Victor Wembanyama Analysis: The “Unicorn of Unicorns”

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Victor Wembanyama pregame for the metropolitans
Photo via: Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Quick question. How many players over the 2021-2022 NBA season averaged at least one block and made two three-pointers per game? Believe it or not, only two – Karl-Anthony Towns and LeBron James.

In terms of rim protection and knockdown three-point shooting, there really is no guy who is elite at both. When we analyze the rim protector/stretch-big archetype, there are several players who fit aspects of the archetype. Towns can shoot the hell out of the ball, but is far from a high-level defender. Kristaps Porzingis can shoot pretty well but has never amounted to as good of a defensive player as many would have hoped. Anthony Davis, in theory, should satisfy the full criteria, but he has never materialized as a consistent enough shooter. Already, before he gets any better, Victor Wembanyama right now would be the best rim protector/stretch-big in the league.

(Fun fact: Davis was one of the worst volume three-point shooters in the league last year!). Then, of course, there are players like Kevin Durant who is more of a wing and never impacted the game enough defensively to fit that mold.

It Starts With the Footwork for Victor Wembanyama

Just about every player works on catch-and-shoot scoring. It’s one of the easiest things to do, it’s not stressful on your legs, and you can hop on the shooting machine while listening to the latest Drake album. A player can go up to the gym and shoot 500 shots and not be fatigued. That’s why good shooting drills always have some sort of complication so that shooters can get used to different footwork.

When you’re playing a basketball game, especially if you are going to be a volume shooter, you need to be able to be adaptive with your release. You may be coming over the top of the screen and curling. Sometimes, the chaser may go under the screen, in which case you flare back and the footwork changes to a shuffle step. There’s different footwork to get to your shot if you’re shooting off the dribble. If you’re going to be taking volume three-point shots, you need to be comfortable rising up out of any footwork.

If you watched his games against the G League Ignite and his early European games, Wembanyama has executed shots out of a vast array of footwork. In the first Ignite game alone, he had a movement shot going right where he planted the right foot and elevated into the shot. More recently, he has even displayed a one-legged three-pointer*.

Victor Wembanyama is Exciting, but Not Complete

Wembanyama is already so dominant in two key areas of the game: three-point shooting and paint defense. Still, there is so much work to do in the rest of his game. Naturally, with his young lanky frame, he gets pushed off of his spot too easily. The Frenchman also needs to become stronger and clench the ball so that when he’s caught in traffic, defenders can’t take it away from him. Defensively, Wembanyama gives up positioning a little too easily, but his length makes up for it mostly for now. Early in the first G League exhibition, Scoot Henderson performed a beautiful step back for a three at the top of the key and got a ton of separation. Wembanyama still almost blocked the shot despite getting shifted and playing off of the ball because his arms are so long and he is such a twitchy big man.

When he’s shooting, defenders are constantly going to try to disrupt Wembanyama’s base because he is so tall and no one is going to be able to bother his release point. Teams will likely opt for a PJ Tucker-type defender on him, someone who is an undersized wing but who is very strong. They will try to disrupt a player’s base knowing they can’t bother the top of his shot, so they’ll try to bother the bottom of his shot instead. Rule #1 with shooting is to be balanced, and it’s just way more difficult to shoot when off balance. Attacking Wembanyama’s base will be the best strategy to try to stop him. Everything regarding his development will be working on footwork and fluidity with his release.

Victor Wembanyama’s Comparison

When I look at comparisons for Wembanyama, I keep coming back to Durant. I know that sounds insane, the Frenchman is going to be playing the five for his entire NBA career. Think about it though. Durant has one weakness – he doesn’t get to the rim very well, averaging 1.7 restricted area makes per game last year. For comparison, LeBron and Giannis Antetokounmpo are up around seven restricted area makes per game, and Kawhi Leonard is around five.

Bigger wings in the NBA get to the basket a lot, but KD does not. The reason is with his upright frame, he is not overly quick compared to other wings around the league, and he’s not going to win physical confrontations driving in a straight line. If Durant drives in a straight line and the defender bumps him, he’s going to give ground before the defender does in most cases. This is why he wisely takes advantage of his physical attributes, which are his height and an extremely high release point. Often when Durant gets to the rim, he stops short because he is the best perimeter jump-shooter from five or six feet out in basketball. It’s a shot that other wings would errantly shoot over the rim because they just never practice it, instead going all the way to the basket.

That’s where I see Wembanyama’s shot profile developing. He can do a lot of the Durant stuff where he starts down at the block, sets his defender up, and runs up to the top of the key to shoot a three or a 16-footer. Durant has made a living making a dramatic hesitation and then rising straight up. Wembanyama, however, will operate out of the post more often than Durant.

What Can We Expect From Victor Wembanyama

Right away, Wembanyama will easily average two threes a game and easily a block per game. He will likely be attempting around six shots from deep, if not seven or eight because that is the best shot profile for him. Consider that Towns takes about five per game, but he’s big and strong and has a quick first step. He can physically impose his way to the rim, an aspect Wembanyama would literally have to grow into. Still, at his size, he won’t be slashing to the basketball the way that other wings do. This is why I see a Kevin Durant shot profile. It will be a ton of off-the-catch shooting, pick-and-pop shooting, and eventually more off-the-dribble shooting. Remember, Wembanyama is already one of the most proficient shooting bigs around the world.

Factoring his combination of the Durant shot profile plus the defensive impact he brings, Wembanyama might be the best prospect at his age that I have ever seen. I have a long-standing theory that if KD had embraced the defensive end of the floor earlier in his career and done so consistently, he could have been the GOAT. Obviously, Victor Wembanyama has miles and miles to go to get where KD is, but defensively he has the ability to be everything KD could have been and then some. That’s why he’s “the unicorn of the unicorns”.

 

Side Note*:

One-legged threes are going to take over the NBA. They’re effortless, you can carry your momentum through the shot, and you don’t have to decelerate, so it’s a great quick shot coming off of a screen, and hard to predict. It’s overall not a crazy shot and it can be hit consistently.)

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