From the moment the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA Draft lottery, there was no suspense about who they would select first overall in June. Victor Wembanyama had dominated media coverage for over a year and generated unprecedented hype. Scouts and analysts did not hold back in their assessments of the seven-foot-four Frenchman. They called him an “alien” and garnered a near consensus label of generational talent and the best prospect since LeBron James. It’s been about one month since Wembanyama made his NBA debut on October 25th, which begs the question: was the hype justified?
Of course, a one-month sample is too small to make a full conclusion. However, we’ve now seen enough to gain a solid understanding of Wembanyama’s potential and what it could look like when he’s reached his prime. So, is Wembanyama on track for all-time greatness? In short, yes.
Wembanyama’s Career Trajectory After His First Month in the NBA
Through his first 14 games, all indicators suggest he will reach legendary status. Wembanyama is currently averaging 18.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.6 blocks. Only seven other players have averaged over 18.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in their rookie seasons. All of them have since been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Wembanyama has done this while playing fewer minutes per game, too. San Antonio has been cautious with his playing time early on, making his per-game numbers even more impressive. On top of that, Wembanyama is also the only teenager on that list and is several years younger than most of these players during their rookie seasons – Shaquille O’Neal (20) is the only other player who was younger than 22. If you add the two assists threshold, Wembanyama’s stat line is matched by just three other rookies: Tim Duncan, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing.
The biggest area Wembanyama has stood out is his defense. I can’t think of a single player who covers as much ground on that end as he can. He has the mobility to switch onto any player and the wingspan to contest and block shots that seem open. Through 14 games, Wembanyama’s shot contests have caused players’ FG% to drop 5.4% below their average, which ranks top-20 among starters this season, showing clear signs that his length is bothering shooters.
Wembanyama is also already a top shot-blocker. He ranks third in the NBA with 2.6 rejections per game, the most of any rookie since Shawn Bradley in 1993-94. This doesn’t even account for all the shots he deters, as players frequently kick the ball out rather than challenge him. This quality is hard to measure but is incredibly valuable. He still has some deficiencies to work on, as he’s overaggressive with his help defense and commits too many unnecessary fouls. Improving his decision-making and learning when to dial his aggressiveness back are things he’ll need to improve with experience.
Despite these few weak spots, he’s been game-changing overall on this end. Nothing I’ve seen thus far has swayed me from my opinion that Wembanyama is the best defensive prospect the NBA has ever seen. Once the Spurs start surrounding him with more defensive support and build a system that maximizes his strengths, they should become one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Offensively, as with all rookies, consistency has been an issue with Wembanyama. He’s been held to under 14 points five times this season and has shot under 50% from the field in all but four games. He’s settling for too many tough jumpers and has disappeared for stretches off the ball. This is normal for rookies, but Wembanyama is no normal rookie. His shot selection and assertiveness must improve to reach his full potential. Still, the effort and willingness to learn stand out, so this should come with more experience.
Some of his inconsistencies are a product of his teammates getting accustomed to playing with him. This is especially true with the Spurs’ wacky experiment of Jeremy Sochan at point guard. These minutes have halted the Spurs’ offense and have led to Wembanyama’s worst stretches.
When playing with a true point guard in Tre Jones, Wembanyama has looked much more dynamic. He’s shooting 63.8% from two-point range and 35.0% from three, big improvements from his 48.8% and 29.7% percentages, respectively, when Jones sits. The Spurs, as a whole, have been significantly better when Jones and Wembanyama share the court. They hold a 10.9 net rating, as opposed to their negative marks when one or both are off. His chemistry with Jones is evidence that all it takes is a good playmaker who can throw timely entry or lob passes to capitalize on his unreal finishing at the rim. Just imagine what he could do with an All-Star calibre point guard.
On the ball, Wembanyama’s creation is limited by his lack of strength and loose handle. The highlights are fantastic and show flashes of what he can become. But he hasn’t been able to consistently blow by defenders or get comfortable separation off the dribble. He also lacks the strength to excel in the post or drive through contact. Nevertheless, his height, length, and agility are still enough to easily finish over defenders if he’s near the rim. So, it should only take marginal improvements in his handling and strength for him to become near unguardable in attacking the basket one-on-one. His growth as a playmaker is encouraging, too, and his size gives him unlimited access to potential passing angles. Once he puts it all together, it will be very difficult for teams to send help.
The final area of intrigue is his shooting. Wembanyama’s jumper hasn’t been falling at an efficient rate. He’s converting on just 37.7% of his midrange shots (20/53 from 10-19 feet from the basket) and 26.9% of his three-pointers. However, he looks very comfortable taking these shots, pulling off the dribble, around screens, and off-movement with no hesitation. His form looks good and consistent, which, combined with his confidence, bodes very well for his future outlook. At times, he resembles Kevin Durant, who had similar struggles as a rookie. He shot 39% from the midrange and 29% from three.
The key with Durant has been his unguardable release, giving him limitless confidence to shoot over any defender. Wembanyama takes that to another level with his eight-foot wingspan, making it nearly impossible to contest his jumpers. When he’s in rhythm, he’s unstoppable. His 38-point game against the Phoenix Suns is a testament to that. Now, he just needs to find that rhythm more consistently.
The Last Word on Wembanyama’s First Month
While consistency remains an issue, Wembanyama is flashing everything promised of him. His defensive impact, rim finishing, and rebounding have already been elite. Combine that with improved playmaking and flashes of shot creation and shooting, and the star potential jumps off the screen. At just 19 years old, Wembanyama has plenty of room for future growth. That fact should terrify the rest of the NBA. The expectations were immense, but “the alien” has lived up to the hype through his first month in the big leagues.