I think 2022 was, overall, a pretty good draft class. It’s not 2003 or 1984 or 1996 or anything, but it’ll turn out to be pretty solid.
But the best part about the 2022 Draft being over is that we can now start talking about the French phenom who has been taking over draft nerd forums and YouTube comments sections: Victor Wembanyama.
We’ll probably end up calling him simply “Victor” or “Vic,” but it’s Wem-ban-ya-ma. Remember the name. Get used to it, learn how to pronounce it, because he’s coming and by this time next year, he’ll be the most hyped-up draft prospect in years. The hype might even surpass Zion Williamson’s hype and reach LeBron James levels.
This kid is insane. He’s listed at 7’ 2”, which is tall as shit to begin with, but he’s clearly taller than that. Here’s a picture of him next to some really tall players: obviously you can see Chet Holmgren, who just went #2 overall to the Thunder and is listed at 7’ even (more on him later). Victor is way taller than Chet—in fact he makes Chet look small. Nikola Jovic is on the far left, and believe it or not he’s 6’11”. Next to Victor is Purdue’s Zach Edey, who is listed at 7’4”, and Victor is clearly taller than him:
This dude is stupidly tall.
Here he is next to fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert, who is 7’1”:
He’s at least 2 inches taller than Gobert. I don’t know why he looks 2 inches taller than 7’1” Gobert and 2 inches taller than 7’4” Zach Edey, maybe the Edey pic is more recent and he’s grown since the Gobert pic was taken. I believe the pic with Edey and Chet and Jovic is from the 2021 FIBA U-19 tournament in Latvia, which was last July (team USA narrowly beat team France in the finals, Victor was just 17).
But he’s at least 7’3”, possibly even as tall as 7’5”. He’s freakishly tall. He might honestly be 7’6” if Edey’s listed height is accurate.
But that’s not even the half of it. What makes Victor truly special is that he can move, and he can shoot. As you’d expect, he’s an elite, almost effortless shot-blocker. But he’s pretty advance offensively, something you just don’t see for guys his size. The only guy over 7’ tall I can think of who’s athletic and can actually shoot the ball is Kristaps Porzingis (7’3”), but Victor has a much broader skillset than Porzingis.
He’s like a combination of Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. But I don’t even know if he plays center, to be honest. Wikipedia says he’s listed at power forward and sometimes center. But the bottom line is that he’s not just some big oak tree who plants under the hoop. He’s got range and athleticism, he does not move like a guy who is 7’5”.
A little background on Victor: he currently plays for ASVEL-Lyon, a French professional team at the highest level of competition. Interestingly, the team is owned by Tony Parker, who is also the team President. Tony’s brother TJ is the head coach. So you can bet Victor has been on the San Antonio Spurs’ radar for a long time—which might explain why the Spurs are apparently trying to trade Dejounte Murray right now. They may be going full tank for Victor.
So Victor began his pro basketball career in 2019 at the age of just 15. He played in the EuroCup, which is actually a league, and it’s a tier below the EuroLeague, which is the top professional basketball league in Europe.
Victor would have probably been the first overall pick this year had he been born four days earlier, but he was born January 4, 2004 and now will have to wait a full year before he can go to the NBA. So he’s currently 18, and he’ll be 19 when he’s drafted a year from now.
He’ll benefit from the extra year, even as talented as he is. His stats in the EuroLeague for this year are pretty humble:
This chart splits it up between his EuroLeague play and his LNB Pro A league play (the latter is the French professional league, the former is all Europe). As expected, he’s putting up better numbers in the French league than he is to the EuroLeague, but keep in mind this an 18-year-old kid.
So he’s clearly still getting acclimated to the pro game–he’s not ready yet.
But the potential is there, and I think because of that sky-high potential, he’ll be pretty much locked in as the top overall pick for next year’s draft. He’s one of those players that will spur a massive “tank-off” between the bottom teams in the league, all of whom will be vying for the chance to draft him.
Without further ado, I think we should go over some actual film. This first mixtape is from last June, when he was no older than 17.5. Now, when you watch this clip, he’s playing against some clearly inferior competition, and he looks like he’s a man among boys out there. But keep in mind that he is extremely tall, so he just makes the other players look a lot smaller than they actually are. There are some clips in there of him playing in the FIBA U-19 world championships–some of the clips you can see Chet Holmgren and the U-19 Team USA squad. So it’s not as if he’s playing against a bunch of nobodies here–he just makes them look like nobodies.
