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The Map of Victor Wembanyama: Rim Protection

An in-depth look at why Wembanyama could be a game-changing interior defender at the NBA level.

After watching, scouting and reading about Victor Wembanyama for a good part of the last three and a half years, there’s very little about his profile as an NBA Draft prospect that I haven’t either already written in an article or said on a podcast.

So for this series, I’m taking a different approach.

This is not a typical strengths-and-weaknesses scouting report, nor an article that takes on tired questions such as “Will Victor be the number one pick?” or “How good will Victor be at the NBA level?”

This series is about trying to identify the smaller aspects that comprise each area of Victor’s skillset, how he can utilize each micro-skill to be valuable at the NBA level and which micro-flaws opposing teams could utilize to gain an advantage whenever he’s on the floor.

This is The Map of Victor Wembanyama, Part One: Rim Protection.

1. Block Radius

Let’s start with the obvious. Victor Wembanyama is massive. Listed at 7-foot-4 with a reported 8-foot wingspan and a near 10-foot standing reach, Victor has all the measurables to be an impactful shot-blocker, including an outstanding block radius, having tremendous range to impact shots close to the basket.

Wembanyama's wingspan allows him to shorten the gaps between him and the shooter at the rim, which is especially important for someone who will be expected to be the last line of defense, providing rim protection as a help defender. The fact that Victor doesn’t necessarily need to be close to his opponents in order to block their shots allows him to maintain verticality, keep a distance from his opponent and contest and block shots without getting called for fouls.

His block radius also plays a role in his transition defense, as Victor is able to execute tremendous saves with chasedown blocks due to, once again, his ability to shorten the gap between him and the shooter with his massive length.

2. Shot-Blocking Accuracy

Wembanyama doesn’t make an impact as a rim protector just because of his incredible tools. He also has excellent hand-eye coordination skills, which makes him not just a prolific shot blocker but also a tremendously accurate one. Wembanyama has blocked 1.47 shots for every personal foul he committed so far this season, which is an incredible ratio for a rim protector.

Wembanyama is extremely accurate to target and find the ball as a shot-blocker, and this combination of length and accuracy allows him to deny what otherwise would be surefire baskets on lay-up and dunk attempts, making saves that are nothing short of ridiculous and doing so by avoiding getting called for fouls.

3. Timing and Patience

Besides his length and accuracy, Wembanyama offers yet another positive aspect in his shot-blocking profile which is his timing. Wembanyama doesn’t chase blocks, he simply waits patiently and stays ready for the opportunity to block a shot to materialize near him.

Wembanyama realizes the size and length advantage that he possesses over an overwhelming majority of opponents, which allows him to be patient and wait for shooters to start their upforce before he starts his own upforce. In these situations, Wembanyama generates misses and turnovers by forcing opponents to either attempt a shot against his gigantic standing reach or to execute an equally difficult mid-air kick out pass.

This tendency to “pre-load” his jump and to not leave his feet before his opponent does, makes it really hard for shooters to get Wembanyama to bite on pump fakes, and even in those opportunities where Victor is late to start his upforce, he can still get to block shots because he’s just so massive.

4. Functional Quickness

While I wouldn’t say that Wembanyama is necessarily a quick-twitch athlete, he is fast enough to get to where he needs to be. His quickness to read and react to situations and his speed to get to his spots help him to be efficient as a help defender and to solve difficult situations, such as contesting shots in transition or attempting to stop 2-on-1 opportunities.

Similarly, while he doesn’t necessarily have the quickest pop off the floor on his first and second jump, the fact that he doesn’t have to leap very high to play at the rim allows him to take short and quick hops, making his leaping ability functionally quick.

5. Strength and High Center of Gravity

There’s a downside to Wembanyama's aforementioned massive measurements and that is his high center of gravity, which combined with his skinny frame allows opponents to establish deep position in post-ups or to box him out of rebounds. When it comes to defending post-ups then, it’s not going to be about Wembanyama being able to keep opponents from establishing deep position because it’s likely that he won’t be able to do so, at least during his first few seasons at the NBA level given his body type.

With NBA teams placing more emphasis on defending the three-point line than on defending post-ups, it’s likely that Wembanyama won’t get much help on defending these types of plays. In those situations then, it’s likely going to be a matter of how Wembanyama will use his length to force opponents into tough, low-percentage shots, despite his inability to keep stronger opponents from the restricted area.

6. NBA Refs as Tough Opponents

The final point in this region of the map doesn’t necessarily have to do with Wembanyama himself, it’s more about how he will adapt to the NBA and, especially, about how NBA referees will adapt to him.

On a recent episode of The VC Show, veteran NBA referee Eric Lewis mentioned Shaquille O’Neal as one of the toughest players he had to officiate: "Shaq would get hammered, but it looked like nobody touched him." Lewis said, which can be taken as a partial endorsement of something that Shaq himself previously mentioned, which is how NBA referees could be conservative about calling fouls committed on Shaq as they had trouble judging how much contact he was receiving due to his one-of-a-kind strength and sheer size.

From a physical standpoint, Wembanyama is also a one-of-a-kind prospect, and if some of the foul calls that went against him in the two showcase games he played earlier this year in Las Vegas against G League Ignite can be taken as indicators, it’s fair to wonder if he won’t run into similar issues once he makes his way to the NBA.

Referees will have to adjust to the fact that Wembanyama is able to cleanly block shots that other players could only block by fouling. This is hardly an issue in Europe where defensive players have more leeway, but in an NBA environment that values offense so much, defensive players are guilty until proven innocent. It will be interesting to see if NBA referees will give Wembanyama and his one-of-a-kind defensive profile the benefit of the doubt.

Final Thoughts

Victor Wembanyama’s numbers speak for themselves. His mark of 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes during the current 2022-23 season, would be the best mark in the last nineteen seasons of LNB Pro A basketball.

Wembanyama’s measurements also speak for themselves, but that’s not all there is to his defensive profile. It’s the the combination of his size and length with his accuracy, timing and speed as a rim protector which make Wembanyama a potential game changer on that area of the floor.

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