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Draft Digest Roundtable: Appreciating the Greatness of Victor Wembanyama

Just how special does the Draft Digest team think San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama has been this season?

We're nearing the end of the 2023-24 campaign, with a truly special class of rookies emerging as the future of the NBA. At the top of this class is Victor Wembanyama of the San Antonio Spurs, who is a generational talent that could be the face of the league in the next year or two. 

But how good has Wembanyama been? What has been the most impressive thing about his rookie season thus dar? What could he ultimately accomplish in his career?

The Draft Digest team put three tough questions to the test, roundtable style:

Has Wembanyama established himself as the best rookie in the history of the league?

Derek Parker: Wembanyama’s been unbelievably good in several unprecedented ways, but I’m not yet ready to say he’s had the best rookie season of all time. Wembanyama has firmly placed himself among the best rookies ever, but not clearly ahead of them. I think there’s like a handful of all-timers who were able to put up the stats, lead their teams to victory and have their fair share of moments.

Nick Crain: I'll preface this by saying I haven't been alive long enough to see every single rookie ever play in real-time to truly comprehend the gravity of their respective introductory campaigns. With that in mind, I think Wemnanyama has made the case for being perhaps the highest-upside rookie in the history of the league. You could go back in time and find first-year players with better stats or won more games, but I believe holistically the French phenom does things on the floor that no other rookie — or in some cases any player ever — has been able to do. 

Morten Stig Jensen: I can't speak of the "history of the league", as that spans back to 40 years before I was born. What I can say is this: Victor Wembanyama has been the best rookie I've ever seen, and I've followed the league for 27 years. His defense is what cements it for me. This guy just gobbles up opposing offenses, and he does so while putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds in limited minutes. We're talking about a guy who has a genuine argument for being a Top 5 defender in the league, just 50 games into his career. The level of absurdity is incomprehensible, but in the best way possible.

Jam Hines: I understand the argument on both sides for Wemby being the best rookie in the history of the league, especially considering the hype and production, but I’ll say that he isn’t the rookie in history. Both Jordan and Magic produced statically if and in the win column. Jordan finished 6th in MVP voting. 3rd in scoring, 4th in steals and led the Bulls to the playoffs. Magic has a strong case as well. He won the championship while nearly averaging a triple-double in the playoffs and was an All-Star.

Nate Aker: It’s difficult to not consider him as the best rookie of all time when viewing it from a projectional standpoint. In terms of pure, immediate impact and what could stem from his instant success in the league, his potential holds no bounds and makes him, in my opinion, the most exciting rookie of all time.

Arya Chawla: Wembanyama’s in the midst of the most intriguing, exciting rookie season in quite some time. It’s been decades since a rookie’s shown this much potential this fast. That being said, he hasn’t reached levels other first-year players have in the past. Take another San Antonio Spurs big man in Tim Duncan, for example. He earned First Team All-NBA status as a rookie in 1998. However, Wembanyama began this season at 19 years of age. Rookie Duncan was 21. If we’re discussing the best 19 and 20-year-olds in NBA history, Wembanyama’s case grows far stronger.

He’s done so many ridiculous things in his rookie campaign, but what has been the most impressive individual thing he’s done thus far?

Derek Parker: By far Wembanyama’s most impressive achievement so far for me is leading the league in blocks by a wide margin at 3.3. Wembanyama obviously had an incredibly high ceiling with a near-8-foot wingspan and premier shot-blocking skills — probably the highest ceiling in that category all-time. But I thought his technique was less refined, and in reality, it still is, which is a scary thought for league. Even still, No. 1 in blocks and improving every game.

Nick Crain: To me, it's not a particular performance or milestone in the season. It's the collective ability to live up to expectations. Dating back to LeBron James, there probably hasn't been a single rookie with expectations as high as Wembanyama. Taking that into consideration, it's remarkable that he's probably exceeded the expectations of most. Sure, he hasn't led his team to many wins. But he's probably a top-25 player to me in this league already and has clear superstar upside on both ends. 

