I saw the best basketball prospect of all time on Tuesday night. His name is Victor Wembanyama.
The presumptive No. 1 overall pick and his French squad called Metropolitans 92 faced off against presumptive No. 2 overall pick Scoot Henderson’s G-League Ignite team in Nevada last night. And the overwhelming feeling was one of disbelief — disbelief that an 18-year-old this talented exists in the same space-time reality as our own. Indeed, the disbelief was such that I found myself vocalizing meaningless and unconnected syllables into this very same space-time reality.
I implore you to watch the full highlight reel from the game. It’s eight minutes long. I know, that’s an eternity on the internet, but it’s still just absolutely worth it. I suspect you might also vocalize meaningless and unconnected syllables.
But in the event that you’re a surgeon, firefighter, ambulance driver, jaws-of-life operator, or the like, and have only just like five minutes until your next soul-saving procedure, I’ll wrap it up for you.
Wembanyama, when he steps into the NBA next year, will be the tallest player in the league. Expectedly, he’s able to do traditional tall-person stuff like block shots. He stands at 7-foot-4 — the same height as Mark Eaton. Wembanyama, though, has a ridiculous 8-foot wingspan — fully 5 inches longer than Eaton’s, and 3 inches longer than Rudy Gobert’s. He has the same shot-blocking timing that those guys do; check out this 30-second clip from the game.
Those plays are amazing, and already pushes the young man into some rare company. But what makes Wembanyama recheck your space-time bearings is that he can also do just ridiculous things offensively. He showed off some Giannis Antetokoumpo-esque driving spin moves on Tuesday, for example, and is capable of running the ball up the court in transition.
But this, well, this is something else. These are Kevin Durant jump shots at 7-4.
Wembanyama finished with 37 points on 20 shots, including 7-11 from the 3-point line. He added five blocks, with a couple more that were incorrectly called as fouls or goaltends.
Look: we simply have never had a prospect in which it was reasonable to evoke Rudy Gobert on defense and Kevin Durant on offense. I understand: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, LeBron James were absolutely all-world athletes. I do not wish to take away credit from them, or any of the players who have excelled in this league. Nor do I want to assert that Wembanyama’s success is certain. (Ralph Sampson’s NBA tenure was shortened due to injuries at the same 7-4 size, for example.)
But Wembanyama’s potential is absolutely limitless, and he’s starting from a quite advanced position. This combination of size, defensive impact, and offensive skill? We’ve just never, ever, ever seen it. Perhaps 7-foot-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comes closest, and he’s the game’s all-time most successful player: the NBA’s leading scorer, ranking third all-time in blocks, and a six-time NBA champion. And even considering Kareem, I think Wembanyama has more potential. Yes, he has the highest potential of any basketball prospect, ever.
What should an NBA team do to get such a prospect in their employ? Unless they are already well-poised to win championships in the near future, they should do essentially everything possible. We know that the NBA is a league in which generational players are likely to lead their teams to handfuls of championships during their careers. Getting truly great players is what it’s all about.
That’s why the Jazz have traded Gobert and teammate Donovan Mitchell — they weren’t going to win a championship with those two players, unfortunately. They were very good, but fell somewhat short of truly great. With Wembanyama? The Jazz really might win one, two, three, more. Imagine having potentially the league’s best player under team control for eight seasons.
Now, here’s the bad news: because of the NBA’s lottery smoothing, the top three teams each have an equal 14% chance of getting the No. 1 pick, and therefore Wembanyama. It’s less than a six-sided dice roll.
But the difference between, say, third and seventh feels substantial — doubling your odds by losing a few more games. Furthermore, finishing as a top-3 bad team also gives you a higher chance of Henderson, who is nearly universally regarded as the next Ja Morant-type NBA leader. Finish worst of all the NBA teams, and you’ve at the very least locked yourself into a top-5 pick, and this is a very talented top-5 draft class.
And once the Jazz have gotten their guy — for them, hopefully Wembanyama — the rebuild can take shape more quickly than anticipated. They could use their $30 million in 2023 cap room to sign a top free agent or split it for two useful pieces. They could trade fiveish of their 17 first-round draft picks to trade for another star to put alongside their rookie; heck, they could even build a Big 3 with two such trades. And they’d still likely have useful young veterans like Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt to fill out the rotation.
Again, take a look at Kareem: the expansion Bucks won 56 games in his rookie season, then traded for Oscar Robertson and won a championship in just his second season. It’s doable.
I know, I know. The odds are short. This is a pipe dream.
Is that dream, that long shot, worth the pain of months of a desperately losing season? Do I think mere percentage points towards the chance of Wembanyama worth the sacrifice of losing a veteran leader like Mike Conley in the Jazz’s locker room? Making new head coach Will Hardy’s life anything short of hell in his rookie season as head coach? Establishing a winning culture for the Jazz’s young talent like Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji?
Heck yes I do. Watch those highlights again.
That guy could play in Utah.
Our space-time reality would never be the same.