Another draft, another comparison. Victor Wembanyama is expected to be the first pick when the June 22 draft happens, with many analysts labelling him the hottest draft prospect since Lebron James (2003). San Antonio Spurs is his most likely home after they won the right to pick first during the draft. Spurs will have a huge task of ensuring that Wembanyama lives up to such a great billing. But how does the seven-foot-four Metropolitans 92 player compare to fellow centre and 2014 Draft hotshot Nikola ‘The Joker’ Jokic?
The Return of Man-Mountains
Webanyama (7’4”) is slightly taller than Jokic (6’ 11’”). But there is no doubt that both are man mountains. They are part of a conspicuously consistent return of the big player to the NBA. This trend has particularly taken root following the inclusion of foreign players through the draft.
It is difficult to make a direct comparison between Denver Nuggets’ Jokic who has already established himself in the league (two-time MVP, five-time NBA All-Star) and Wembanyama who is joining the league nine years later. That said, I’d take the risky pick and go with Wembanyama as the better NBA draft prospect. Here’s why:
First, he is the bigger of the two man-mountains. A difference of five inches can make a whole lot of difference in abilities. It means that Wemba will be able to go over defending players more easily for three-pointers than Jokic. After going well over Anthony Davis to grab a glorious three-pointer on May 17, Davis said of Jokic, “There is nothing else I could have done.” Considering Davis is one of the best defensive players, imagine what other players will be going through when they come up against a five inches taller Wembanyama!
Basketball Meets Technology
Wemba has an advantage over Jokic in that he joins the NBA at a time when the league is experiencing the greatest convergence with technology. Today, there are all types of data available that coaches and trainers can use to improve different aspects of a player’s game. Analysing opponents today is much easier than it was nine years ago. This means that even in areas where they may have similar abilities, Wembanyama is able to develop earlier than Jokic did, despite both joining the NBA at the age of 19.
People like Kendrick Perkins have accused The Joker of stat padding. However, the Serb has proven them wrong repeatedly by performing exceptionally well in individual segments of the game – table-setting, rebounding, name it. Wembanyama is likely to face even stronger similar accusations given the available data. He needs Jokic’s mental strength to ignore these attacks if he is to achieve his full potential. The expectations laid on his shoulders do not make things easier for him.
It took Jokic six years to earn his first MVP award (2020-21). He showed his grit by winning it for the second time in a row in 2022. I expect Wembanyama to pick his first MVP much earlier; three years max. Either way, we have two great players in our hands, and basketball keeps growing! We love it, don’t we?