French teen may be a top pick in the next NBA draft

Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-4 forward for Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, has been commended for his light jump shot and excellent dribbling skills.

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A French athlete anticipated to go first overall in the 2023 NBA Draft has the league’s future in the palm of his hands — at least in the opinion of sports analysts, coaches and scouts.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Victor Wembanyama, 18, is the son of a basketball-playing mother and a long-jumping father, as evidenced by his on-the-court moves. In a sport increasingly characterized by international athletes bringing unique skill sets to America, the 7-foot-4 athlete is positioned to be the top pick for teams ahead of next June’s stateside NBA draft.

Wembanyama currently plays forward for the Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, a French professional basketball club based in the Paris metropolitan area. He made his American debut last Tuesday, Oct. 4, in Henderson, Nevada, in the first of two exhibition games against G League Ignite.

Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 forward Victor Wembanyama smiles after the Oct. 4 game against the NBA G League Ignite at The Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada. (Photo: Lucas Peltier/USA TODAY Sports)

A Reddit video of the star athlete squaring up on the wing gave fans a taste of the prowess that has scouts yearning to see more of him.

“He’s like LeBron coming out of high school, Magic Johnson after his freshman year at Michigan State, Kevin Durant,” opined ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla of Wembanyama, WSJ reported. “This kid is generational, and I see him as having the perfect skill set for the modern NBA game.”

The video, posted in July, showed Wembanyama — said to have a light jump shot and excellent dribbling skills — cross the ball from left to right and quickly move it back between his knees before using his shoulder to throw his defender off balance. He then leaned back on one foot to drop in a 15-foot fadeaway. 

In a recent interview, Vincent Collet, Metropolitans 92 head coach, referred to Wembanyama as the “best prospect we’ve ever had in French basketball,” and he said they must treat him as such.

“We have a meeting with a doctor to plan his program for the next month,” Collet said, according to WSJ. “We focus on strengthening his body and not making him work too much. He isn’t like a normal player, so you must be careful.”

Wembanyama’s body has already experienced some damage. He previously missed playing time due to a shoulder contusion, a muscle ailment in his leg, and, in 2020, a stress fracture in his fibula. 

Regardless, his highlights — which fans can typically find across Twitter and Reddit — reportedly stand out more than his stats. Wembanyama can block shots from the front of the rim and fly out to do the same at the three-point range by spreading his arms out to lengths that effectively block off entire sides of the floor when he is playing defense. 

He has averaged nearly two blocks each game over his last two professional seasons despite playing less than 20 minutes per night.

NBA decision-makers are well aware of how impressive those figures are for 17- and 18-year-old players competing against professionals in their mid-career.

“Twenty years ago, he would have been a curiosity,” Fraschilla said of the standout, according to WSJ. “Very few talent evaluators could really translate between European basketball in the NBA.”

The first time James Jones, a Team USA assistant and the men’s basketball coach at Yale, saw Wembanyama was during the 2021 FIBA U-19 World Cup final between the United States and France.

“He was 17 at the time, and watching him play you say to yourself, ‘That’s the next number one pick in the draft,'” Jones said, according to WSJ.

Jones witnessed the young athlete play firsthand and knew he was worth the risk.

“What pops out at you is his ability to play like a guard at the size of a center,” Jones added, per WSJ. “And not just like a center — he’s taller than every center! He’s a game-changer.”

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