Victor Wembanyama is here with the NBA hype and comparisons growing by the day

Nobody does hype better than the NBA, utilizing every avenue to promote its current and future stars.

Oftentimes, the trailer makes the movie look better than it is. There’s been too many cases to count, too many laughable instances of players not being worth the paper their posters were plastered over NBA-sanctioned canvases.

But in the case of Victor Wembanyama, no amount of preparation could ready the basketball world for the journey it is about to embark on.

It starts Wednesday night against Dallas, in a friendly atmosphere to be sure but the anticipation is from all directions.

It’s hard to estimate if his actual debut will get lost in the massive sea that is opening night in the NBA, where the champions hung a banner to commemorate their dominant run, and perhaps another one for beating the Lakers.

And Kevin Durant made his four-years-in-the-making debut at Chase Center against his former team, while Chris Paul saw his former mates for the first time on that same floor.

(Illustration by Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)
(Illustration by Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

The buttoned-up Spurs couldn’t hide Wembanyama even if they tried to, and it won’t be long before he truly takes center stage — if he hasn’t done so already.

Some 15 scouts made their way to check out the phenom’s last preseason game, under the “guise” of checking out who the Spurs could be cutting to get under their roster limit.

Yeah, right.

Even team officials who haven’t seen him play in person wanted to make the official pilgrimage, because as real as Summer League can be relative to watching him on film, it’s nothing compared to even preseason ball.

And that’s nothing compared to Game 1 of 82, the first in what’s sure to be a traveling circus.

Because Wembanyama might very well exceed the hype, an almost impossible task.

It can be nauseating, and contrarians can attempt to talk themselves out of what they’ll realize to be true: the next great thing has arrived, and it’s by way of France.

The flashes come in waves, both the awe-inspiring and the savvy, the maturation that could only come from being coached well from an early age.

It happens in 90-second intervals, almost. Bursts of excellence. The still shots — like blocking a 3-point attempt from Andrew Wiggins with his left hand after leaping from the foul line extended — can only do it so much justice.

The still shots are breathtaking, unbelievable, even.

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 in San Francisco. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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, in San Francisco. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

And in playing for the San Antonio Spurs, a team that’s largely been in obscurity the past few years, Wembanyama could be in the perfect incubator for someone with his gifts.

It’s not just that the Spurs have the Tim Duncan-David Robinson lineage, and the Gregg Popovich-fueled culture that will seemingly prevent him from all the pitfalls and drama that could’ve been waiting elsewhere, but the Spurs could be ready to start jogging after some years of crawling in the wilderness.

To be honest, every bottom-feeding team would feel an immediate boost from this type of talent, the Spurs not being an exception.

Robinson, who the Spurs waited two years for following his 1987 drafting due to a Navy commitment, helped the Spurs to a 35-win improvement his rookie year.

Duncan’s arrival in 1997 spurred a 36-win jump.

Most top picks would be lucky to see their respective teams have 35 or 36 wins total, let alone the monumental boost. But that’s the company Wembanyama is entering.

It’s certainly not the expectation, but the belief around the league is that his rookie year production will perhaps rival LeBron James’, the most hyped and anticipated rookie in the history of the game.

Wembanyama might be more pro-ready than James, which says a mouthful. Even though it’s preseason, one can glean how good he’ll be defensively — he’s quick-twitched, aware and willing to play at every space on the floor.

He’ll catch plenty of unsuspecting victims like he did with Wiggins, through no fault of Wiggins. There’s no blueprint for someone with his quickness and length — his height and wingspan should be labeled “to be continued” because it feels endless.

And until teams have a go-round or two with the Spurs, it’ll be a nightly occurrence of some poor soul testing him from all parts only to see the ball sent back in their faces or to the other end.

Offensively, his size makes him a threat everywhere, and he’s no stranger to getting out on the break.

Heck, he starts the fast break with those rangy blocked shots that act as outlet passes from himself to himself.

Considering today’s NBA game more closely resembles international play than ever before, it seems Wembanyama will have a leg up even on what James was able to do in 2003-04. James came straight from high school and averaged 21-7-7, with a modicum of knowledge he would attain over the next two decades.

Wembanyama’s production could match that, especially with the game evolving away from the bump-and-grind style James entered into and the free-flowing — sometimes too free — pace the game sits in now.

Victor Wembanyama's rookie season begins Wednesday amid much hype and expectations. (Photo by Loren Elliott / AFP)
Victor Wembanyama's rookie season begins Wednesday amid much hype and expectations. (Photo by Loren Elliott / AFP)

The closest historical comparison feels like Ralph Sampson, who played in a much different NBA and couldn’t sustain his health after such a promising start. Sampson’s first three years had him on a rocket ship for the Hall of Fame (Per-game averages of 20.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.0 steal) and helping Houston to the 1986 NBA Finals, but when his body failed him, the greatness became a mirage.

That would seem to indicate the Spurs — charter members of the load management plan — plan to put the similarly built Wembanyama on that plan early. But indications are no decisions have been made to this point to store him in a cryogenic freezer in the effort to have him play only once every four nights.

They’re gonna put him out there, trusting the games he’s played internationally as proper preparation for this level.

And it’s good to know considering it won’t be long before word of the new Loch Ness Monster heads to NBA arenas, swatting and smirking.

The trailer’s over, with the main event sure to satisfy.