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The Buildup of Victor Wembanyama
Victor Wembanyama has been promoted as a "generational" talent ahead of the 2023 NBA Draft. But his attention to detail stands out in his pursuit to be great.
How do you write an article about someone that everyone else has?
We’ve all watched in disbelief over the last eight months. An individual from France has made us question reality when it comes to what we are seeing with our own eyes. Victor Wembanyama isn’t a unicorn. In fact, he’s not even an alien, as many basketball fans have tagged him this year.
He’s becoming the most hyped player to ever be selected in the NBA draft. The reason for that is the media obsession over a 7’5” marvel of athletic wonder. For many scouts and NBA draft sickos, it’s been a waiting game when it comes to Wembanyama. This wasn’t a name that came out of nowhere, as Victor was viewed as the “next big thing” years ago.
But even coming into the year as a projected top pick, there were still some that wanted to see Wembanyama showcase that he was worthy of being the consensus number one overall pick for the 2023 NBA Draft. That’s when Victor got the opportunity to leave his mark in front of every NBA scout and executive he could have imagined.
To start off the ‘23 draft cycle, the NBA decided to give a gift to draft sickos like me. They announced that Victor Wembanyama and the Metropolitans 92 would travel stateside for a pair of exhibition games against Scoot Henderson and the G League Ignite. The destination? Las Vegas. (Well, Henderson, Nevada to be specific.)
The idea of missing an in-person opportunity to scout a “generational” talent would be something that would eat at me for years. It quickly became the easiest decision I would ever make. A quick text to fellow No Ceilings teammate Albert Ghim confirmed I wasn’t crazy. The following morning saw me hitting the road at sunrise, with the mindset of seeing the Frenchmen and Henderson go toe-to-toe like a heavyweight title fight.
I gave my thoughts earlier in the year about seeing both Henderson and Wembanyama in person. Since that showing, I’ve thought about that entire “showcase” multiple times. It wasn’t just the ridiculous performance on the court from both Wembanyama and Henderson that had me feeling like I was a part of a spiritual experience.
It was the attention to detail from Victor before the game ever started.
You can pick up a lot about a prospect by just watching their mannerisms. When working previously in the NBA, I’ve told myself that Kawhi Leonard was still the most impressive player I’ve seen before a game when it came to his preparation. There’s a reason why many consider him a robot. Kawhi was methodical in his pregame actions. Every rep of his pregame regiment seemed to see his feet land in the exact same spot over and over again.
Catch. Pump fake. Side dribble to the right, one-two, shot. Now to the other direction. Repeat over and over again.
I was expected to be in awe when I got courtside and saw Wembanyama. It was exactly what I predicted. Victor’s size and length are somehow undersold on camera compared to when you see it in person. But his preparation and care for his frame are remarkable. Before Victor even puts his shoes on, he’s going through an intense regiment.
After dealing with numerous injuries throughout his international career, it was clear that Victor needed to get his frame on the same page as his mindset to reach his potential.
Personally, I hate talking about my time working in the NBA, because I’ve never been a “me” guy. I tend to prefer to put my head down and work relentlessly, letting my efforts do the talking. But in order to tell this the right way, it requires some spotlight. I spent years working in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors in a number of different departments, doing everything in my power to keep my “foot in the door.” My first job came working at youth basketball camps, which often involved current players coming to work with kids and demonstrating their abilities and what it takes to be an NBA player.
One awesome opportunity I got to be a part of was working multiple overnight camps with Warriors superstar Stephen Curry. Before Curry exploded into a dominant force, I got a rare chance to play 5-on-5 with him and some of my co-workers, who consisted of former D-I hoopers. To say Steph was a difficult defensive cover would be a massive understatement.
But that year was especially unique, and something from that experience hit me like a wave when watching Victor Wembanyama before a game. After scrimmaging with one of the greatest point guards in the NBA, I was fascinated by Curry’s care for his body. At that time, Curry had been dealing with numerous lower-body injuries throughout his career. There was a clear mindset in that offseason that he had to be almost possessed when it came to taking care of his body. Curry spent hours before and after working out, stretching and taking care of every area of his frame. It was something that simply amazed me. “How does this guy do this EVERY single time?” Little did I know at this time that it would be the offseason before Curry turned into a walking NBA Jam “on fire” threat in the league.
That was the same mindset I saw from Victor, which was remarkable from a player who was 18 years old at the time. Wembanyama’s preparation before even putting on his shoes would have most of us throbbing in pain. Once the stretching was done, Victor didn’t skip a beat when it came to hammering home areas of his game that needed work. He started around the basket, working on his individual touch with both hands. Slowly and strategically, that range would get extended with a focus on each shot attempt.
After a lengthy routine, I was foaming at the mouth, like every NBA executive in the building. Two games later and Wembanyama had front offices laughing in the stands with his display on the court.
