How high should Victor Wembanyama be drafted ahead of the 2023-2024 fantasy basketball season?
Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs, as they're projected to land arguably the highest-graded and highly anticipated prospect in NBA history, Victor Wembanyama. I'm not ready to go to the length of Woj anointing him "maybe the greatest prospect in the history of team sports," but even so, onlookers, analysts, players and the basketball world at large recognize he has the tools to become a generational talent.
In terms of fantasy, though, when is the right time to draft Wemby in 2023-24? He's the most hyped player (and rightfully so) since LeBron James in 2003. But, before I give my early thoughts on where Wemby should be selected in fantasy, who IS Victor Wembanyama?
The 19-year-old Frenchman is a problem, a BIG problem — and that's coming from a two-time MVP and former NBA Champion, Giannis Antetokounmpo. I debated Wemby's comps with a friend and concluded that he's an NBA 2K "create-a-player."
When it comes down to it, I can't help but see a kid with a jumper like Kevin Durant, the defensive upside of Anthony Davis and the work ethic of Giannis. When he's selected on draft night, he'll be the tallest active player in the league and sport one of the longest wingspans as well.
That's pretty much a fantasy basketball cyborg, code name: Unfair. And he will wreak havoc on the fantasy basketball world as early as next season.
He's a center by height but plays like a modern-day forward. He has a versatile bag, too; not only is he athletic and rangy, but he can handle the ball like a guard, has good footwork in the post, can shoot from distance and also finish with contact.
He completed his final season in France's top professional basketball league, the LNB Pro A (or Betclic Élite), averaging 21.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 3PM, 0.7 steals, 3.0 blocks and 2.6 turnovers per game with 47/28/81 shooting splits. Oh, and he's the youngest LNB MVP in league history:
Le plus jeune MVP de l’histoire.#BetclicELITE #LNBextra pic.twitter.com/QmBA9LXYqa
— LNB (@LNBofficiel) May 17, 2023
He for sure passes the eye test but I see a few areas of risk for Wemby out of the gates. The physicality of the NBA will be a big adjustment in Year 1. Here's him getting bodied in the post.
Wemby got put on a poster 😳
(via svet.basketu/IG) pic.twitter.com/9UtSsrgu0n
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 24, 2023
I suspect he won't be playing too much center against traditional bigs, but he'll need to hit the weight room if he's going to make an impact near the rim. His agility will help him exploit mismatches even if he's bullied but with added physicality, will his efficiency carry over?
Drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant is a hell of a comp, but Durant and other tall shooting bigs like Kristaps Porzingis and Dirk Nowitzki all shot less than 43% from the field in their rookie campaigns. It's another adjustment that will come from experience and reps. The LNB Pro A is not the NBA, so even though he shot 47% from the field, I'd expect some regression when transitioning to the NBA. It's promising that he's not afraid to let it fly from beyond the arc, having averaged over five 3-point attempts per game this past season, but knocking them down at only a 28% clip is concerning.
But we must remember, he's only 19 and he's bound to hit a rookie wall at some point.
So given the allure and anticipation of the French phenom, where should he be drafted? Here's a history of notable first-overall picks and where they finished in per-game value for 9-cat leagues (data courtesy of Basketball Monster).
2003 - LeBron James - 47
2008 - Derrick Rose - 125
2009 - Blake Griffin - 83
2010 - John Wall -100
2011- Kyrie Irving - 38
2012 - Anthony Davis - 25
2014 - Andrew Wiggins -131
2015 - Karl-Anthony Towns - 12
2016 - Ben Simmons - 51
2018 - Deandre Ayton - 33
2019 - Zion Williamson - 192
2020 - Anthony Edwards - 119
2021 - Cade Cunningham - 106
2022 - Paolo Banchero - 211
I excluded a slew of other players who didn't perform well in their rookie seasons, but only one player over the past 20 years finished in the top 12 in per-game value as a first-overall pick: Karl-Anthony Towns. There's undoubtedly a lot of pressure and expectation that comes with being the No. 1 pick; the landing spot, situation and role within the system all play into a player's success.
Based on Wemby's physical attributes, skill set and production (within a limited amount of time), I think a reasonable expectation is a top-40 player — meaning he should be drafted within the first three rounds of fantasy in '23-24. I'm placing him not as high as KAT or AD but more into the Ayton territory in terms of performance in Year 1. His upside in blocks should make up for his efficiency drop.
But, given the hype train, you'll likely have to go within the first two rounds to grab the highly-touted French prospect. With San Antonio's rich history of developing domestic and international talent, basketball enthusiasts should be excited for Wemby's future in this league. The Spurs are currently without franchise-altering options on their roster, making Wemby's potential destination for fantasy much sweeter. He should be a starter on Day 1 and an early-round selection for fantasy, too.