In 2018, veteran NBA forward Nicolas Batum practiced with the French national team in Paris. During this practice, he met a 14-year-old player whom coaches had previously told him about. He spoke to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports about this experience, stating his initial reaction to the young teenager was “He’s different.”
That kid was Victor Wembanyama, a phenom who has gone from dominating professional leagues overseas to terrorizing the NBA as a rookie. His first year in the NBA is a little over halfway through and it’s clear that he is a superstar in the making. The game is starting to flow down for him and the production has been staggering.
Here’s why Wembanyama has been so dominant during his first season and why he is having one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history.
Victor Wembanyama has been insanely productive this season
Through 44 games, Wembanyama is averaging around 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and three blocks per game while shooting 46.2% from the field. That shooting percentage is low, but his production everywhere else is incredible, especially for a 20-year-old rookie.
He’s been pretty good all season long, but he became a different player in the month of January. That month, he played fourteen games and averaged around 24 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and three blocks per game on 60.5% true shooting. He was much better as a scorer to start 2024, scoring a good volume of points on a per-game basis on above-average efficiency.
Wemby’s numbers across the board look even more impressive if you adjust for his playing time. This season, he is averaging just under 29 minutes per game, which is quite low for a guy who is the best player on his team. We can adjust for his low minutes played per game by looking at his production per 36 minutes.
Per 36 minutes, Wemby is averaging around 26 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, one steal, and four blocks per game. His output on a per-minute basis makes him look like a dominant two-way force.
If you judged Wemby purely based on his box score numbers, you’d know he’s performing at a very high level. However, these numbers don’t show you just how impactful he’s been this season. Let’s dig a little bit deeper, starting by evaluating his defense.
Victor Wembanyama is already a game-changing defender
First off, Wemby has been ridiculously productive on defense. He currently has a steal rate of 1.9% and a block rate of 9.4%, both marks ranking first among Spurs players with at least 500 minutes played.
His affinity for blocking shots pops off the screen when you look at his game logs. His most blocks in a single game this season is eight, which he accomplished against the Memphis Grizzlies on November 18. He’s also recorded three or more blocks in 24 of 44 games. This means he has blocked 3+ shots in over half of his NBA games.
It’s not surprising that Wemby has been so disruptive on this end of the floor. He is quite large, standing at 7-foot-4 and sporting an 8-foot wingspan, which allows him to shut down passing lanes and make extremely quick rotations to erase shots at the rim.
Speaking of rim protection, this is probably Wemby’s best skill at the moment. This season, teams have been deathly afraid of challenging him by attacking the rim. When he is on the floor, teams take 5.1% fewer shots the rim, which ranks in the 97th percentile. Rather than attacking the basket, opponents prefer to take long twos, which negatively affects their offensive efficiency.
Not only do teams attack the basket less when Wemby is on the floor, they also shoot worse at the rim. When he is on the floor, opponents shoot 1.1% worse at the rim, which ranks in the 62nd percentile. It’s clear that Wemby strikes fear in the hearts of his opponents because no one wants to challenge the lanky teenager who treats layups like a volleyball waiting to be spiked.
With Wemby being such a dominant rim protector, it should be no surprise that the San Antonio Spurs’ defense is 7.5 points better per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. That kind of defensive impact is All-Defensive first-team level.
Victor Wembanyama has room to grow on offense
Unfortunately, Wemby’s offense has been nowhere near as good as his defense. This is largely because of his underwhelming scoring efficiency and the fact that he has more turnovers than assists. However, there’s a lot to like about his potential on this end of the floor.
For starters, his scoring output is nuts. Averaging 26 minutes per 36 minutes as a rookie is insane even if the efficiency hasn’t been great. Also, he projects to be a plus shooter one day. He is attempting five threes per game and while his three-point percentage is below average, his free throw percentage of 81.3% shows he has some serious shooting touch.
Also, Wemby has been quite productive as a playmaker, recording an assist rate of 18.2%, which is similar passing output to big men like Anthony Davis, Nikola Vucevic, and Jusuf Nurkic. If he can continue to improve that number while limiting his turnovers, he could be a world-class offensive player.
How good has Victor Wembanyama’s rookie season been?
The expectations for Victor Wembanyama heading into the NBA were massive, yet he’s lived up to the hype so far. His production this season has been outstanding, but where does it stand among the best rookie seasons we’ve ever seen?
Let’s start by looking at his per 36 minutes stats. Here is every rookie who played 500 minutes and averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists per 36 minutes as a rookie: Joel Embiid in 2016.
That’s it! only one player has ever done this and Embiid was two years older than Wemby is now and he played fewer minutes in 2016 than Wemby has in just 44 games.
Now let’s look at a metric that that attempts to measure how many points a player is worth per 100 possessions. Basketball reference’s box plus-minus metric does this and it’s available going back to 1973. It’s important to know that this is a rate stat. It doesn’t include games played or minutes played whatsoever.
This season, Wemby has a box plus-minus of 2.8. Over the last fifty years, only 13 rookies aged 20 years old or younger have recorded a box plus-minus of 2.5 or above. If you look at their advanced stats, you’ll notice that Wemby is having a similar rookie season to Anthony Davis in 2012.
No matter how you look at his numbers, it’s obvious that Victor Wembanyama is having a special rookie season. He still has room to grow, especially on offense, but he is already the best player on his team and he is providing plus impact, which is rare for a player his age who plays such a big role for their team. If Wemby continues to develop at this rate, he will likely become one of the best players in the world sooner rather than later.