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The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

The La Salle Falconer

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In the Age of Basketball Unicorns, Victor Wembanyama is a Different Animal

Olivia Hungerford
To no one’s surprise, Wembanyama was selected first overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2023 NBA Draft, following in the footsteps of legendary San Antonio centers David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Over the past 15 years, the NBA has experienced immense growth — commissioner Adam Silver took control of the league at the start of the decade and has since ushered in a new level of financial success and marketability. Basketball in America has perhaps never been more popular, but Silver has also taken the game worldwide, bringing in superstars from around the globe that have ascended to the very top of the sport. Because of these factors, basketball has been thriving on almost all fronts in recent years. 

But perhaps the most fitting label for this period is the age of the unicorn. In basketball terms, a unicorn is defined as a player with a rare skillset or athletic profile; a player whose combination of skills and physique seldom exists. Kevin Durant was the blueprint for this type of player, entering the league in 2007 as a 7-foot small forward with guard skills who could score from anywhere on the court. “KD” revolutionized the game with his play style, influencing the games of teenage big men around the globe and giving birth to basketball’s unicorns. Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are two more examples of this trend.

Victor Wembanyama is the ultimate unicorn. Simply put, the NBA has never seen a prospect remotely like him.

There is no box that Wembanyama doesn’t check as a player. The first thing that stands out about him is his staggering size. At 7’4”, Wembanyama is the tallest player in the NBA, dwarfing every center he matches up with. He’s not just tall, either — he sports an eight-foot wingspan, which is the NBA’s all-time record. His incredible length gives him the potential to be one of the most prolific shot-blockers of all time.

Even amongst the few players at this size, Wembanyama stands out. Most players that tall simply can’t move very well. But Wembanyama is a shockingly fluid mover for his size. This rare athleticism allows him to pull off offensive maneuvers, such as step-back threes and spin moves, that other players of his stature can only dream of attempting.

His fluidity and quickness as an athlete allows him to dribble like a point guard as well. It’s obvious that he took inspiration offensively from Durant, but his advantage in height makes him even more of a mismatch for defenders. As his playmaking prowess develops with age, we could eventually see him running the point for the Spurs at 7 ‘4”, which would give them endless floor-spacing opportunities.

However, his most unique skill is his shooting touch. Players that tall are rarely able to shoot at all, let alone with any consistency, due to their massive hands. Wembanyama has no such concerns, with a beautiful jumper that becomes nearly unblockable with his immense length. His athleticism lets him shoot shots mostly reserved for guards, and while his three-point percentage isn’t great at the moment, his accuracy from beyond the arc should only improve with time.

Wembanyama’s mere presence warps defenses in a way that can’t be quantified with numbers. Teams have to stick a center on him defensively, as they’re the only ones that can match up with his sheer size. However, the threat that he poses as a shooter forces these slower players to step out and guard him on the perimeter, giving him carte blanche to drive to the basket with his superior athleticism. Additionally, his presence beyond the arc pulls would-be shot blockers out of the paint, opening up opportunities for smaller guards to cut to the basket and get easy layups.

Defensively, he’s even more impressive. Wembanyama’s rare blend of size and athleticism makes him extremely versatile on this end. Need to shut down a guard? He has the quickness to keep up with them on the perimeter while eliminating the threat of the dribble-drive. Is a big man causing problems? Wembanyama is the tallest player on the court, taking away a lob or post-up threat. Coaches can also just park him in the paint and let him swat everything that comes his way.

What’s most terrifying about Wembanyama is that he’s only 19 years old, and still several years away from his physical prime. As a rookie, he will only continue to learn more about the game and improve his skillset. His rebounding is the one thing in his game that can currently be considered a deficiency — while he pulls down a decent amount of boards, he certainly doesn’t grab enough given how long he is. As he learns more about positioning and boxing out in the NBA, even this can become a strength.

Critics of Wembanyama often bring up the idea that he will be injury-prone due to his size at the NBA level. However, for his size, he has a decent amount of muscle on his frame already, and he should continue to get stronger as he ages. This will allow him to hold his own physically and stay healthy.

So many prospects have been given the “can’t-miss” label over the years, but Wembanyama is one of the rare talents that actually fits the bill. Barring injury, it’s almost impossible to imagine Wembanyama not becoming a superstar. The worst-case scenario for him is an All-Star level career.

His ceiling? One of the greatest players of all time.

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