Perspective on Victor Wembanyama Hype and Betting Markets After Summer League
Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Victor Wembanyama.
LAS VEGAS — Let's start with Victor Wembanyama and some conclusions from not only watching his first couple of games, but talking to scouts and personnel people about him.
A couple things can be true at once:
- Wembanyama did not dominate his first game in Las Vegas Summer League.
- Wembanyama put up dominant numbers in his second game.
- Wembanyama was not in a great position to dominate his first game.
- Wembanyama was in a better position to dominate his second game.
- There are real questions about Wembanyama's build, skillset and potential to live up to the incredible expectations set upon him.
- There are real signs he's still going to be an incredible NBA player who does things that help his team win.
Big men, in general, are not built to dominate Summer League. It's a guard's league. Teams have practiced together for about six days, some teams aren't running a lot of sets and in Wembanyama's case, he's a 19-year-old playing against pro-level or pro-fringe players with real strength.
Wembanyama's game is not backing down players and hitting baby hook shots. Maybe that's his game in six years, but right now, he not only doesn't have the build for it, he doesn't have the skillset for it.
His game is perimeter oriented. He has an exceptional handle … for a seven-footer. But that still means he has a high handle that smaller players can attack — the Hornets brought tons of help in the opener to make sure they wouldn't be dominated by him.
Which makes it more impressive that he didn't have a ton of turnovers and that he made so many high-level passes. He moved the ball and recognized when he needed to set up teammates, who often did things like hit the bottom of the rim because it's Summer League.
When Wembanyama is playing among other NBA players and the hype has subsided, and he's finding gaps in the defense, there will be some great moments.
That said, it wasn't just missing shots or a tough matchup. (If anything, Charlotte has one of the worst summer league rosters, so that's concerning.)
A big role for "bigs" in the NBA is creating space and drawing defenders.
Players can do that in a number of ways … and Wembanyma struggles with all of them.
He can't effectively screen because if he turns sideways, you lose sight of him. He won't be able to create separation for his guards for several seasons …
He can't effectively draw gravity at the rim because on lobs, he'll get bumped out of position. Not that the Spurs tried; not a single pick-and-roll lob was thrown for the big man.
He can't effectively draw defenders with his skillset out of ISO situations, either, because a big part of doing work in "triple-threat" positions — face up out of the post where you can shoot, pass or drive — is the ability to clear a defender pressing on you with a shoulder.
When Wembanyama shoulder bumps a defender, they don't go anywhere, it's like they don't feel it.
That's a problem.
He can rise and shoot and will likely shoot better throughout the season with better rhythm, but players who approach him with physicality will provide difficult resistance.
Rebounding could be difficult. He can rise over certain players, but any team with quality boxouts is going to move him far away from position. If his problems in Summer League were conditioning, and his combination of basketball IQ and impossibly long arms make up for it in-season, then maybe the numbers are fine. But he won't dominate the boards initially, by all accounts.
When matched against smaller defenders in his second game, Wembanyama grabbed 10 boards. Just having a 7-foot-2 wingspan goes a long way toward having the opportunity to collect those rebounds.
Some of the best signs of his impact were how his length removed large sections of the floor.
The Hornets simply would not send the ball in his direction. Not to his man, to his side of the floor. He will be a terrifying presence because he's a defender with a long wingspan and great basketball IQ. That's the gap between him and comparables like Bol Bol.
The Spurs have built their entire identity around being a team that knows how to play and how to win without the flashiest numbers. Wembanyama can follow in those footsteps, but it will come with immense descriptions of failure if he's not averaging 25 points out of the gate.
The difficulty with assessing Wembanyama is that you can't separate him from the conversation about him. When you're billed as the greatest prospect in NBA history — on the level of LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — you're being held to not just the standards of who those players were as rookies, but who they were as we remember them throughout their primes.
If we separate that, then Wembanyama still looks much closer to star than bust. He looks like a player who will help you win games. But he does not look like a player who will be good enough, production-wise, to lift a team above 30 wins or hit his projected overs on season lines.
The best way to analyze Wembanyama's Vegas debut is that it lowered the floor, and it should likely lower the ceiling, but it won't in the market. When we get a full menu closer to the start of the 2023-24 NBA season, there will be better ways to fade the hype other than Rookie of the Year.
But be careful not to go too far. Wembanyama didn't look lost. He looked out of shape, outgunned and miscast on this roster as a center.
San Antonio has three months to find ways to put him in a better position to succeed.
THE MARKET IS WILD
All of the Wembanyama props in the market are built on crazy hype. The Spurs' win total opened north of 30, which is an incredible jump given where they were last season (22-60).
There is a prop for him to score 45+ points in any game. Only four rookies — Blake Griffin, Trae Young, Charlie Villanueva ([) and Brandon Jennings– have done that since 2000. Wembanyama is -160 to average 2+ blocks per game. Only three players — Joel Embiid, Walker Kessler and Mitchell Robinson — have done that since 2009.
The individual game outcomes (record 5+ blocks, 10+ assists, etc.) are better plays if you just can't help yourself betting on Wemby because of the variance and his talent.
But outside of betting Scoot Henderson for Rookie of the Year (as my colleague Brandon Anderson did at +600) or other rookies, we don't have a good enough market to fade the hype yet.
Closer to the season, however, we'll have better opportunities to short the very tall stock of Victor Wembanyama.