Fast forward to June and Victor Wembanyama is expected to find himself holding up a San Antonio Spurs jersey on Thursday, June 22nd. But the media frenzy has presented this as a potential Hall of Fame prospect before he ever plays in the NBA.
Is there a chance that Wembanyama doesn’t live up to the hype? Absolutely. But there’s also the opportunity in which Victor transforms the way that the game can be played. None of us have seen a talent of his size offer the projections of his career. While the term “generational” has been thrown around often with Victor, is there a chance that we might not see his complete skill set in a similar player again in our lifetimes?
The nod of being the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft comes with a target on your back. Every NBA veteran wants to see what you’re made of. It’s a tradition that doesn’t go unnoticed around the league, especially when being welcomed as a rookie.
Many have nodded that Wembanyama was a sure-fire consensus number one overall pick before the 2023 NBA Draft cycle even got underway. It’s important to realize while Victor is one of the top prospects in recent memory, there were still plenty of questions needing to be answered. Many of those have been answered emphatically throughout the year.
Victor spent the 2021-22 season playing overseas with ASVEL Basket. Yes, the same club that is owned by French point guard and former San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. During that season, Wembanyama showed plenty of flashes, but there was also still some general rawness. It’s expected for a player of his size and something that often gets scrutinized unfairly. Players of Victor’s size simply take much longer to come around than some might realize. While fans are always eager for their rookie to hit the ground running and flourish immediately at the NBA level, it’s often rare for a young talent to have such rapid success.
Bigs are challenging. They have the tools and raw potential to turn into something remarkable. As much as they work on their development, everything can simply start to come together at the snap of a finger. Throughout the 2021-22 season, while playing with ASVEL Basket, Victor’s stats looked drastically different compared to this season. There are a number of reasons for that. Wembanyama was still incredibly raw and looking to fine-tune his game. With a lack of consistent minutes, there was a clear desire to get as much playing time as possible in order to be prepared for the NBA jump.
Stats with ASVEL Basket in 2021-22 (via RealGM)
33 Games (20 in Jeep Elite, 13 in Euroleague) | 19 Starts | 17.4 MIN
7.5 Points | 4.2 REB | 0.5 AST | 1.7 BLK
41.5 FG% | 27.5 3P% | 68.4 3P%
Stats with Metropolitans 92 in 2022-23 (as of 6.10.23)
41 Games | 41 Starts | 32.3 MIN
21.2 PTS | 10.5 REB | 2.4 AST | 2.9 BLK
46.6 FG% | 27.6 3P% | 81.3 FT%
Despite the raw numbers, there was still no denying that Wembanyama would be one of the top prospects in terms of talent and potential that had come through the NBA draft ranks in recent memory.
But one of the most important and often “forgotten” aspects that NBA scouts needed to see from Victor had nothing to do with his play on the court. It was his overall health. With such an eye-opening frame, Wembanyama had struggled to stay healthy throughout the course of his previous seasons on the court.
Dec. 2020: Stress fracture in fibula - Out from December 12 to March 13
Nov. 2021: Fractured Finger - Misses almost a month
Dec. 2021: Shoulder Contusion - Misses almost two months
June 2022: Psoas Injury - Ruled out for remainder of season
While some of those can be just considered “bad luck” there were two clear goals for Victor Wembanyama heading into the 2022-23 season overseas.
1) Get as much playing time and reps as possible.
2) Stay healthy throughout the course of an entire season.
Both of those were answered emphatically and have translated into Victor having the best season of his young career. A frame with that much size can present some obstacles, especially for a player with Victor’s versatility and agility on the court. It’s almost a ticking clock before the development and body start to come together and get on the same page.
It’s always easy to look back now and paint a conclusion when it comes to Wembanyama. The tools he already had at his disposal could have slotted him as a consensus number one pick for the 2023 NBA Draft without him playing a single game this year. At 7’5”, with the versatility to be a potential dominant two-way force, Victor projects to be a look at the future of the NBA superstar. But from everything you’ve heard behind the scenes, the mentality of Wembanyama wasn’t going to allow for a full year of “sitting out.”
Wembanyama would work with trainer Guillaume Alquier, who has spent the entire year helping Victor get his frame on track with a clear emphasis on looking down the road to keep Wembanyama healthy and on the court. From seeing the intensity and preparation in person, it’s clear that Victor’s mindset is set on doing everything in his power to stay on the court.
But it wasn’t just taking care of the frame. It was getting the mind on the same page as the body, physically and mentally. By now, everyone has seen the pregame regiment showcasing Victor juggling tennis balls before taking on the Ignite as a way to work on his hand-eye coordination. Seeing that in person was impressive, especially after Victor had just finished up a rigorous lower-body stretching regimen. There was a serious amount of attention to detail when it came to his preparation to get ready to hit the court (clip originally shared by Ben Golliver).
