The San Antonio Spurs are mere hours from selecting Victor Wembanyama with the first overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft and making him the undisputed face of their franchise. No one has ever come across a player as unique as the 7-foot-5 teenager, and while fans are eager to see him suit up in the best league on the planet, most people have a lot to learn about his path to becoming a generational prospect and how France fostered his ongoing development.
Though Wembanyama played for Metropolitans 92 in the LNB Pro A this season, the NBA began their marketing campaign for the talented Frenchman as soon as possible, streaming all of his games in an effort to make him accessible to everyone. But with matchups starting around late-morning or early-afternoon stateside depending on your timezone, catching the smooth-shooting behemoth in action was easier said than done if you worked a traditional 9-to-5.
One person watched more Wembanyama than anyone across the globe: Kevin Danna, the featured broadcaster on the NBA App who commentated every game Victor played with Mets 92. So to help Spurs fans get familiar with their newest organizational cornerstone, we sat down with Danna for an exclusive interview to pick his brain about the ins and outs of the Parisian phenom.
1.) Can you explain how rare it is for a respected coach like Vincent Collet in a top-flight European league to hand the keys to a player as young as Wembanyama?
Simply put, you do not really see 18-year-olds handed the keys to a professional basketball franchise in Europe. Most of these European prospects are at best rotation pieces for these high-level teams before getting drafted into the NBA. Not only that, but Metropolitans 92 basically constructed its entire roster with the main goal being getting Victor ready for the NBA.
I might not have watched Luka in Spain, but I can pretty safely guarantee you that as a EuroLeague contending team, Real Madrid had other fish to fry besides getting Luka ready for the NBA. This setup was extremely rare. Collet himself said earlier in his career he probably wouldn't have been okay with younger dudes taking some of the shots Wemby took this year, but he knew what the gig was about this season, and it was a smashing success for all parties involved with Mets 92.
2.) No one watched more Wembanyama than you did this season, how did his game evolve as the Metropolitans 92 schedule unfolded in the LNB Pro A?
So the caveat to this question is that not all of my brainpower was spent dissecting Victor's game. As weird as that may seem to say, on these broadcasts, I focused a lot on trying to get my guest involved as much as possible because largely I had co-hosts who were great in their area of expertise, and they all made the show much better for them being in it. But their area of expertise generally wasn't being a color analyst for a live game broadcast, so I wanted to make them feel as comfortable as possible, and that meant thinking of ways to get them involved while more passively watching the game at times.
That being said, I definitely saw Victor grow as a passer as the year went on. He still had his fair share of turnovers, especially at the end of the regular season and early in the playoffs, but he made some really nice dishes this year, especially out of the short roll and hitting baseline cutters. Some of our analysts would say he became a better passer out of double teams, though I myself am not enough of an advanced watcher to be able to confidently make that distinction.
I'd also say his shot selection got better. There were some shots he took from November to January that would make bucket-getters and high-volume guys like JR Smith and Jamal Crawford blush. Part of that was exploring what he could do out there, and at times that led to really questionable shots. I'd say his three-point percentage would probably jump from 27% to the low-30s if you eliminated the fadeaway contested threes he heaved up at times earlier in the season. We saw much less of that as the season wore on, and in the playoffs, he found a nice spot in the midrange where he really did some damage.
3.) Overseas basketball and the NBA are so different, could you give us an idea of how Wembanyama might benefit from or struggle to adjust to the next level?
Luka Doncic somewhat famously said it would be easier for him to score in the NBA, and he wasn't lying. The NBA has so many more possessions, the spacing is better (the court is literally larger by a couple of feet both length and width-wise, the three-point line is further way), guys are more skilled and the rules lean so much more towards the offense that it will also be easier for Victor to score in theory.
I'm not saying that means he's gonna drop 25 points per game next year, but NBA teams aren't going to be able to just send three guys at Wemby all the time and crowd him and be as physical with him as they were in the LNB Pro A. He drew the fourth most fouls in the league in the regular season and shot about 5.1 free throws per game, and I imagine he's going to draw a ton of fouls in the NBA. He was like an 83% free throw shooter this year too, so those free throw attempts he's going to pile up will be put to good use.
On the flip side, Wemby will have to adjust a little on how he protects the rim. Like the NCAA, there is no defensive three seconds rule in FIBA, so Wemby could literally just plant himself in front of the rim for the entire possession on defense if he wanted to. Also, Wemby won't be able to knock the ball off the rim (I really wish the NBA adopted the FIBA goaltending rule, I think it's awesome) like he could in France, and that probably saved his team a good 0.5 points per game just from the times he did it. I can't imagine it will be a huge adjustment for someone who is as cerebral as Vic, but it will be an adjustment nonetheless.
4.) Everyone has seen Wembanyama pull off highlight-reel dunks and one-legged threes, but what is an underrated aspect of his game that might surprise fans?
He's a really high-energy and multiple-effort kinda guy. I've seen Wemby block a shot on his third jump (yes, his third), and I've seen him guard all five guys on the floor within one possession and close the possession out with a closeout to a perimeter shooter (I'm pretty sure the guy missed). Back to the passing, I think he could eventually average 5-6 assists per game in the NBA because I believe in his ability to playmake. He had an assist this year where he wrapped a bounce pass around a defender from the left wing to the left corner to an open teammate for a three. Geometrically speaking, that sounds impossible, but it actually happened.
Another thing, the dude is just a freaking winner. In his first game against ASVEL, his former team, he won the game on a putback dunk with three seconds to go. He led Mets 92, a team that had its playoff rotation guys combine for a total of zero games of NBA experience, a team that had two teenagers and a 20-year-old in its rotation by the end of the year (Wemby, Bilal Coulibaly, Armel Traore), a team that Brian Windhorst and Jonathan Givony reported might not even be able to play its home games in the same building next year because a pro volleyball team might take over the dates, and a team that had never advanced to the Pro A Finals, to a second-place league finish. They even finished higher than one of the two EuroLeague teams in the league and earned a spot in the LNB Pro A Finals.
As Windhorst and Givony reported in their article on Wemby earlier this year, people expected Mets 92 to kinda suck this year. Yes, they went 24-10 the year before, but that team was stacked with American veterans who knew how to freaking play. This was a really young team for the most part that Wemby lifted to such a high level that he's going to get one of his teammates who was originally thought to be a 2024 Draft prospect potentially drafted in the 2023 lottery. It is amazing what he did this year in France.
5.) There has been so much talk about his maturity and competitive drive over the last year, do you have any memorable stories that highlight his impressive mindset?
Well this story doesn't come from me -- I have asked Vic a grand total of one question, and that came in a press conference in Las Vegas during the G League Ignite games -- but Mets 92 point guard DeVante' Jones went on the Field of 68 Podcast and mentioned that after Mets 92 lost to ASVEL in their second regular season meeting, Victor cried. That's how much it meant to him. And then he apparently made a speech to the team after the game saying something to the effect of "if you really want to win, let's go out and have a hard practice tomorrow and get this thing right."
There's another one that just baffles my mind that comes from a Krysten Peek Yahoo Sports article where she details a scene where Vic was working out with his American personal skills trainer Tim Martin and Tyrese Maxey, another one of Martin's clients, joins them in the gym. Wemby asked Maxey to play one-on-one, but told Maxey he only wanted to play defense against Maxey so he could work on defending guards on the perimeter off switches. Wemby was 18 at the time of that meeting. Like, what teenager would think of something like that? I don't know how great Wemby will turn out to be -- I am definitely rooting for the guy -- but he's one of one.