David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images
Watch enough basketball year after year and the phrase “You’ve never seen a prospect like this” starts to sound like the boy who cried wolf. In 2019, the description worked for Zion Williamson. Last year, it was affixed to Chet Holmgren.
And from now until the 2023 draft, you’re sure to hear it countless times about Victor Wembanyama.
But seriously, you’ve never seen a prospect like this.
For months, grainy videos of the 18-year-old, 7’2″, do-everything big man dominating outmatched opponents have trickled from across the pond and onto Twitter timelines. But most clips were filmed at difficult angles for the viewer and often looked like footage taken by the team manager from the ’90s.
On Tuesday, that all changed. Dramatically. Vividly. In HD and on national television.
In a showcase game against another contender for the 2023 NBA Draft’s top pick, Wembanyama and Paris, France’s Metropolitan 92s took on Scoot Henderson and the G-League Ignite. The latter squad got the win, and Henderson went off for 28 points and nine assists. But Wembanyama’s performance was the one that captivated NBA Twitter, and presumably any NBA scout and executive paying attention.
Even with Zion’s return from a season-long absence happening live on TNT, Wembanyama’s 37 points on 20 shot attempts stole the night. Merely reading those numbers doesn’t do them justice.
Before you watch them, I feel the need to remind you that this teenager is 7’2″, which was seen as an underestimated listing by ESPN 2’s broadcast.
The highlights spoke for themselves
While spearheading a 20-point comeback, Wembanyama hit a step-back three from the corner.
He drilled a catch-and-shoot triple in transition, running toward the wing and with a hand in his face, to the extent anyone can actually get a hand in his face.
He faced up and isolated veteran big man Eric Mika in the mid-post, hit him with a series of fakes and hit a step-back mid-range jumper.
Victor Wembanyama is in his 🎒
26 PTS and counting… pic.twitter.com/L0giFd8Oat
On more than one occasion, he completely took over the game (on both ends of the floor) over the course of multiple possessions.
His entire 28-point second half was cackle-inducing. It felt impossible to watch a player with that frame, moving the way he was and hitting the shots he took without reacting.
Again, we’ve never seen a player like this, so comparisons are tough to muster, but they’re the backbone of prospect descriptions.
And the only names that come to mind when watching Wembanyama are all-timers. Brace yourselves. The fully realized version of Wembanyama could be a seven-plus-foot Kevin Durant on offense and a more mobile Rudy Gobert on defense.
Such lofty comparisons are rarely fair. It wasn’t for Brandon Ingram when he was dubbed the next KD. Expecting anyone to be a multi-time Defensive Player of the Year is probably silly, too.
But those are the names that naturally come to mind when you see clips like those above and blocks like this.
The way he met Scoot at the apex of a drive in the clutch looked even more like Wembanyama’s compatriot.
❌ NOPE ❌
Victor Wembanyama wasn’t having it!
Live Now on ESPN 2 and in the NBA App pic.twitter.com/4icqYWYSMh
What kind of hype is warranted?
He finished the contest with five blocks against a surefire, NBA-level athlete.
The entire game was played against stiffer competition than anything we see in the NCAA, and Wembanyama looked like the best player on the floor.
In the highest-profile game of his life, the 18-year-old phenom more than rose to the occasion. He answered questions about the reality of his shooting, his ability to hold up against size and athleticism and how he might fit into an NBA scheme on either end.
He’ll surely need to fill out a bit over the next few seasons. Here’s another name we maybe shouldn’t invoke, but Giannis Antetokounmpo was able to add the weight and muscle necessary to dominate. Wembanyama should be able to, too. Given a concerning injury history, it may be even more critical for him.
After what we witnessed on Tuesday, though, that all feels nitpicky. This is a no-brainer prospect. It’s no wonder the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs (at least) look poised to pile up losses. This could be one of the biggest draft lotteries since LeBron James.
Prospects that generate this level of confidence from the public don’t come along often. Prospects like Wembanyama don’t come along, well, ever.
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