Once that was done, Victor got into a lengthy on-court routine that was calculated. First starting with a lengthy amount of hook shots around the basket with each hand. Before slowly moving out the range to include some shots at the elbows and post work. After a lengthy film dive before this trip, I found myself with a number of different questions when it came to Wembanyama. Sure, we have this incredibly gifted 7’5” big man with some fascinating tools to be a dangerous floor spacing asset. But at some point, I wanted to see Victor put an emphasis on using his size, and his advantage, in the post against smaller defenders.
Immediately in pregame warmups, I realized that there was a focused effort to continue to develop that aspect of his game. Wembanyama went through a lengthy amount of post-up work. Using specific movements going in each direction. After getting warmed up, he eventually would welcome teammate Bilal Coulibaly to play “dummy” defense on his reps. All of the buzz heading into that game about Victor’s desire to be great started to show on the court, as there was a laser-like focus on his craft.
I’ve had the opportunity to see hundreds of NBA players work before a game on their on-court preparation. There’s been a wide range of impressions. Some players work themselves into a pouring sweat. Others are calculated with everything they do on the court, as it is a concerted effort to prepare for what might translate to the game hours later. That’s just what I wanted to see happen after Victor’s impressive pregame routine. It’s one thing to showcase it before a game. Now can you take that focus and move it over to when the ball is tipped? Are those reps going to be what you are looking to translate to your performance on the court once the ball goes up at halfcourt for the opening tip?
Seeing this bucket in person was something that quickly made you get on the edge of your seat. It was exactly the move that I had witnessed Victor Wembanyama go through time and time again when it came to his pregame routine, as shown in the clips above. As an evaluator, that got me foaming at the mouth. It wasn’t just because of the impressiveness of a 7’5” big man hitting a pull-up three-pointer off a one-dribble sequence, although that was awesome too. It was a clear maturity from Wembanyama that he was taking his craft seriously, to work on shots that would translate over into the games. For a player that was 18 years old at the time, that was simply a jaw-dropping amount of maturity.
Throughout the entire game, Wembanyama continued to dazzle fans with his freakish upside on both sides of the floor. He finished his first game with 37 points and five blocks, including 11-for-20 from the field and 7-for-11 on three-pointers. But while the outside shooting was impressive, the types of looks he was creating left me buying into the hype machine. As stated earlier, Wembanyama spent the majority of his pregame routine working on a similar move.
With many young prospects, they seem to look to add advanced moves in order to create an advantage on the offensive side of the ball. This could be creating a number of counters in their dribble package to open up a window to attack an out-of-position defender. The truth is, that some players can make life “easier” when it comes to working on the small tendencies of their game. For a player with Victor’s physical gifts, that’s exactly what I wanted to see in person.
Sure, we’ve seen countless times throughout the year in which Victor can dazzle us with his ball handling before weaving through defenders for an emphatic poster. But at the same time, there’s a realization that Victor needs to understand. He’s going to be bigger and more fluid than almost any opponent at the next level. At some point, making the game easier can make him even more dangerous of a defensive assignment. This move doesn’t look like much, but it’s exactly the type of shot that can be impossible to defend for Victor, given his footwork and high release. It’s the same exact move he continued to hammer home in his pregame regiment, as showcased against Bilal Coulibaly before the game.
Before the second game even started, there was a general buzz in the air. My No Ceilings teammate Albert Ghim and I walked into the arena with one clear question on our minds. “How do you follow up that unreal performance?” Well, Victor quickly proved that the first game wasn’t a “fluke.” Despite fellow star draft prospect Scoot Henderson leaving early with an injury, Wembanyama would still go on to dazzle scouts and executives once again.
He would finish the second game with 36 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, and four assists. But once again, Wembanyama continued to translate his preparation onto the court. My questions about his desire to work in the post were quickly answered after two games of basketball. That would also translate over to an entire full season of awesome basketball for Wembanyama with the Metropolitans 92.
The outside shot got plenty of fans in their feelings throughout Victor’s two-game display against the G League Ignite. After that, Wembanyama has been putting forth laughable highlights on a game-by-game basis overseas throughout the year. The outside shot is going to be the icing on top of the cake for Victor moving forward. If he can understand that the rest of the floor can open that up to make him even more dangerous, then Wembanyama is going to be simply head-ache material for opposing defenders.
Being labeled as a “generational” prospect comes with some unfair expectations for the next level. A young talent needs to understand that there’s a long road ahead when it comes to chasing greatness and being considered as one of the top players to step on a basketball court. It requires muting the outside noise and focusing on the path, while not trying to take any shortcuts.
Victor Wembanyama has already been labeled as a potential NBA superstar, but he’s shown throughout the 2022-23 season that the hype is well deserved. If his attention to detail has shown us anything, it’s that Victor is ready for the grind required to be mentioned as one of the game’s top players.