If you don't know basketballer Victor Wembanyama, you will
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Victor Wembanyama - if it's a name you don't know yet, you will soon, especially if you live in San Antonio, Texas. That's because, at tonight's NBA draft lottery, the 14 teams who did not make the playoffs were waiting to see who would get to pick him first at next month's draft. And the San Antonio Spurs came out on top. Victor Wembanyama is, of course, the French basketball player who some consider the greatest draft pick of all time and the likely first choice on draft night in June. To see what makes this 19-year-old so very, very special, we spoke to The Ringer's Zach Kram earlier today.
So, OK, if Wembanyama is the greatest, just, like, how great is he? Is he worth all this hype?
ZACH KRAM: He is. I don't know if he is the No. 1 definite greatest prospect of all time, but he's certainly No. 1 since LeBron James 20 years ago.
KRAM: So most good NBA players fit into, broadly speaking, one or two camps. There are shorter guards who are really good at dribbling, really good at shooting but not as good near the basket, not as good on defense. Or they're the big guys who are dominant near the basket, but they can't shoot as well. They can't dribble. They're not as fast. Wembanyama combines the best of both worlds. He's kind of like a guard in this body of the tallest player in the NBA because he has that shooting range, because he has that ball-handling ability. But also, he could be the best defender in the league. So most every other player has weaknesses or trade-offs they have to make because of their skills and size. Wembanyama has everything.
CHANG: That's incredible. OK, so the worst-ranking teams have the best chance at a No. 1 draft pick, right? And I heard that during the regular season, there was some speculation that it actually might be worth it for a team to throw their season in order to get a better chance of drafting Wembanyama. I mean, I'm not a basketball fan, but that just sounds crazy to me. Is it really worth it to throw your entire season just for a shot at getting Wembanyama?
KRAM: More than any other sport, in basketball, just one superstar can change the direction of a franchise. There are only five players on the court at a time, and the best player can get the ball as much as he wants. In basketball, all it takes is one player, like LeBron James...
KRAM: ...To change the direction of a franchise. The Cavaliers were one of the worst teams in the NBA, and then LeBron arrived. And they instantaneously, almost, became one of the best franchises in the NBA. And the belief, the hope, is that Wembanyama can do the same thing. So would a team sacrifice one bad season for potentially 10, 15, 20...
KRAM: ...Wonderful years with Wembanyama? I think that's a fair trade-off.
CHANG: Good point. But let me ask you this. I mean, Wembanyama is coming from the French league, right? So that's just not as intense as the NBA. How ready would he be to play in the NBA on Day 1?
KRAM: You're right. The French league - not only is it not the NBA. It's also not No. 2. But this is still a professional league with grown men, a number of whom have played in the NBA before. And Wembanyama, at the age of 19, is the best player in the French league this year. 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. He started learning English at a young age because he knew he was going to find himself playing in the United States someday. And also, he has a team of trainers and nutrition experts and fitness experts to really make his body ready because the concern with tall NBA players is usually that their bodies break down just because they have so much more to worry about.
KRAM: But Wembanyama has been training down to, like, the narrowest body parts. He has big toe exercises...
CHANG: Oh my God.
KRAM: ...That he's been doing just to make sure that his feet are strong enough...
KRAM: ...To sustain an NBA workload. So I don't know if any 19-year-old can confidently predict, I'm going to last an entire NBA season...
KRAM: ...Year after year after year. But I think he's in as good a shape as anybody in his position could possibly be.
CHANG: Zach Kram of The Ringer. Thank you so much.
KRAM: Thank you. This was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.