The San Antonio Spurs selected the unicorn of all unicorns last Thursday when they took French phenom Victor Wembanyama with the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. The 7’2″ multi-talent has ruled the metaverse, with his highlights permeating social media for years now. No player has entered The Association with this much hype or hope since a 17-year-old Sport Illustrated cover boy named LeBron James in 2003.
With the first pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs select Victor Wembanyama!
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) June 23, 2023
Based on all accounts and the video evidence, Wembanyama is the prototype for basketball’s future. He’s insanely tall but can move, shoot, and handle the ball like a guard. His outside jumper is soft and he has good footwork. And while he does have a frail frame like other giants of the past, he doesn’t have the same kind of clumsiness.
Based on what we have seen so far, he has good footwork in the paint and not the standard awkwardness that comes from being far above the 7-foot mark.
Still, Questions Remain
At just 19 years old, he’s very young and still filling out his long frame. Adding weight is going to help not only his strength but endurance as well. If he struggles to do so, he could fall by the wayside like others of his gargantuan size have before him. Also, he’s also been forced to develop under a huge magnifying glass. That type of spotlight has melted stars like Lonzo Ball in the past.
And with his freakish height, he’s always susceptible to crippling injuries. Perhaps the most heavily-hyped center ever (and a player that Wembanyama compares favorably to) Ralph Sampson, saw injuries stifle his potential. There’s a general fear that The Frenchman could face similar struggles.
Victor Wembanyama goes far beyond even your most astronomical expectations, in terms of his future standing in the game. He’s not only being viewed as someone who should go down as an all-time great, but he’s almost being expected the revolutionize the game. Many pundits feel like he represents a preview of tomorrow – where 7-foot-plus players playing every position becomes the norm.
There’s One Other Element To Mention
In an era where the very best player in the NBA right now might be two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, Wembanyama could be Jokic to an even higher power. And the Euro influence on the game, already immense, will be even stronger if this Mediterranean manchild morphs into everything he’s been marketed to be.
The roots of this development may go back to names like Drazen Petrovic and Arvydis Sabonis, but many of those initial international icons were past their primes or physically unprepared for the transition to North America. However, two or three generations later, they are some of the biggest names in the National Basketball Association, with even more talent on their way across the pond.
This is the best Victor Wembanyama highlight to date and there is ZERO DEBATEpic.twitter.com/qdJnpEZQYa
— 24/7 High School Hoops (@247HSHoops) June 22, 2023
Because of that, there has been a segment of NBA players and fans who have become resentful of the attention and accolades being garnered by foreign-born players. While their style of play has been borrowed from heavily (including the now famous ‘Euro Step’ move popularized by Spain’s Manu Ginobili), it seems almost as if their presence is starting to be viewed as more of an invasion.
It’s Caused Some Observers To Bristle
Perhaps because people are sick of hearing about him. And the crazy idea that this skinny kid from across the Atlantic could ever match the prowess of the NBA’s new all-time scoring leader.
Or maybe it’s because LeBron is a kid from an urban area in America who made it big in basketball. In other words, the way every movie and storybook portrays that it should be: Our game, with our players, dominating the world. They may OWN soccer, but hoops belong to us… going all the way back to Dr. Naismith.
In reality, however, European players like Dirk Nowitzki and now Jokic are proving that this isn’t your Daddy’s NBA anymore. And with athletes overseas being specialized and essentially trained from birth, they’ve caught up to us quickly. If you look at the state of pro basketball in that part of the world just 30 years ago, it’s an almost startling difference to today. Since seeing the greatest basketball team ever, the original Dream Team, up close in 1992? The Europeans learned from the experience. They copied the best of the best and modified their style to fit their localized players. And now, they’ve made up ground in ways that have left many North American-born players trying to keep up.
Serbian Nikola Jokic now has two MVP awards and just won the first NBA Championship of his career. Giannis Antetokounmpo, known as ‘The Greek Freak’, is the game’s best post player. Countless All-Stars hail from Italy, Germany, and Spain. And now, Wembanyama has become the first French player ever to be selected with the top pick in the draft. Europe is definitely well-represented in the hoops world, even though they were born into it later than we were.
Whether Wembanyama is a Success or Not Won’t Stop The Euro Invasion
The NBA has already instituted many changes during the Adam Silver era that suggest the game will continue to go more international. Expect that flavor to continue all throughout the newest star’s career.
So the war is on, and the Europeans seem to be commanding the hardwood right now. Is Wembanyama the guy who will lead that charge for the rest of this decade and beyond? We won’t know until he fires his first shot.