How Wembanyama can end the LeBron/Jordan debate

San Antonio Spurs nation believes Wembanyama will one day rule the NBA world, ending the GOAT debate between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Here's why.

Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs
Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

Anyone who follows basketball, regardless of team affinity, has likely had the debate of who the greatest of all time is. Most of the time, the debate includes a few players like Michael Jordan, LeBron James and the late Kobe Bryant. There are others when the debate gets pinpointed a bit (greatest point guard, greatest shooter, etc.) but it usually is those three in the conversation.

Recently, a rookie has emerged, creating quite the buzz across the league landscape, especially in San Antonio, and his performance as a young player has not quieted any of the hype. That player is Victor Wembanyama, the 20-year-old phenom from France and the first overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs this past draft.

Leading up to last year’s draft, many teams appeared to be "tanking,” as it has become commonly referred to, in order to obtain the first overall selection to draft Wembanyama. The Spurs had one of the worst records in the NBA last season, and the lottery chances landed right, obtaining them the first pick.

They selected Wembayama with that pick, and the early returns have been glowing.

Through 61 games this season, Wembanyama has averaged a double-double, posting 20.7 points per game to go along with 10.4 rebounds. If that wasn’t enough, he leads the NBA in blocks with 3.5 a night while adding 3.5 assists. Wemby has done all this stat sheet filling in just 29.1 minutes per game, which is an increase from earlier this season when he was on a minute restriction. Victor has shown rapid improvement during the season; there’s no reason to believe he cannot continue this trajectory throughout his career.

Some of Wembanyama’s qualities that make him brilliant already aren’t quantifiable by statistics, like his court vision. He averages 3.5 assists per game, but he’s also doing that as a 7-foot-3 (maybe taller) center. Victor has the ability to look over defenders and has the length to wrap his arms around opponents to make pinpoint passes to his teammates. Some say he reminds them of Magic Johnson as far as his combination of size and ball-handling ability; plus he still has six inches on Magic in height.

Wembanyama’s range on the court also presents major issues for defenders. At his size, the NBA has never seen a player like him. He’s shooting 32% from three-point range, and that number will improve as he further understands the NBA game. Remember, he’s a rookie from another country—he has to get used to the way the NBA game is played as well as living in the United States now.

Wembanyama can catch the ball and pull up on the curl or spot up and shoot. His off-the-dribble shooting is advanced. These are typically characteristics reserved for smaller players. There have been other players near his stature with similar abilities, but no one like Wembanyama. Arvydas Sabonis is a name that comes to mind as a 7-footer with range, but his best days were behind the Iron Curtain. The lay NBA fan didn’t see him at full ability.

It’s obvious that Wembanyama is already a matchup nightmare. He’s taller than everyone else and has the abilities of a ball-handler. He can see over the defense if he brings the ball up the floor like a point guard typically would and he can create a mismatch that way, leading to performances like this one.

He can play the wing, where he’d tower over every other wing player in the league while creating off the dribble and Victor's pick-and-pop is dangerous enough from three-point range to warrant close defense. If neither of those work, he can play center, which he does most nights, and isolate the other teams big in one-on-one matchups. He’s got the quickness to get by and create slides on defense, which will open up other Spurs.

The defense may be where Wembanyama makes his greatest impact. As a rookie, he is already averaging one full block per game more than the second in that category—3.5 to Walker Kessler’s 2.5. That’s an astounding number. The league leader has not averaged 3.5 blocks per game since 2015–2016 (Hassan Whiteside). Wembanyama is just using natural ability at this point as well. He doesn’t completely understand NBA timing and has years in the league to realize different nuances. When he develops the understanding and years in the league, that number will move even higher.

Victor is a boogeyman on defense already. Opposing teams fear him, having to game-plan for his presence. His long limbs give him the ability to be “out of position” but still able to change shots or block them. The Spurs as a team over the last 15 games are First in defensive rating when Wemby is on the court- 25th when he is not.

Another facet helping Wembanyama is the public relations machine the NBA has become. The league is on a quest to expand the game's reach and has done a great job with that mission thus far. The NBA sees Wembanyama as their next big international star. He can speak multiple languages, making him a prime candidate to be an ambassador to continue the global takeover. He’ll be in the public eye more than a “normal” Spur would be because of it.

Another intangible that will revere Wembanyama to more fan bases than just Spurs nation is his competitive desire and his will to win. The greatest of all time, Michael Jordan, had that competitive desire and winning mindset like Wemby does. Lebron James, a “GOAT” in his own right, has that same desire. But the ladder also ushered in the era of the super team and being friendly with many players throughout the league.

That same competitive fire that Jordan brought to the league has fizzled out some during Lebron's era. Wembanyama will bring that back, and then some. Victor is not there yet. He doesn’t belong in the conversation; he hasn’t put in enough time. The fact is that he’s only 20 years old and has just 61 NBA games under his belt. For that reason, he can’t be considered in the conversation, but for the same reason, he is the conversation of the future.

Victor Wembanyama, like Steph Curry, Michael Jordan, or Lebron James before him, will change the way the NBA game is played. It’ll likely happen quickly. Wembanyama is an anomaly, a creature the likes no one in the NBA has ever seen before. The Spurs, for one, are very happy he dons the silver and black for now and into the foreseeable future.