, the "exact same measurements as our gym back at Hickory." Wembanyama can stand under that same basket totally flat-footed and touch the rim.

But it's not just Wemby's size that's wild – it's that a man that size makes everything look so easy.

Wembanyama looks like a giant but plays like a wing.

Check out Victor Wembanyama's top plays from this season with Metropolitans 92!

The #NBADraft Presented by State Farm is Thursday, June 22 at 8pm/et on ABC & ESPN. pic.twitter.com/DCaRpBohYF

— NBA (@NBA) June 16, 2023

His handle is nifty and natural, his jumper silky smooth. He has nifty footwork and routinely takes runners and step-back 3s off one leg, because he can. The passing also pops, especially since he can see over the defense and hit the cutter.

If you've watched players anywhere near this size on a basketball court, Wembanyama's fluid movement really stands out. His hips are fluid and his movement is natural. Many 7-foot giants labor just getting up and down the court. Wemby is smooth, as if Kevin Durant had a growth spurt.

Wembanyama's defensive potential is out of this world.

It's not just the blocked shots but the many more shots that never exist in the first place with terrified opponents dribbling away from the Wembanyama vortex. It's easy to imagine an advanced stat someday called Shots Deferred in which Wemby doubles up his closest NBA competition.

But it's more than just rim protection. We've seen other NBA giants swat shots at the rim but get run off the court away from it. Wembanyama's fluid movement helps him defend the perimeter. He'll routinely play drop but still get out to block a 3, and he can use those fluid hips to shift his weight and stay with smaller shiftier guards, swallowing them whole.

Wembanyama doesn't just have Defensive Player of the Year potential. He has change-the-way-we-think-about-defense potential.

Showtime Wemby!

The block and the 💥 pic.twitter.com/7WaGbUIYuq

— NBA (@NBA) October 6, 2022

Some Concerns & an NBA Projection

So what are my concerns with Wembanyama?

Let's start with the body. There's no way around it: History tells us 7-foot giants have a significantly higher injury risk, and that risk amplifies significantly at 7-foot-3 and beyond.

Wembanyama has already played through a fibula stress fracture, a scapula contusion, and a psoas back issue. His thin frame badly needs NBA strength and conditioning, and that will take time. Think of the body transition we've seen from guys like Kevin Durant and Kristaps Porzingis, and of the various foot and leg injuries those two have suffered. It's just an unfortunate reality for bodies of this type.

The thin frame means Wembanyama gets pushed too easily off his spot. He has a very high center of gravity, which means he gets pushed around on the glass and his screens often miss. He'll need to be protected defensively in some matchups, with the right size next to him in the lineup.

The defensive upside is obvious with Wembanyama's size, and he's an outstanding shot blocker. But his long arms and tendency to reach could mean foul trouble in the NBA, and he could do well to tip block shots to teammates rather than swatting them out of bounds, right back to the opponent.

There's no matching Wembanyama's length, but I'm not in love with his feel in defense, more reactive than proactive. The length gives him a bigger margin of error to recover and make the play anyway, but it'd be even better if he was in the right spot to start with. Processing speed matters.

On offense, the shot certainly looks good coming out of his hand, but are we positive that's not just shock at seeing a 7-foot-4 giant shoot a ball with such grace?

Wembanyama hit only 43% of his mid-range jumpers. He made 31% of his catch-and-shoot 3s, just 22% off the dribble. Those aren't disastrous numbers – that a player this size is taking jumpers at all is most significant – but they're certainly not efficient. More than 80% from the line is much more encouraging.

Still, there are questions about what sort of role Wembanyama will have on offense.

Is he a center? Is he a wing?

We may not need an answer the way the NBA is going – who really cares what Jokic or Giannis is? – but it does matter whether Wembanyama will function as the engine of an offense.

NBA superstars have the ball in their hands, initiating their own offense and setting up teammates. They're primary options and lead scorers. That's what Wembanyama was in France, with the highest usage rate in European history, but I'm not convinced he'll be that in the NBA.

Guys don't magically score 30 PPG and play DPOY-level defense for 35 minutes a night. Wembanyama has a great handle and shot for a player his size, but that doesn't mean that will be his NBA role. It's hard to see him approaching anything near Durant's scoring.

He could be more of a play finisher instead, the roll man catching the pass on the pick-and-roll instead of the guy with the ball setting it up – more Anthony Davis than LeBron James. Think defensive superstar, but more offensive star.