Morten Stig Jensen: It's a shared number one spot. The defense over the course of the season is one thing. In the modern era, we've never seen a rookie this disruptive on that end of the floor, so I just can't not go with that. The second part of that question is the 5x5 line. Let's be real for a second. Headlines were written all over the world 24 hours before he did it, because he was one assist shy of doing it, before he actually did it. Every single one of those headlines felt pointless the day after, because no one stopped to consider the fact that he might actually pull it off the next time he hit the court. Because why should they? It'd be illogical! You have guys who go their whole careers just getting close to a 5x5 line, and this 20-year-old damn near had two of them in a 24-hour span. If I didn't know any better, Wembanyama is a glitch in the Matrix, put there to test our resolve.

Jam Hines: The defense for sure. To see him instantly become a perennial defensive player of the year candidate and elite defensive anchor from day one as projected is remarkable. A close second is his general poise and humility.

Nate Aker: This one’s a tough question. If we’re talking about the single most impressive thing I’ve seen in game, it’d probably have to be his double between the legs, between the legs misdirection into a step-back three from the wing. I mean, yeah it’s absolutely crazy to see him use his otherworldly wingspan with a shammgod or a wound up slam on Jakob Poeltl’s head, but for a guy his size to use these guard-like handles this fluidly into a jumper off the dribble is just so cool to see.

Arya Chawla: As the question states, Wembanyama has already done so many ridiculous things, but to me, his ball-handling ability has been most impressive. Amongst, 7-footers (there’s essentially no sample if we set the bar at 7-foot-4), the NBA’s seen comparable shooters, perimeter movers, and shot blockers. However, nobody has ever handled the ball anything like Wembanyama. He has the skill and coordination to routinely break defenders down off-the-dribble with complex moves, changes in direction, and fluid pull-up jumpers.

What is Wembanyama's ultimate ceiling in this league?

Derek Parker: I’m not sure our brains can currently comprehend what Wembanyama’s ceiling is in this league. I said it pre-draft and it’s only been affirmed since: he can be the greatest player of all time. But I’m still not even sure what that can look like. Could he regularly put up 5x5 performances? Will he break defensive records while averaging 30-plus points? When he’s assimilated to playoff basketball, is he going to be stoppable? Time will tell, I’m excited for the ride.

Nick Crain: It's crazy to even think about Wembanyama's ceiling at this point. Injuries are a real thing for any player. To be one of the greats, you have to win championships which requires those around you to contribute. But in terms of what he's able to control himself, I think Wembanyama could go down as a top-five player of all time. If he's able to stay healthy and pay out a 20-year career, there's no question that he has the chance to spend the better part of two decades as a perennial MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate. It's that two-way upside that makes him so special. He will likely be a player who can produce a triple-double on any given night while also being the most impactful defender in the league and changing the game on both ends. How could you not at least explore the idea of him being the GOAT when it's all said and done? 

Morten Stig Jensen: I almost never use the word unlimited, but in the case of Wembanyama, it's the right word. He can be the next Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He can be the next Tim Duncan. He can be a new combination of the two. There's no ceiling. Of course, that doesn't mean he'll necessarily achieve it. We'd all like to hope so, because who wouldn't want to see a guy potentially chase GOAT status, particularly after LeBron's career is winding down? Wherever he ends up, it's all about the journey. As NBA observers, we should all feel fortunate that we have a front-row seat for the whole thing.

Jam Hines: Ultimate ceiling is the greatest player and defender to ever play. It’s crazy that isn’t a hyperbole and is a likely outcome if his health continues to serve him well. It comes down to winning championships to be considered one of the greatest players and he has the talent to open up a wide championship window.

Nate Aker: As mentioned before, there’s no limit to what he could eventually achieve in the NBA throughout his career. A 20-plus point-per-game scorer as a 7-foot-4 rookie whose two-way impact is inevitably felt both ways in each game, it’s insane and scary to see what he’s doing at just 20 years old. I think he could ultimately be considered the best of all time depending on the longevity and the quality of his health throughout his career.

Arya Chawla: Wembanyama has already established himself as one of the league’s best defensive players. His 7-foot-4 frame and 8-foot wingspan alter the dimensions of the court for opposing offenses. As he continues to improve his understanding of the NBA game, add strength, and test the bounds of his physical tools, the 20-year-old could reach defensive heights unseen in the modern era. Offensively, his athletic traits and remarkable perimeter skill lay the foundation of a future superstar scorer, with upside for even gaudier labels. With these two-way capabilities, Wembanyama boasts glaring potential as a future all-time great. Ultimately, his ceiling is nothing short of status as the best basketball player of all time.

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