Tracking the San Antonio Spurs rookie in his debut season

Victor Wembanyama has been hailed as the most-hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James. Now, he is set to make his NBA debut in the regular season.

The 19-year-old point-forward plays like no one else in the world with his staggering size (7-foot-4) and frame (nearly 8-foot wingspan). To see him take players off the dribble and step into 3-pointers from Stephen Curry range defies everything you would ever expect from a young player with his size. He’s most noticeable on the defensive end as a rim protector and effectively guarding wings off the pick-and-roll switch.

Wembanyama grew up in Le Chesnay, France, a suburb 15 miles outside of Paris. His mom, Elodie de Fautereau, played basketball at a high level and his father, Felix, was a professional high jumper and ran track. His older sister, Eve, also played basketball and won a gold medal with France at the 2017 U16 European Championship. As a child, Wembanyama played soccer and was an elite goalkeeper before giving it up to focus solely on basketball.

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At just 14 years old, Wembanyama helped France’s JSF Nanterre U18 team become the French League runner-up, despite being three years younger than most of the players. Around this time, Wembanyama started to get noticed by other scouts around Europe. He was a lanky center who wasn’t afraid to shoot deep 3s, attack the lane off the perimeter and played the game differently than anyone else. It was clear early on he was going to be a special player with his size and skill set. Despite pushes to move to Barcelona, a bigger basketball city, Wembanyama opted to stay in France and continue his development, eventually playing for ASVEL Villeurbanne in the EuroLeague and the U19 French national team.

Every NBA scout was tuned in during the summer of 2021 to watch 7-foot Chet Holmgren, that year’s No. 2 overall pick, go head-to-head with Wembanyama in the FIBA U19 World Cup gold-medal game. Holmgren is known as one of the best rim protectors in America, but it was Wembanyama (a year younger than everyone on the court) who was incredible, recording eight blocks and adding 22 points in an MVP-caliber performance. Team USA barely edged France, 83-81, with Holmgren winning MVP honors and finishing with 10 points and five assists in 23 minutes. During the course of the tournament, Wembanyama set a FIBA World Cup record for blocked shots with 40, averaging 5.7 per game. Holmgren recorded only 19 blocks in the tournament.

France’s Victor Wembanyama during the FIBA World Cup qualifiers on Nov. 11, 2022. (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP via Getty Images)

“Never have I ever seen Chet Holmgren overshadowed physically like he was last year whenever the two met,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “He practically can and does do all that Chet can, but is three inches taller, probably shoots it better from 3, may have a better feel as a passer and has a much better frame to develop than Chet.”

Wembanyama would most definitely have been the No. 1 overall pick in 2022 and arguably the No. 1 pick in the last three draft classes. He’s the best young prospect in the world, and is now the building block around which the San Antonio Spurs hope to chase another NBA championship.

— Krysten Peek, NBA Draft analyst

Victor Wembanyama’s journey from France to the NBA

The day after the 2022 draft, Wembanyama was already atop Yahoo Sports’ 2023 mock draft rankings and stayed there through his ultimate selection.

“Right now, it’s Wembanyama and everyone else for the 2023 draft,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports in June 2022.

There was intrigue about whether NBA teams would tank for Wembanyama, with the Spurs among the early favorites in that spot.

Meanwhile, Wembanyama and his French team, Metropolitans 92, traveled to the Las Vegas area to play two exhibition games against the G League Ignite and eventual No. 3 draft pick Scoot Henderson, in October 2022. The pair exceeded all expectations in the first game. Wembanyama scored 37 points, with seven 3-pointers, and recorded five blocks in 32 minutes. In the second game, he solidified his No. 1 draft prospect ranking with 36 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and four assists.

Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite drives to the basket against Victor Wembanyama of Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 in their exhibition game on Oct. 4, 2022, at The Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite drives to the basket against Victor Wembanyama of Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 in their exhibition game on Oct. 4, 2022, at The Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

When the pingpong balls fell San Antonio’s way during the NBA Draft Lottery in May, it seemed poetic that head coach Gregg Popovich would get another opportunity to develop a generational talent.

After Wembanyama officially declared for the 2023 draft, his pro season in France continued. He skipped the NBA Draft Combine as Mets 92 made a run to the LNB Pro A Finals. Mets 92 were swept by Monaco in the Finals, a small reprieve for Wembanyama, who traveled to New York City to prepare for the NBA Draft.

During draft week, Wembanyama got his first look at the bright lights and demands the NBA would entail. His pure joy at being selected No. 1no matter how far gone the conclusion was — highlighted the draft’s best moments. He also promised that he wouldn’t be “too tired” to play in the Las Vegas Summer League and said he couldn’t wait to have breakfast tacos in Texas.

At Summer League, all-day session tickets sold out in advance as fans wanted to get an early glimpse at Wembanyama. His debut wasn’t spectacularnine points, eight rebounds and five blocks — but he made up for it with his second, and final, Summer League game.

After three long months, at least in Wembanyama hype time, the Spurs rookie played a (somewhat) meaningful NBA game, going head-to-head with another heralded rookie — 2022 No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren — in their preseason debuts. Wembanyama scored 20 points with five rebounds and two steals, and, of course, started what should be a long highlight reel this season. His three other preseason games kept the highlights coming until the conclusion with a photo so absurd, you just have to see it.

San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama blocks the shot of Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins during an NBA preseason game on Oct. 20, 2023, at Chase Center in San Francisco. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Now, the hype and expectations continue to grow for a rookie with no true comparisons. We will see how he fares in Game 1 on Wednesday vs. the Dallas Mavericks … and then again for a possible 81 more games this season.

Read more on Wembanyama:

Wemby Watch: Tracking everything you need to know about the Spurs rookie

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