French League Finals show the duality of Victor Wembanyama


Respected scouts and analysts have anointed Victor Wembanyama as the best prospect in basketball history. And while the 7-foot-5 teenager has a delectable combination of skills, tools, and feel for the game, there seems to be an expectation that he will stroll through the door and transform the Spurs into a championship contender overnight after they secure him with the first overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft.

Labels can be confusing, and when there is this much hype surrounding a young player who has yet to set foot in the most competitive league in the world, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of believing boundless potential will immediately translate into impactful production. After all, how can you not expect great things from a kid leading an inexperienced Metropolitans 92 franchise to their first LNB Pro A Finals?

Wembanyama and crew trail Monaco 0-2 as they head to historic Roland-Garros for their first home game of the series, but whether or not they win a ring is inconsequential. Would it be nice for the Parisian phenom to head to San Antonio on a high note? Sure, everybody loves a storybook ending. However, Spurs fans can better understand his development by watching him suit up on the brightest stage French hoops has to offer.

Offense is a work in progress for Wembanyama

Everyone has seen the impressive per-game statistics and insane highlights from Wembanyama this season, but those flashes of brilliance are not neccesarily indicative of what he does on a possession to posession basis. Although he has certainly pulled off some eye-opening sequences in the LNB Pro A Finals, he is at his best as a play finisher around the basket.

Wembanyama makes the difficult look routine. The 19-year-old has an unmatched lob radius, elite proprioception, and astounding balance that allow him to contort midair and convert errant passes into seemingly effortless buckets. His ridiculous mobility also helps him outrun fellow bigs down the hardwood in transition and after made baskets for uncontested dunks.

The towering Frenchman will have to add muscle to his slender frame if he wants to make a living in the post at the next level. With that said, he has excellent footwork around the paint. Wembanyama spun on his pivot foot for a feathery hook shot in Game One, and he executed a textbook drop step for an and-one slam at the beginning of Game Two against Monaco.

One of his most coveted qualities is his knack for knocking down tough shots, and Wemby drained a handful of contested fadeaways and leaners to bail out Metropolitans 92 in late-clock situations. He can turn over either shoulder and shoot on the move, though he often settles for these looks since no one has the length to get their fingertips near the high release point of his jumper.

Drawing fouls is perhaps one of the most valuable attributes for a primary scorer, which is why it is so encouraging to see Wembanyama earn trips to the free throw line at such a high rate. He crashes into the court more than you would like, but his build makes it nearly impossible for officials to swallow their whistle, especially when opponents insist on being physical every time he touches the ball.

Getting to the charity stripe should be no problem for the future number one overall pick. However, his shot selection must improve as he prepares for the NBA. He has frequently taken off-kilter heat checks with several seconds left on the clock in the LNB Pro A Finals. And just because he can shoot over anyone on the planet doesn't mean he should make life easier for the defense.

Since we're already on the topic of shooting, it's probably appropriate to bring up his cold spell from beyond the arc. Wembanyama is 8-of-49 (16.3%) from downtown over his last 14 games, and he has yet to hit a single three in this series. He has been hesitant to fire away since the playoffs started, but his mechanics are smooth enough that he should eventually be able to consitently space the floor.

Despite dispelling concerns about his long-range stroke, the lack of touch at the rim from Wemby is somewhat troubling. He has only missed three of his 115 dunk attempts this season, but he is an ice-cold 91-of-190 (47.9%) on layups, runners, hooks, and tip-ins. He isn't a particularly explosive leaper and doesn't have the burst or strength to separate against high-caliber athletes.

Wembanyama isn't the most effective advantage creator. Regardless, he commands extra attention due to his size and has made steady progress as a playmaker. Though his processing speed leaves something to be desired, he has hit cutters in stride, found open shooters, and made the extra pass. He has even displayed the confidence to break out some creative deliveries.

Wemby has come a long way from the start of the season, and he still has room for improvement as a passer. The talented teen misses basic reads, commits turnovers and offensive fouls trying to do too much with the ball in his hands, and throws questionable feeds into tight windows. Will he be a viable high-post hub in the NBA? His growth in this area with Metropolitans 92 should inspire optimism.

You don't need to be a world-class detective to see Wembanyama could afford to add some weight to his rail-thin frame. Teams have tried to bully the youngster into submission all year, and to his credit, he has handled the physicality. But defenders push him off the block and force him to start his post-ups near the three-point line. Guards and forwards also have no trouble boxing him out for boards.

Wemby has room to improve impactful defense

The league has never seen someone with a physical profile like Wembanyama, and he has a chance to become a generational defender. His eight-foot wingspan, nimble feet, fluid hips, and instincts let him erase shots most centers can only dream of reaching. Even when he doesn't record a block, his mere presence is enough to convince any would-be slashers to steer clear of the restricted area.

Traditional bruisers can burry him under the basket, but as we have seen in this series and throughout the season, Wembanyama is at his best when he is empowered to roam the court like the basketball version of a free safety. He can use his go-go gadget appendages to provide weakside rim protection and create chaos in the passing lanes for fastbreak opportunities.

Like any teenager, Wemanyama is far from perfect. There are mental lapses where he will gamble for steals and blocks or leave his feet on fakes. He occasionally loses his balance and commits avoidable fouls when hard hedging ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll. He can also get turned around when head coach Vincent Collet resorts to zone defense. These blunders are understandable and fixable.

The LNB Pro A Finals have highlighted the strengths and limitations Wembanyama has at this juncture in his career, and it is remarkable a young player in his first go-round as a featured option has his ball club battling for a title against a EuroLeague powerhouse like Monaco. While Metropolitans 92 will like lose this lopsided series, Spurs fans should relish their first look at the future face of their franchise.