The Playmaking Potential of Victor Wembanyama

Wembanyama playmaking image
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Breaking the Mold

The 7’4″ frenchman in San Antonio seems to produce a jaw-dropping highlight every game. Whether he’s smoothly hitting a shamgod to beat Rudy Gobert off the dribble, or spiking a layup attempt out of nowhere, Victor Wembanyama never ceases to amaze and confound NBA fans and players alike.

Halfway through his rookie season, Wemby is averaging a 20-point double double while also leading the league in blocks. He’s been starting at center lately but is far from a traditional big man. He’ll handle the ball in transition, pull up off the dribble, and operate pick and rolls as the ball handler. When Kristaps Porzingis was drafted back in 2015 they called him a “Unicorn,” now almost ten years later even fantasy creatures fail to capture how unique of a player Victor is. We’ve had to move off-world as he’s been dubbed “The Extraterrestrial.”

Simply put, the 20 year-old is a special player with unimaginable potential as a defensive anchor and a scorer. But an underrated aspect of Wemby’s game that is worth investigating is his potential as a playmaker.

Reading the Floor

Glancing at Victor’s counting stats, the passing numbers certainly don’t explode off the page. He’s averaging only 3.1 assists through 40 games while failing to exceed his turnovers per game at 3.4. This is in part due to his own mistakes when reading the floor as well as a lack of chemistry and experience on the roster overall. It’s no secret that the Spurs are using this season as an opportunity to experiment rather than win now. Yet as you dig into the film, Wembanyama has demonstrated many intriguing flashes as a passer.

Victor Wembanyama Assist Compilation

It’s evident just from this short compilation that Wemby has an incredibly diverse assist portfolio. He drops dimes from the low post, the elbow, out of the short roll, handling the ball in pick and rolls, in transition, and out of drive and kick scenarios. His greatest advantage as a passer is his height. Always the tallest player on the floor, Wemby can see over any defender which allows him to easily spot open cutters and shooters. Additionally, with his scoring ability already established, help defenders come early resulting in four-on-three advantages. Plus if all else fails he can simply pass the ball to himself.

Cleaning up Mistakes

While Victor does make eye-popping passes on a regular basis, his turnovers evoke a much different reaction, like a face palm or a long sigh. These mistakes can generally be chalked up to a lack of experience. For the most part his turnovers fall into one of three categories; dribbling into traffic, forcing a pass into a tight window, or making a predictable pass in transition.

Victor Wembanyama Turnover Compilation

Simplifying Wembanyama’s role on offense would be the easiest way to reduce his turnover rate. Get the rebound, give the ball to a guard, and go screen and roll. But doing so would hamper his development as a playmaker. Coach Popovich and the Spurs evidently want Wemby to learn through his mistakes on the court. To nobody’s surprise, Popovich has been right yet again. As Spurs writer Bruno Passos pointed out earlier this month, Wembanyama’s turnover rate has gone down every month while his assist rate has increased in turn. He also reached a career-high of 10 assists in a recent game against the Pistons on January 10th, as he notched a triple-double in only 21 minutes.

These stats indicate that Wembanyama is still adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NBA. But it’s a great sign that his turnover rate is trending down while his passing is only improving. As his teammates have begun to recognize, Wemby actively scans the floor looking to find them in advantageous positions. The accuracy of his passes could still improve and his ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes and pass fakes remains a work in progress. But the flashes are incredibly intriguing and he’s at a great starting point already. Ultimately, the Spurs’ need for a true point guard may be overstated as Victor Wembanyama could prove to be a passing hub unto himself.

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