Updated: Apr 28
Throughout the illustrious history of the NBA, we fans have been blessed to witness the most talented, breathtaking basketball players on the planet. From Michael Jordan to LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and many more. Many prospects come in with fanfare, but few can say they match the hype of the presumptive favorite to go No.1 in the 2023 NBA Draft, 7ft 4 French center Victor Wenbayama. I label him “The French Freak” for a reason, towering like a skyscraper at 7’4 and was recently measured to have an 8-foot wingspan! Are you kidding me?!
It’s not just the sheer size that has many NBA GMs, executives, and fans drooling to watch Wenbayama’s development throughout his career, but it’s the way he moves at that size combined with his unique skill set at 7’4 that is literally unprecedented in the sports illustrious history. Yes, we’ve seen guys with crazy measurements throughout NBA history that never put it all together ala Mohamed Bamba or Bol Bol. Still, none of them started playing professionally from a young age such as Wenbayama, or have been called the best prospect on the planet since he was 15-16 years old as he was in 2020 by former NBA Draft expert Mike Schmitz https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/28686946/victor-wembanyama-one-best-long-term-nba-prospects-world.
He’s been on the radar for years. Still, he truly burst onto the scene in 2020 when a video went viral of the then 16-year-old Wenbayama playing multi-time Defensive Player of the Year and fellow Frenchman, Rudy Gobert to a friendly game of two on two and scouts and GMs were immediately enamored.
The hype only grew as he had a masterful U19 FIBA tournament making the first-team of the tournament along with two future NBA top-five picks in this year's draft class in Jaden Ivey and 7-foot-1 Chet Holmgren who also has a similar skillset to Wenbayama. That game was Wenbayama’s true breakout party to the draft world as he put up 22 points, 8 rebounds, and a whopping 8 blocks against a USA team that he was more than two years younger than.
He held Holmgren to just 10 points and hit a crazy fadeaway shot falling near baseline that we have never seen a big his size do at that age. Wenbayama showed the entire package from stepping out and knocking threes to swatting or altering shots to even doing a behind the back dribble in transition at 7’3 to finish at the rim! He was otherworldly in that game but unfortunately, he and France lost to the USA in that gold medal game. However, Wenbayama showed why Schmitz dubbed him the best prospect in the world just nine months earlier prior to this tournament.
Last season he played for former French and legendary San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker’s ASVEL Euroleague team in 2021-22. Last season at ASVEL his numbers didn’t pop out as someone who is deemed a generational talent, averaging just 9.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and under a steal and block per game. He shot 47% from the field, 26% from three, and 60% from the foul line at just 17 years of age playing against grown men.
I mean just look at the highlights of this kid at a then 17 years old last season against grown men! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF0oDlhPn2o. His PER 36 numbers were 18.4 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.7 steals, and an impressive 3.5 blocks per game. He struggled with foul trouble, averaging 4.9 fouls per game, but showed flashes of the ability to put the ball on the floor, do shots off the dribble, protect the rim, and do things we rarely ever seen from a big man.
The hype for Wenbayama couldn’t have possibly grown any more than it has already. Welp, it exploded. This week his current team, Metropolitans 92, a French Pro Basketball team had two exhibition games against the NBA G League Ignite that also featured another fellow coveted NBA prospect for 2023 in point guard Scoot Henderson, who’s projected to go second overall in this upcoming class.
In the first of the two games that occurred on Tuesday, the hype was already big, with over 200 NBA GMs, executives, and media members in the building in Las Vegas to see the presumptive top two picks in the 2023 NBA Draft in June put on an absolute show for the ages in what was the best No.1 vs No.2 game in NBA history. They came right out the gate firing with a pull-up jumper to give the Ignite their very first points of the game.
The next defensive trip down for the Metropolitans saw Wenbayama use his pterodactyl-like wingspan to swat a shot that caused an Ignite turnover. He then came down the other end, put it on the ground, and did a filthy spin move against his defender to finish with beautiful English off the glass at 7’4! Henderson would finish the game with 28 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists with just one turnover in the game which is unheard of for a young point guard, especially one who is as dynamic and athletic as Henderson.
He was efficient too, shooting 11-of-21 from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range. Henderson did it in transition with a vicious slam coming off a steal, he did step-back threes, including one over the outstretched arm over Wenbayama and just ran the offense like a seasoned veteran by running the pick-and-roll, finding open shooters and cutters whenever he drove into the lane and made the defense collapse onto him. His poise and awareness are rare to see from an 18-year-old.
