Intro: The emergence of basketball prospect Victor Wembanyama has been the talk of the town amongst basketball fans. The French basketball prospect has amazed basketball viewers with an incredible display of athleticism, shooting, and handling of the basketball. It’s become almost certain that Wembanyama will be selected with the first pick in the 2023 NBA Draft due to the level of skill he brings to his position. As one of the most hyped prospects the NBA has ever seen, many critics and scouts, including Richard Jefferson, have called into question whether or not Wembanyama is a better prospect going into next year’s NBA Draft than NBA superstar Lebron James was when he entered the legendary 2003 NBA Draft. If you were an NBA team with the first pick going into the 2023 NBA Draft, would you stick with Wembanyama or choose an 18-year-old Lebron James fresh out of high school? Staff Writer Evan Rodriguez and Associate Sports Editor Stratton Stave will argue this topic in today’s edition of point/counterpoint.
Evan: First, I want to say that Wembanyama is one of the most unique athletes I’ve ever seen in my years of watching basketball. His skill set is utterly incredible and I know he’s going to be great in the NBA when he makes the jump next year to whichever team earns the privilege of drafting Wembanyama to their team. However, even with all the hype around the French star, I’d still select James. Coming into the 2003 NBA Draft, James had dominated the high school level like no one has ever seen before. He already weighed 240 pounds with little body fat and stood at 6-feet-8 inches tall. There are two points I want to bring up that give me more certainty about drafting a player like James over Wembanyama. First, Lebron’s body figure gives me more certainty than Wembanyama staying on the court. As a 7-foot-two big man, I’ve seen players with similar body types like NBA Chet Holmgren already struggle with injuries. That’s not the case with the current Lakers superstar, with him already having an “NBA body” at 18. James has certainly struggled with injuries in the latter part of his NBA career, but from 2003-2018, he missed just 71 games according to Sporting News. He was able to stay on the court and dominate in a way the NBA world has rarely seen from a superstar, if ever. Could Wembanyama stay on the court as long as James
, while maintaining that level of dominance? Obviously, it’s impossible to tell right now, but I’d be far more comfortable drafting the current Lakers star over Wembanyama.
Stratton: While it’s true that James missed just 71 games in that span, one of the key rules we established has already been violated. As much as we’d like to speculate about injuries, nobody knew that James would be this durable when he came into the league. While I do agree that Wembanyama does pose some concerns on the injury front, his talent is too special to ignore. Watching him play, he mirrors an NBA 2K “demi-god” that all players would try to create when making their MyPlayer. He checks every box; he’s strong inside, he has a great floater and hook game, he can snipe it from deep and is great defensively. A player like this who is so young is worth gambling on. While Holmgren is a popular comparison injury-wise, why can’t we compare him to NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo? The Greek Freak is just two inches shorter than Wembanyama and was 20 pounds lighter coming into the league. Yes, it’s optimistic to compare a high-schooler to an MVP, but we’re looking at an 18 year old James and Wembanyama. Wembanyama is a much more complete player already than James was, making focusing on strength a reasonable ask.
Evan: I do agree that Wembanyama poses plenty of potential regarding his skillset. However, even if we were to ignore the durability that James has proven during his NBA career, his body already poses less concern compared to the skinny frame of Wembanyama. I also want to highlight another weakness of Wembanyama that had NBA scouts concerned and that’s foul trouble. In Wembanyama’s game against the Élan Béarnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez, he only played 20 minutes due to foul trouble. The potential injury concerns, combined with these signs of foul trouble, are definitely scary if I’m an NBA GM that wants him to be the next leader of my franchise. I also want to highlight the playmaking of James, considering he’s going to be a leader on my NBA roster. According to NBADraftnet’s description of James prior to the draft, scouts were already seeing the raw playmaking of James at the high school level and giving him high comparisons to Magic Johnson. He had all the skills to run the point guard position at an astounding 6-foot-8 and could run the offense through him. When you’re seeing modern NBA point guards become even taller, the ability for James to be a positionless player at such a young age is incredibly attractive for my franchise in 2023. James might not have had the jump shot or defensive skills of a guy like Wembanyama, but that didn’t stop him from being an elite scorer at age 18. He demonstrated the ability to score in the paint while taking advantage of his size and strength. He also demonstrated the ability to shoot from the mid-range and beyond the arc in high school, showing that there was definitely potential for growth at the next level. If shooting was his only major weakness, a skill that he had already shown vast potential at in high school, I can’t live with myself if I didn’t take him, especially when that’s a skill that will get better if I put him with NBA trainers.
Stratton: If we’re salivating over James’ ability to be a positionless player, wait until you hear about Wembanyama’s skillset half a foot taller. Wembanyama moves like a small forward, but is six inches taller than the positional average. He allows the team drafting him to have a significant size advantage over their opponents. Wembanyama will be able to bring his team to get the benefits defensively of a big man, without the downside of losing floor spacing. He even brings the ball up the floor, demonstrating his lead guard skills. There are plenty of teams that currently run two-seven footer lineups. Imagine Wembanyama adding to that, but at the three. James just doesn’t move the needle positionally in the same way. On your point about foul trouble, that’s not something to get super concerned about. Foul trouble is something that’s common for young players still growing into their bodies. In general, once a player gets used to the game around them fouling becomes less of an issue. All said, it’s super difficult to ignore Wembanyama’s skillset mixed with his height. Everything he lacks can be fixed relatively quickly or is just speculation. As good as James was at that point in his career, Wembanyama is just more intriguing and unique.