With Big Shoes to Fill, How Will Victor Wembanyama Handle the Pressure?

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victor wembanyama

When playing for a franchise that’s seen legends of the game like Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginóbili suit up, there are always going to be lofty expectations to fill. 

When you’re the first overall pick in the draft and one of the most highly touted prospects since LeBron James himself, those standards jump exponentially higher.

The San Antonio Spurs won the draft lottery at the end of the 2022-23 NBA season, and with it, 19-year-old phenomenon Victor Wembanyama. While we’ve seen other recent top picks fail to fill the shoes they’re given, Wembanyama is stepping into one of the best situations possible, a stable franchise (although the Spurs have struggled in recent seasons) with an NBA Hall of Famer in head coach Greg Popovich at the helm. The pieces are already in place for Wembanyama to succeed, but here’s a look at additional factors that could help him come into his own and reach his prescribed ceiling as one of the better players in NBA history.

An Underrated Angle On Victor Wembanyama

One fascinating thing to keep in mind is how Parker will fit into the picture as Wembanyama adjusts to San Antonio. Born in Belgium, Parker grew up in France, attending high school in Paris and playing professionally there before the Spurs drafted him in 2001.

The two don’t have much in common on the court—Parker stands 6-foot-2, more than a foot shorter than the 7-foot-4 Wembanyama (although they have both shown a penchant for scoring from the paint during their respective careers)—but their shared background could give Wembanyama an important mentor. 

One thing that Parker can help with is teaching Wembanyama how to adjust to Popovich’s hard-charging coaching style. Popovich does his best to unlock the talent of the players he coaches, even if it doesn’t always make him popular, whether it’s turning Parker into a two-way star or trying to turn Kawhi Leonard into a leader. Parker and Popovich were notorious for butting heads during the former’s playing career as Popovich did his best to coax the most out of Parker’s talent… even if it didn’t always sit well with the Belgian native. 

Parker and Wembanyama have already interacted with each other quite a bit, spending time together in the pre-draft process when it became clear that the Spurs had the top pick. 

They’ve also known each other for years, with Parker saying he knew Wembanyama and his family long before the 19-year-old became an international superstar. 

Having an NBA Hall of Famer with a similar background to him is an excellent resource for Wembanyama to have in his court as he gets used to playing for Popovich.

Continuing Development

Tony Parker on the court. Tony Parker and Victor Wembanyama are both from France and played for the Spurs.

While Parker could be a big help for Wembanyama as he continues to adjust to the NBA, it’s also important for him to have resources close at hand, ones in tune with what the Spurs are up to. When Parker joined the Spurs, he had legends all around him to learn from like Duncan and Robinson: this edition of the Spurs is a different story, as they had one of the youngest rosters in the NBA on opening day last season, coming in at No. 3 with an average age of 23.84 years. 

One budding leader in the Spurs’ young locker room is Keldon Johnson. Johnson is from Virginia and won a gold medal with Team USA in 2021. After a breakout 2021-2022 season Keldon Johnson signed a four-year, $80 million extension. You can bet his hometown fans will be using Virginia Sportsbook promos to get in on the action all NBA season. With the biggest current cap hit on the Spurs’ roster, Johnson looks to be a long-term part of San Antonio’s plans, cherishing the leadership role he took on last season.

How Victor Wembanyama Matches Up

Victor Wembanyama with Spurs legends Tim Duncan, David Robinson, and Manu Ginobili

Once again, with a history of talented big men like Duncan and Robinson, the comparisons Wembanyama draws to them are inevitable: here’s a look at how they stack up. The most obvious comparison that leaps out is size. Wembanyama is taller than Duncan and Robinson ever were, but he’s a lot lighter, weighing around 210 pounds. Both the elder Spurs sat around 250 pounds during their playing careers, helping them become dominant defensive presences (and a force to be reckoned with when working down low). 

Wembanyama has rejected the notion that he needs to bulk up, saying that he prefers his lanky build: it’s possible to become stronger without building muscle mass, and it seems like that’s what he wants to do. Wembanyama compares well to Robinson when it comes to shot-blocking. It’s rare for a man of that size to have excellent mobility, but those two are an exception to that rule, with high defensive ceilings because of their ability to get back down the court. 

Victor Wembanyama has received comparisons to Duncan as well for his all-around ability (especially as he continues to develop), though it remains to be seen if he’ll have the same clutch gene that Duncan had.

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