While almost every other prospect in June’s NBA Draft is participating in pro days in front of NBA scouts, showcasing the best parts of their game, meeting with NBA teams and flying all across the country for in-person workouts, assumed No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama has entered playoff mode in France. Wembanyama’s squad, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, is the No. 2 seed in the LNB Pro A playoffs and currently playing in a best-of-three series against No. 7 seed Cholet that is tied 1-1 with the deciding game Thursday.
Wembanyama could’ve shut everything down in October and spent the past eight months preparing for the NBA behind closed doors. After traveling to Las Vegas for a pair of exhibition games against Scoot Henderson and the G League Ignite, the 7-foot-4 Frenchman solidified himself as the best prospect in this draft class and didn’t need to play a single game this season to prove that.
“I can’t accept just to quit like that,” Wembanyama said after a practice in Las Vegas. “I understand why people would say that, but it’s not me. I wouldn’t have joined the team if I wasn’t going to play and go to the end.”
To his credit, Wembanyama has done just that. He has played in all 34 regular-season games for the Metropolitans 92, including an All-Star Game in which he was the youngest player (19 years old) ever to be named MVP after he recorded 27 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists while leading his team to a 136-128 win over the World team on Dec. 29. He has also played in every FIBA World Cup qualifying game for the French national team and averaged 19 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in only 25 minutes.
“He understands the dynamic of what happens before the game, during the game and after the game, and he processes things differently than other players,” Tim Martin, Wembanyama’s trainer, said on the “On The Clock” podcast. “That’s what makes him special, and you don’t see that a lot with some of these young guys.”
Wembanyama led all players in the French Betclic Élite League in points (21.6), rebounds (10.4) and blocks (3.1) in his final season before entering the NBA. He has done things on the court that no other player is doing right now, whether that’s a one-legged runner from 3-point range or a putback dunk off his own 3-point attempt. In the previous two playoff games against Cholet, Wembanyama averaged 22.5 points, 12 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2 blocks. His 3-point shot remains an area of development, but even after he went 1-for-4 in the two-game stretch, Wembanyama is visibly comfortable stepping into his shot off the pick-and-pop or even off the dribble.
“A lot of it starts with his reads off the ball,” Martin said. “His ability to read the defense and the way they shift and finding the open holes makes him a threat behind the arc, and he’s able to create some space. His shot starts with his feet and his footwork, and I’ve seen the most improvement there and the way he gets his feet set.”
On May 16, Wembanyama’s NBA fate was revealed when it was the San Antonio Spurs who landed the No. 1 pick. Spurs owner Peter Holt cheered loudly and banged the table multiple times when it was announced that the Spurs would be able to add the best prospect since LeBron James to their organization.
Wembanyama was visibly excited on the satellite feed from France, later tweeting, “today was a good day.” One of Wembanyama’s mentors, former Spurs guard Tony Parker, also shared his excitement by posting a photo of a young Wembanyama in a Spurs jersey.
“Personally, I was just thrilled that the Spurs got the No. 1 pick,” Martin said. “It’s a phenomenal organization. They have a great culture, great staff, and they’ve had players of this magnitude of greatness. They know how to coach and teach at a high level. You obviously have the French connection with Tony Parker, and I think it was just the basketball gods coming together, and it was meant to be.”
Wembanyama will be joining a talented young core of Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan, who are all 23 and younger. Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich will have the opportunity to build this group together, something he’s familiar with after acclimating both David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the NBA. There’s already one connection between Wembanyama and a future Spurs teammate: Sochan and Wembanyama played together at a French camp when they were 12 and 14 years old.
“It was at Tony Parker’s gym in France,” Sochan told Yahoo Sports in February. “He wasn’t as big as he is now, but it’s exciting to see what he’s doing. I truly believe he’s going to live up to everything, and it’s going to be exciting. He can add [to the Spurs] his energy, his versatility and the way he moves. He’s so smooth, and he’s a one-of-one.”
Wembanyama continues to meet — and sometimes exceed — every expectation that has been put on him since he hit the basketball scene. He is like no prospect the NBA has seen in 20 years, and he has done things his own way leading up the NBA Draft — including a playoff run that could go all the way until the night NBA commissioner Adam Silver calls his name for the first pick on June 22.