Henderson also had some amazing finishes at the rim over the absurd length of Wenbayama, using different angles and the glass to protect him from the “French Mamba” outstretched arms. Even though he did get rejected on quite a few, including a dunk attempt and a few jumpers.
Henderson would leave the second game early in the first quarter due to colliding knees while trying to defend a Wenbayama drive. But, he already showed why many NBA scouts and GMs are comparing him to past explosive star guards a la Ja Morant or Russell Westbrook.
Even though the Ignite won the first game and Henderson solidified that he was legit, it was the 7-foot-4 alien from French who had fans jaws dropping with what he did throughout the two games. Wenbayama finished with 37 points on 11-of-20 from the field (55%), an absurd 7-11 from three (63%), had four rebounds, and five blocks! He was doing it all from blocking shots on the perimeter, to defending the rim at an elite level. He also showed insane shot creation ability from pull-up threes in transition to curling off screens, and on one play even did a pull-back three just for fun and cashed it.
A 7-foot-4 guy doing this? How do you guard that?! As impressive as Wenbayama was in the first game, he was even better in the second one, scoring 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and dishing out 4 assists along with 4 blocks. The second game lost some of its luster due to Henderson leaving the game due to a bone bruise to his knee, but Wenbayama made sure to put on a show to keep it interesting.
Wenbayama literally showed why he’s the best prospect since the LeBron period and the most slam dunk No.1 pick in June’s draft. The stuff he was doing from the fall away three he caught and hit fading away to his right in the right corner out of bounce at his size is jaw-dropping. What about the hashmark three he made from about 28 feet out and shot it cause he wanted to and cashed it. Absurd!
I mean what do you do with this? He’s literally a demi-god. Many of the top NBA stars in today’s game from LeBron, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo have all raved about the French phenom:
LeBron: "Everybody has been a unicorn for the last two years, but he's more like an alien. I've never seen -- no one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor.”
Steph: "He's like a 2K create-a-player; every point guard who wants to be 7-foot.
"Cheat code-type vibes; he's a solid talent. It's great to watch."
KD: "That type of talent and skill just puts a smile on your face if you play basketball,” Durant said Thursday night. "The evolution of the game has taken us this far. We got a 7'5" dude that's able to do everything on the court. It's inspiring to a lot of people."
"The league's really in trouble when he comes in."
Giannis: “I believe in 2045, everybody is going to look like Victor”
“He has the chance to be one of the best, not at his age, not in Europe, but one of the best to ever play this game. We have never seen someone like that before. I think it’s a good challenge for everybody in the league, to have somebody who’s 7-foot-2 and is able to shoot over you, dribble like he’s a guard, block shots, and run down the floor fast. We got to get ready for this kid, you know? He’s going to be really good”.
Whoa! Talk about high praise from arguably the four best players in the league and definitely the three best players of a generation such as LeBron, Steph, and KD. NBA Senior Insider and Columnist Adrian Wojnarowski called Wenbayama the singular greatest prospect in NBA history earlier this week and I can’t fully say he’s ludicrous for that and many won’t after what Wenbayama showed in these two games in Vegas this week.
Whether Wenbayama can live up to the hype will come down to whether he can stay healthy, as throughout NBA history there’s been a plethora of 7-footers whose careers were plagued by injuries from Bill Walton to Greg Oden, Yao Ming to Kristaps Porzingis. He and his team have already been seeking the best specialists for his health way ahead of time to find the best back, foot, and so forth specialists in the world to prevent the possible risk of injury to such a potential transformational talent.
Wenbayama will also have to get stronger but looks to have the frame and broad shoulders to do so, already looking stronger than he did last season. Overall, “The French Mamba” is arguably the best prospect in NBA history and definitely the best since LeBron 20 years ago when he entered in 2003, yes better than Kevin Durant (‘07) Anthony Davis (‘12), Ben Simmons (‘16), Luka Doncic (‘18), Zion Williamson (‘19), Cade Cunningham (‘21), and so forth due to his absurd size and two-way skillset at 7-foot-4 and an 8-foot wingspan!
He is simply something the game has never seen before and it’ll be fascinating to see if he can live up to the hype. Wenbayama has a great head on his shoulders as well and has the hunger to be great which is what you love to see from such a talented player of his size.
Let the tanking begin!