Meet 16-year-old French prospect Victor Wembanyama: 'Unicorn times 10'

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Meet 16-year-old French prospect Victor Wembanyama: 'Unicorn times 10'

DunkWire

Meet 16-year-old French prospect Victor Wembanyama: 'Unicorn times 10'

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If you do not know the name Victor Wembanyama, it is worth dropping everything to learn about the 16-year-old, 7-foot-3 big from France.

Wembanyama was recently described as “maybe the best prospect in the world” by Mike Schmitz on ESPN’s podcast Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective. He has been in discussion since appearing as a guest player for FC Barcelona at the U14 Spanish Minicup, though his massive size will keep earning attention as he continues to develop.

“If he doesn’t go Top 5 in his draft when he comes out, then I’m going to be very shocked. Because it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” 29-year-old wing Taylor Smith, who played alongside Wembanya for Nanterre outside of Paris, told HoopsHype.

Jason Filippi, a longtime international scout with 19 years of NBA experience, assured HoopsHype that this was no hyperbole.

“It is fair to say that he is the next big thing in Europe.” said  Filippi. “The kid is only 16. He cannot put his name in the NBA draft until 2022 or 2023. He is a potential generational talent like Luka Doncic. I’m not saying he is going to be as good as Doncic. But he is definitely the best player in his age group and I think that if he were eligible for next year’s draft, he’d be a lottery pick and the top European prospect.”

The 16-year-old burst onto the scene, impressing scouts and fans alike during the U16 Euro Championship A Stats in 2019. Despite being a year younger than all of the other players who participated, he was considered the most anticipated prospect competing.

He averaged 13.7 points, 14.6 rebounds, 8.1 blocks and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes during those seven games. He recorded 21 rebounds against Croatia on August 14 and also had five games with at least five blocks during the tournament. The big man led all participants in blocks (37) and defensive win shares (0.9) while bragging the third-best player efficiency rating (34.5) as well. France won the silver medal and he took home All-Tournament Team honors.

“He works hard, his potential is through the roof,” continued Smith. “He can shoot, dribble, handle. You know, he’s like Porzingis. But Porzingis didn’t have the handle like him. He has the handles. And he plays defense like Rudy Gobert.”

The difference with Wembanyama is that he has a much more diverse skill set than Gobert, who still mostly plays around the basket in the interior for screen-and-dive plays and lobs.

For example, he has remarkable basketball-IQ and court vision and for his size and position. Look at the no-look pass that he hurls from the post to find his open teammate in the corner for three.

“He is a very, very good passer. That might be an underrated skill,” said Filippi. “His passing ability is excellent, top-notch. He sees the court really well from his vantage point being 7-foot-3. Already, he has a well-developed feel for the game.”

Wembanyama looks comfortable on both the high and low post, though his footwork has been applauded in the low post. He can face up or put the ball on the deck. Despite his size, he can also be trusted to run the floor with or without the ball while in transition.

Dallas Moore, a 25-year-old guard who played alongside Wembanyama for Nanterre as well, also spoke to HoopsHype. Moore told us that even though players for the junior team usually practice either before or after his squad did, Wembanyama got more run than others.

“He is a good kid, always laughing,” said Moore. “When he practiced with us, you could see that he was very skilled for his size and his age. He can dribble, shoot. He kind of can do everything. To be that big and that young and have guard skills is kind of crazy.”

The rewards have been fruitful and he has started to make history with his opportunities. Wembanyama made his Eurocup debut at 15 years, 9 months and 25 days old. That made him the second-youngest ever and the youngest since Stefan Pekovic in 2007, per Sportando.

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“That was a big deal,” 28-year-old wing Devin Oliver, who also played for Nanterre, told HoopsHype. “We stood up. We cheered. It was cool. It was a cool moment. Especially now, he is starting to get some recognition. People are going to start to catch on. You know how social media is. It catches like wildfire.”

This was especially fair, too, considering the productivity that he had shown for his junior club team. He averaged 20.1 points, 15.3 rebounds, 7.7 blocks and 3.5 steals per 36 minutes during the 2020 Kaunas Tournament (ANGT) despite being two years younger than other players.

Wembanyama recorded a tournament-best 24 blocks during those four games. In fact, he recorded more blocks (9) in one game than the next-best player did (8) during the entire tournament. That was the most ever recorded during a single game of the Kaunas Tournament.

The shot-blocking rim protection and his rebounding rate are both not exactly a surprise for someone of his size, although his instincts and his reactivity are both considered elite.

But the fact that he is even willing to step beyond the arc at this point in his development makes him an incredibly modern fit for the league. Note how high his shooting release looks in the video above; it will be challenging for even the longest NBA player to block his shots on the perimeter.

“He can actually shoot the ball really well,” said Moore. “I thought his jump shot was outstanding to be that big and that young and not really know what he is doing yet. He can really shoot the ball. Midrange, he can take a couple of dribbles off the bounce and shoot. He can catch and shoot from three.”

Generally speaking, connecting from beyond the arc during the games has not been one of his strengths. However, he was 82.4 percent from the free-throw line during the Kaunas Tournament. That suggests his touch is solid and that there is reason to believe in the development of his shot, which does look natural coming out of his hands.

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The big comes from a family of athletes as his older sister, Eve Yema Wembanyama, also plays basketball in France. His father was an athlete, competing in the high jump. His mother played professional basketball and has had an active role in his development.

“His mom and dad, I got a chance to meet them. They were great people,” said Oliver. “His mom told me to push him a little bit. Make him a little bit more aggressive.”

Smith agrees that the tenacity is exactly what Wembanyama needs to reach the next level: “If he can get just a little bit more aggressive then he will be a monster.”

While our intel suggests that he is a good student, it is currently deemed highly unlikely that he ever plays college basketball as part of his inevitable path to the NBA. More likely than not, he signs a pro contract when he turns 18.

The projected scenario is he stays with Nanterre, earning more playing time and fully practicing with their professional team rather than the junior team. Even though he may suit up for every game, one would expect him to mostly participating in the French League or during international cups.

“He has a chance to be really, really good,” Moore added. “He is going to be special. If he realizes how big he is and gets tougher and starts dunking everything, I think he is going to be a monster. Top 5 draft pick.”

The wildest part is that even though Wembanyama has a slight frame, he could still put on weight naturally and grow with age considering he is only 16 years old.

“He wants to be great, I could see that,” added Smith. “It’s kind of like Kevin Durant. I feel like he is going to be like KD. He is not going to be big like Gobert. But when KD came out, he was really skinny. So don’t even worry about his strength. His game is going to be crazy. Unicorn times 10.”

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