These blocks are just effortless; and he barely even has to jump to dunk. I mean it looks like he’s not even trying here and he’s still dominating.
It almost feels like they should make the rim higher for him, that’s how easy the game looks for him.
But his real appeal as far as the NBA concerned is more than that: it’s the fact that he’s out there hitting step-back threes and beating people off the dribble at 7’2″+. He’s the next great basketball unicorn, and possibly the very player that NBA talent evaluators have been searching for dating back decades. We’re talking about a center with shooting-guard skills (and he can pass!). That’s like the basketball singularity, pretty much. Usually in basketball, players either have size or skill. There are rare players who have both size and skill/athleticism–LeBron, Magic, KD, AD, Giannis, etc.
This kid is in that type of category–at least he can be–but it’s even more than that: we have never seen any of these freakishly tall prospects have this level of athleticism. There’s never been a player with this combination of size, skill and athleticism.
He’s like a create-a-player in a videogame: you know how when you build a player, you make him as tall as possible, but also with maxed out handling, shooting, speed, etc.? That’s kind of what Victor is. Until I saw him in action, I didn’t think it was even possible for a player like him to exist. I just didn’t think it was physically possible for someone that tall to actually be fluid and athletic and coordinated and nimble–you think about guys like Boban, Tacko Fall. It just doesn’t seem possible for guys that tall to be able to move like shooting guards.
Victor is living proof that it is indeed possible. It’s extremely rare, though, and that’s why Victor is pretty much a lock to be the top pick in the draft next year. He’s a unicorn.
However, if there’s one unique skill or attribute he has that I think would make him invaluable in the NBA (keeping in mind there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to do it against NBA-level players) it’s his ability to block perimeter shots. This dude has such an insanely long wingspan (7’9″ or even 7’10”) that he just erases three point shots. Even if he’s sagging off the ball-handler, and the ball-handler tries a step-back three, Victor has both the length and athleticism to recover and elevate to block the shot. It’s insane. I’ve never seen any player consistently block this many perimeter shots.
Of course, he’s doing this against guys way smaller than him and nowhere close to the NBA level. So let’s not act like he’s going to come into the league and instantly be shutting down the league’s best three point shooters and not letting them get a shot off at all. I’m not expecting that. However, he may be the best perimeter shot-blocker I’ve ever seen, and his unique ability in this area could revolutionize the league by making other bigs obsessed with developing the ability to block three-pointers.
The obvious worry is that he’s super skinny–like Chet Holmgren skinny. He’s taller than Chet, but he’s rail-thin just like Chet is. In Victor’s defense, he does have a wider frame than Chet (just look at how narrow Chet’s shoulders are; even if he bulks up, he’ll still have that slight frame).
Will his body be able to hold up to an 82-game NBA schedule against the biggest and strongest athletes in the world? Will he be able to bang down low with guys who have 60, 70, 80 pounds on him? Imagine Joel Embiid backing him down. Imagine him trying to stop Giannis. He would get bullied.
But then again, the beauty of it is, he has perimeter skills. He’s not a traditional center. He doesn’t really have to bang down low. KD doesn’t really bang down low, does he? No, he plays wing, small forward. He’s a perimeter player who just happens to be 6’11”.
And another thing with guys that tall: you just wonder how durable he actually is. Big guys this tall usually end up with foot problems and knee problems–think about guys like Yao Ming. So that’s obviously a concern here with Victor, but I wouldn’t let that stop me from drafting him if I were an NBA team. With a talent like this, you have to roll the dice.
Here’s a more recent video of his time in the EuroLeague–much tougher competition than the FIBA U-19 world championships. These are grown men–professionals. As we went over above, he’s still adapting to the pro game, and he’s far less dominant in the EuroLeague, but that’s to be expected. He’s still only 18 years old right now. And you can see the potential is there even if he’s not dominating:
This is the guy who has a lock on the #1 pick in the 2023 Draft. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about him over the next year.
As for the actual draft itself, the surprise pick of the night was probably the first pick: for the past several months, most Draft Experts™ were saying Jabari Smith would go #1 overall and Paolo Banchero was pretty much locked into going third overall.
But instead, Banchero goes #1 overall to the Magic. Up until the past few days, I don’t think anybody outside of the Magic draft room was expecting that. I think he was always going to go either #1 or #3, though, because from what I gather, the Thunder were pretty much locked in on Chet Holmgren at #2 overall, so if Banchero didn’t go #1 overall, he was going to go #3. If the Magic would’ve taken Chet, then it’s possible the Thunder would’ve taken Banchero, but I guess we’ll never know.
