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4 things to know about Victor Wembanyama, the top NBA prospect since LeBron

Victor Wembanyama has played far above his competition in France. At 19, he's now heading to the NBA.
Philippe Desmazes
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AFP via Getty Images
Victor Wembanyama has played far above his competition in France. At 19, he's now heading to the NBA.

This year's NBA draft lottery was the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. How else to describe the chance to add basketball's most highly touted prospect since LeBron James in 2003?

Wembanyama is heralded as a generational talent, and the French player's home in the U.S. almost certainly will be the San Antonio Spurs, which on Tuesday won the draft lottery to select first in June's draft. Afterward, Wembanyama said he wasn't surprised.

"The universe told me" Wembanyama said in an NBA interview. He also said he's excited to go to Texas and help the Spurs compete for championships.

Here are four things to know about the player, nicknamed Wemby, who is expected to shake things up in the NBA:

He's very large

Wembanyama stands around 7-foot-3 at just 19 years old, according to his French pro team, and he's often cited as being an inch or so taller.

His wingspan is listed at 8 feet, helping him block shots, snare rebounds and of course dunk the ball with ease. Wembanyama's weight is listed at 230 pounds — and his fairly light build has been a source of debate, with many saying he will need to add more pounds to withstand the NBA's physical play.

He has a broad set of skills

Wembanyama has a smooth shooting stroke, and can score from anywhere on the floor. His range extends from around the rim to well outside of the three-point line, though his scoring that far out isn't efficient yet. He has shown off a staggering array of shots, hitting one-footed treys and mid-range jumpers.

"He is a center who plays like a point guard," Will Leitch, a contributing editor for New York Magazine, told Morning Edition. "He is a mix of sort of Magic Johnson, Steph Curry and Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with all that kind of comes with that."

He will be a matchup nightmare in the NBA, thanks to his ability to step back to splash a three, pull up for a jumper or simply shake his defender and drive to the rim. That's why Wembanyama has drawn comparisons to the NBA's most recent MVPs, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid.

He's also a smooth ball-handler who can bring the ball up the floor like a point guard. When defenders collapse around Wembanyama, he has exceptional court vision and passing that lets him feed his teammates.

He's been getting ready for this moment

"Wembanyama, at the age of 19, is the best player in the French league this year," Zach Kram of The Ringer told All Things Considered. "He leads the league in points. He leads the league in rebounds. He leads the league in blocks. And he's been preparing for this for a long time."

That includes eating as many as five meals a day to help his growing body fill out. And with parents who are each accomplished athletes, he's used to the kind of nutrition and training the job requires.

For years now Wembanyama has been working to maintain his flexibility and build core strength, using a regimen that includes special focus on his toes, and on stretching in his bare feet. That includes putting resistance bands on his big toes, and moving across the ground on the tips of his fingers and toes like a Brobdingnagian gecko, as ESPN has reported.

His future with the Spurs is seen as destiny

"It was written," French sports daily L'Equipe wrote after the right to select Wembanyama was won by the Spurs. That team previously excelled with French players such as Tony Parker and Boris Diaw.

There are photos of a young Wembanyama wearing Parker's Spurs jersey. He even played for a French team Parker owns. Now he'll play for coach Gregg Popovich, who guided Parker's career.

Victor Wembanyama is seen as a lock to go to the San Antonio Spurs with the first choice in the upcoming NBA draft. He's seen here in an exhibition game last October against G League Ignite.
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Victor Wembanyama is seen as a lock to go to the San Antonio Spurs with the first choice in the upcoming NBA draft. He's seen here in an exhibition game last October against G League Ignite.

This is the first No. 1 pick for the Spurs since 1997, when they chose Tim Duncan — who helped the team become a perennial playoff contender and rack up five NBA championships, as Texas Public Radio notes.

With Wembanyama now poised to join the team, Spurs fans are elated — TPR posted video of fans driving through the streets, blaring their car horns.

"You see him doing things that you wouldn't have even guessed someone could do — his approach, his professionalism," San Antonio Spurs' GM Brian Wright said of Wembanyama. "I think when you use the word generational talent, it extends beyond just your ability to put the ball in the basket."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.