The San Antonio Spurs won the 2023 NBA Lottery on Tuesday night, also known as the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. Adrian Wojnorowski called Wembanyama not just the greatest draft prospect in NBA history, but perhaps the greatest prospect in any team sport in history.
So, with that luminous introduction, what kind of production can we expect from Wembanyama in his rookie season if the Spurs make him the top overall pick in this year’s draft? Let’s do a quick historical dive into players with some similarities in terms of skillset, team dynamics and/or expectations that could make good comparisons for Wembanyama in his first year.
My first impression comp for Wembanyama is an old school player from the early 80s: Ralph Sampson. Like Sampson, Wembanyama is 7-foot-4 with a soft jumpshot and the timing and touch to dominate on offense and defense. Sampson was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1983 NBA Draft, and averaged 21.0 PPG (52.3 FG%), 11.1 RPG and 2.4 BPG in 32.8 MPG in a Rookie of the Year campaign for the Rockets.
Where Wembanyama differentiates himself from Sampson is his ability to handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter. He plays like 7-foot-plus guard, similar to Kevin Durant, who also entered the NBA as a lanky 19-year-old. Durant averaged 20.3 PPG and made 0.7 3PG while shooting 28.8% from 3-point range during his Rookie of the Year season in 2008.
The Spurs are run by legendary coach Greg Popovic. Popovic drafted another generational big man, Tim Duncan, the last time the San Antonio won the lottery in 1997. Duncan played a whopping 39.1 MPG while averaging 21.1 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 2.7 APG and 2.5 BPG in his Rookie of the Year campaign.
Of course, Wembanyama is most often compared to LeBron James in terms of his potential as a prospect. James, like Wembanyama, was a teenager when he entered the league with sky high expectations. James averaged 20.9 PPG, 5.9 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG and 0.8 3PG in 39.5 MPG in his 2003 rookie season.
There are clear intersections in these four examples that illustrate how to effectively project Wembanyama’s production. The most important precedent might how Popovich gave Duncan heavy minutes as a rookie. It implies that he might be willing to give Wembanyama as many minutes as he can handle early on, particularly on a young and rebuilding Spurs squad. Wembanyama has played at a professional level for years in Europe. He averaged 21.6 PPG (46.8 FG%, 83.7 FT%, 28.3 3P%), 10.5 RPG, 3.1 BPG, 2.5 APG, 1.4 3PG and 0.7 SPG in 32.3 MPG in France this season.
Wembanyama does need to add strength and weight before he will be able to unlock his full potential, but even at his current size he should be able to contribute right away. Big men, particularly those capable of playing forward, don’t have to play in the post like in generations past and Wembanyama does a lot of his shot blocking and rebounding damage with his length, quickness and timing.
Much like the other generational players mentioned above, I expect Wembanyama to produce big numbers as the frontrunner for the 2024 Rookie of the Year award. His international stats this season are a reasonable estimate of what he might produce in the NBA as a rookie. Therefore, I would find it reasonable to consider drafting Wembanyama as early as the third or fourth round in fantasy basketball drafts next season. While that is very high for a rookie, based on history and circumstance, he could produce at a level where that high of a pick is warranted. Let the Wembanyama era begin!