I want to just quickly run through my favorite picks:
- Banchero: I thought all year long he was the best NBA draft prospect because of his size and skillset, and I think he will absolutely be scoring 20+ a game in the NBA very soon. He’s big and long–in my view he had to be the #1 pick. He may not have the upside of the other guys in his tier, but he’s probably got the higher floor. I do worry about the fact that he’s 6’10” but doesn’t really play a ton of defense, and doesn’t have that lateral quickness to be an elite NBA wing. I just wish he was a more tenacious defender, you know?
- Holmgren: Speaking of a tenacious defender…. Even as skinny as he is, and as slight as his frame is, he has the potential to be a dominant shot-blocker and really start to change the way the center position is played. As weird as it sounds to say given that Victor is a year behind him, I would say Chet is almost like a poor man’s Victor Wembanyama, and while that also sounds like I’m trashing Chet, I’m really not. Victor is a unicorn. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent. Chet has a lot of the same skills as Victor does, he’s just not as tall or as long. But then again, nobody really is. I think I would’ve taken Chet #1 overall if I were the Magic, but there’s also a part of me that wonders if he’s big enough to play in the NBA, period. I mean, he did get kind of pushed around in the NCAA Tournament–and that’s not even close to the level of play in the NBA. I’m both excited and very worried about Chet.
- Jabari Smith: I didn’t know much about him during the season–not anywhere near as much as I knew about Holmgren and Banchero. But when I hear about a guy who’s 6’10” that can shoot and people are comparing him to KD–yeah, you’ve got my attention. I honestly liked all three of the top players in this draft. I thought you couldn’t go wrong with any of them, and all three deserved to be considered for the top pick. Like I said earlier, I think Jabari Smith and Holmgren have the higher ceilings, while Paolo Banchero is least likely to be a bust. But I think Smith might have the highest ceiling of all these guys. He’s the only one being compared to KD, after all.
- I’ve heard a lot of people raving about Jaeden Ivey, but I don’t really know a ton about him. I watched Purdue only a few times and I didn’t think he really stood out. I’m not saying he’s bad or anything, but I just didn’t really notice him the way I noticed Banchero, or Holmgren when I watched their teams play. I think he might be a bit under-sized, Ivey, and I’m not sure how great his shot is. But a lot of people are very, very high on this kid so I will defer to them.
- Johnny Davis (10 overall, Wizards): I don’t really know much about Johnny Davis, either, but I like these Big Ten players, and Davis is a 6’5″ point guard. I really think he’s going to work. He’s not as athletic as Ivey, but he’s bigger.
- Ochai Agbaji (14 overall, Cavs): He’s a bit under-sized, but he’s a winner. I like the pick.
- I liked the fact that the Timberwolves were able to draft both Walker Kessler and Wendell Moore in the late part of the first round. I think they made out like bandits.
- The Heat taking Nikola Jovic at 27 overall. Now, obviously I, like everyone else, wanted the Nuggets to draft Jovic because that would’ve been hilarious, but the reality is this kid Nikola Jovic is more than just another Serbian who almost has the same name as the back-to-back MVP. Jovic is a 6’11” small forward who can hit shots from all over the floor. And he just turned 19 earlier this month. I love this pick for Miami. Jovic isn’t the most developed defender, but defense is what Miami does. If Jovic is coachable and willing to listen, then the Heat will turn him into a capable defender. And with his size and shot-making ability, he could really be a heck of a player. I’m thinking the Rashard Lewis/Hedo Turkoglu mold. Remember, there was a time in this league where those two–along with obviously prime Dwight Howard–led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals and beat LeBron in the process. Rashard Lewis at one point was averaging over 22 points a game in his career. I really love the potential for Jovic. If it all pans out he could be an All Star. I really do believe that.
- I liked that the Cavaliers drafted Isaiah Mobley with the 49th pick. Clearly they made that pick because of Evan Mobley, but this is the perfect landing spot for the older brother. It could be like a situation with Giannis and his brothers being on the same team.
I’m not really the biggest Draft Nerd out there so I can’t provide you detailed analysis of every pick. Most of these players I’ve never even heard of, quite honestly.
But your main takeaway here is this: Victor Wembanyama.