Jake Ruderman ’26
With the NBA season underway, teams are increasingly able to assess their situations, determining whether they should add pieces and further complete their team, or sell existing pieces for future assets. But regardless of wins and losses, there’s only one thing at the center of nearly every general manager’s mind: Victor Wembanyama, the 7 ‘4’’ 18 year-old super-prospect from France who will be draft eligible at the end of this season.
Wembanyama is the ultimate NBA 2K ‘my player’-esque prospect. He’s a ridiculous 7 foot 4 inches tall, is skinny and athletic, moves fluidly like a wing player, handles the ball like a polished guard, and shoots like Kevin Durant. He’s absolutely insane, and the consensus #1 overall pick of next year’s draft, leading many GM’s to do everything in their power to ensure as high a draft pick as possible. The process of intentionally losing games for the chance at better draft position is referred to as ‘tanking’ and has plagued the NBA for some time; most notably, Sam Hinkie’s ‘Process’ era 76ers forced the NBA to change its draft lottery rules, resulting in the bottom three teams each having a 14% chance at the #1 overall pick.
The general rule of thumb throughout professional sports is that the worst teams in any given year get the highest odds at the top picks in the subsequent draft, with the hopes of adding top talent and turning around their poor records. In a sport like basketball, where one player can impact every level of the game, tanking is an unavoidable and frequent issue. But in a season like this, with not one, but potentially two franchise-altering players in the draft, tanking rises ever more so to the forefront. Scoot Henderson, a 6’2’’ explosive guard prospect on the G-League’s Ignite team, is set to be the likely #2 overall pick, as his elite athleticism, poise under pressure, and polished offensive skill set are extremely enticing to GMs.
In a draft without the greatest prospect since Lebron James, Scoot would likely be the #1 overall pick and the player which teams would tank for. The two faced off a few months back when Scoot’s G-League Ignite hosted Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92 in a must-see matchup between the highly touted prospects. It was some of the most exciting basketball played this season, as NBA nerds salivated at the potential of these two generational prospects. Both players dominated, with Scoot delivering a 28 point, 5 rebound, 9 assist performance in the win, while Wembanyama dazzled with 37 points, including shooting a ridiculous 7-11 from 3.
Because of this stacked draft class, tanking tendencies are up across the board, despite surprisingly hot starts from the Utah Jazz, who traded away their two all-star players this summer for a heap of future draft picks and young talent, and the San Antonio Spurs, whose roster is maybe the thinnest in the league. Both teams have surpassed expectations so far, as the Spurs jumped out to a hot 5-2 start, while the Jazz reeled off a remarkable 10-3 start of their own, and are currently the #1 seed in the Western Conference. While both these teams have plenty of games left to lose, their hot starts are a testament to the way basketball is played nowadays. The Jazz, a team contrived of purely role players, won 10 of their first 13 games by shooting the fourth most 3-pointers in the league at a nearly 40% clip. Their parallel is the dismal 3-10 Los Angeles Lakers, who rank 29th in 3-pointers made and dead last in 3-point percentage, despite having both Lebron James and Anthony Davis on their roster.
Today’s teams value shooting more than any other skill, which yet again reinforces Wembanyama’s truly game-breaking talents. His shooting touch at his stature is simply unheard of, and if honed, could become one of the most unstoppable moves the NBA has ever seen. It’s also the case that we haven’t seen Wembanyama’s best form yet, as the sentiment among European NBA players is that the NBA is simply easier than Europe. Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo said “the game in Europe is way harder than the game in the NBA” while Luka Doncic explained that scoring in the NBA is “100% easier” for a variety of court and rules-based reasons. It’s very possible that Wembanyama could dominate the NBA beyond even what we’ve imagined, as he fills out his body and perfects his game. All that remains to be seen is what team will land him, as this year’s draft lottery may be one of the most important in NBA history. It’s still early yet, but all signs point to Wembanyama dominating the league and becoming one of its best players in the years to come. We’ll just have to wait and find out.
Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report; from left, Scoot Henderson, Victor Wembanyama