Imagine Andrei Kirilenko with a passable 3. How about Shawn Marion mixed with Amar'e Stoudemire all in one body? Maybe Wembanyama is the evolutionary Kevin Garnett, just as lethal defensively but spaced out beyond the arc on offense.

That'd be a heck of a player, and those comps are hardly a knock. Garnett is my favorite player all time. KG is literally my Twitter avatar.

But would that player win MVP in 2023, with numbers comparable to Jokic and Giannis? Feels like a stretch.

Would he match LeBron, Kareem and MJ? Hard to get there without an entire trophy case of MVPs and championship rings.

Maybe Wembanyama won't be LeBron or Giannis at all.

Perhaps he'll be the evolutionary Bill Russell, a player so good defensively that he warps the game and makes an MVP impact in a league built around offense.

It doesn't really matter if Wembanyama can be the best player in today's NBA. Maybe he only needs to be the best player in what the league will someday become, once it reacts to this giant.

It's entirely possible a player this talented could be the best player at a game we can hardly even imagine right now in 2028 or 2033. But what do we do with that guy in 2023?

How I'm Betting against Wembanyama Right Now

I'm not betting against Wembanyama being drafted No. 1. He may as well wear a Spurs cap to draft night.

But I'm fading Wembanyama for Rookie of the Year.

New NBA rules mean Wembanyama needs to play at least 65 games to be eligible for awards. The San Antonio Spurs are one of the league's smartest and most patient teams. I have every expectation that they'll load manage their young star and play the long game.

That could mean eight to 10 games missed already, which means Wemby has to play 60 of the remaining 72 (83%) to hit the minimum. Add even a three-week injury at some point, and we're in trouble. Tanking is always a threat, too. The Spurs won't mortgage the future to push their franchise player a few extra games for a meaningless trophy.

I'm honestly not sure it's much better than 50/50 Wembanyama is even eligible to win ROY.

My study showed that NBA Rookies of the Year average about 17.7 PPG over the past two decades, with 14 of the last 21 (67%) leading all rookies in scoring. Sixteen of the last 19 led all rookies in points + rebounds + assists, with the past six averaging over 30 PRA.

Rookie of the Year doesn't reward defense or advanced metrics. Only five of the last 16 ROYs led rookies in Box Plus-Minus, a stat Wembanyama is built to dominate. The last great interior defender to win ROY with a campaign built around his defense was Emeka Okafor, back in 2005.

For ROY, it's still all about the counting stats, and that means usage. Eight straight ROY winners have played with the ball in their hands a lot, as engines of their offense.

Again, I'm not convinced that's Wembanyama – at least not yet.

Antetokounmpo is an engine now, but it took him three seasons to post a 17/8/4 line. He had 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds as a rookie. Durant cracked 20 PPG as a rookie on awful shooting but added only four boards and two assists. Anthony Davis had a modest 13.5/8 rookie season. These thin frames take time.

Wembanyama will post some wild highlights, but the numbers could come and go.

There will be nights when the jumper isn't falling and Wemby finishes in single digits. On other nights, he'll pick up three quick fouls or get a minor injury and finish with 7/3/1 in limited action. San Antonio has always had an egalitarian offense without a huge leading scorer.

Nineteen of the past 20 ROYs scored at least 15 PPG. All but two since LeBron had at least 25 PRA. I have rookie Wemby around 16/7/2, just barely making both cuts. He could hit 3+ blocks too, but that number hasn't typically mattered.

Regardless of how good Wembanyama might someday be, I'm not convinced he'll play or produce enough to win Rookie of the Year in 2024, let alone be the huge favorite he's listed at right now, -225 at DraftKings implying a 69% chance of victory.

Give me Scoot Henderson.

Henderson would be the No. 1 pick in many other classes. He looks like the whole package at point guard. He's an explosive athlete with an elite first step and great change of speed, a creative handle, and a compact, confident jumper.

Scoot is ready to step in and lead a pro offense right away, in part because he's done so already for two years with G League Ignite. I expect at least 17/5/7, numbers he posted in 30 MPG against pros this year, and he should step into that engine role right away wherever he's drafted.

Since the 1950s, 50 of 63 Rookies of the Year (79%) were top-5 picks. Since 1990, 24 of 35 winners (69%) were drafted in the top three. Nearly half of them (16, or 46%) went No. 1, but Henderson is a No. 1 talent.

I might honestly make Scoot Henderson my Rookie of the Year favorite. Luckily, I don't have to. We can just play him at +600 instead at FanDuel.

Let's just hope the Wembanyama world-changing hype holds off … at least for one year.

Pick: NBA ROY – Scoot Henderson (+600)


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