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Players Choose Between Victor Wembanyama, Nikola Jokic

San Antonio Spurs big man Victor Wembanyama and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic battle for a rebound

In the battle of big men, San Antonio Spurs sensation Victor Wembanyama has already edged out the two most reputable centers in the NBA.

Players Choose Between Victor Wembanyama, Nikola Jokic

In a recent poll conducted by The Athletic’s Sam Amick and Josh Robbins, 100-plus players were asked their preference in several categories. As they’re open-ended questions, players have the ability to name any person, place, or thing that they want. Wembanyama didn’t just crop up in two of the most intriguing sections, he topped the list.

Who to Build Around

Asked who they would sign first if building a roster from scratch, 27.9 percent of the players polled voted for Wembanyama. Amazingly, he beat out Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, a two-time MVP and reigning NBA champion. Jokic has emerged as the NBA’s top player due to his elite scoring and playmaking ability.

Jokic is more efficient than Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic. He’s a more imposing rebounder than Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James. He’s more skilled than Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Lastly, he’s improved as a defender over the past two seasons, taking more pride in his physical conditioning.

Taken altogether, he’s now the best all-around player in the NBA.

The Sky is the Limit

Wembanyama still has a ways to go to match Jokic’s footwork, passing prowess, and basketball IQ. However, the sky is the limit for the 7-foot-4 Frenchman. Indeed, he’s already flashed burgeoning ability in all three of those areas.

While he develops an all-around skillset, Wembanyama is already three-level scorer.

In 2023-24, he averaged 21.4 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting from the field. Inside the restricted area, get out of his way, as he made 69.9 percent of his attempts in the circle. Yet, he has no problem rising above the defense along the perimeter, knocking down 37.5 percent of his pull-up 3s.

With his length, mobility, and scoring upside, he could averaged 25 points per game next season and it wouldn’t catch anyone off guard.

“Some of the stuff he does offensively, the way he moves, it just looks so fluid,” one player says of Wembanyama. “Just seeing him from afar, he’s playing the right way. He has the right principles. He’s focused on the right things. I like him.”

“The upside and at 20 years old, you can see that if he stays healthy and continues to get better, he can be a truly great player,” another player says. “I don’t want to put a ceiling on him.”

Wembanyama’s upside certainly played a part in him outranking Jokic in the poll. However, there are at least 60 rookies every season. Only two players from the last five draft classes were listed in the poll and received at least three percent of the votes: Wembanyama and Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards (10.3 percent).

To that point, while Wembanyama’s youth and potential were a factor, he’s really just that good.

The Best Defender

For all of Wembanyama’s offensive skill, it’s his defensive mastery that’s garnered the most praise.

Asked who is best defender in the NBA, 15.2 percent of the vote went to the Spurs’ pivot. Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday (12.9 percent) and Oklahoma City Thunder wing Lu Dort (9.8 percent) came in at second and third, respectively. Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert, a 2024 Defensive Player of the Year finalist, ranked sixth with 6.0 percent of the vote.

Explaining his thought process, one player says, “[Wembanyama] really, like, affects everything in the paint. He has dudes not even trying to go to the rim.”

“He just makes it so hard to finish at the rim,” another player adds.

Wembanyama averaged a league-high 3.6 blocks per game last season, along with 1.2 steals per game. While he isn’t built like the barrel-chested big men that dominated the paint in the 60s and 70s, his condor-like wingspan and fluid movement allows him to cover a lot of space in the halfcourt. His towering presence makes his opponents not even want to try to get a shot attempt up over him.

Though the Spurs’ defense as a whole was lackluster, none of that can be attributed to Wembanyama’s performance.

With that said, another reason Wembanyama likely edged out Jokic in the previous category is that he’s such a promising defender. If he can put it altogether, he’ll be the first center that’s a nightly quintuple-double threat since the mythical Wilt Chamberlain. That name drop alone should clarify what kind of player Wembanyama has the potential to be.


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