After extensive research by osmosis, and two preseason games, I’m ready to declare Victor Wembanyama the next Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
This is not a one-to-one comparison because no player has ever come close to duplicating Kareem’s skyhook, but if you blur the other details enough, the basics hold up.
Both are 7-foot-a-million, generational big men who were beyond coveted coming into the draft and project to be not only the best player in the league, but perhaps its leading scorer as well. Obviously, Abdul-Jabbar did that seamlessly considering how well prepared players of his era were for the next level.
He went 88-2 at UCLA, won Player of the Year twice, and led the Bruins to three-straight national titles. Wembanyama is 19 and played on a French team specifically tailored to develop him for the NBA first, and win second. There’s no way Big Vic steps on the court and immediately gets 28, 14, and 4.
At the same time, Wembanyama has 43 points in 42 minutes of preseason action on 18-of-28 from the field (64 percent!). While that’s across two games, and he’ll have to up his rebounding rate to match rookie Kareem, the skill set is as sensational as advertised. My advice to Wemby would be to develop at least a couple of post moves to avoid initiating the offense from 30 feet out, and save the miles on those knees.
Kareem lasted 20 seasons because he was lightyears ahead of his peers as far as body preservation, famously practicing yoga, and he didn’t have to jam 7-foot centers under the hoop to score. Wembanyama doesn’t have to do that either, yet his approach is definitely more labor intensive than the skyhook.
That first point also lends me to another similarity the two players share, at least in my mind. At a young age, Abdul-Jabbar was thoughtful and wise beyond his years — even though media and fans at the time didn’t understand it, or really Kareem. Say what you will about this current iteration of Abdul-Jabbar, there’s no denying he puts thought into what he says and writes.
Thankfully, there’s a lot more access and at least an attempt at empathy 50-plus years later. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst did some siddling up to Victor (as only he can do) before the 2023 NBA Draft, and reported that Wembanyama also is cerebral for a teenager. Like Alcindor before him, some of that maturity was likely prompted by the San Antonio big man’s inability to hide in public since he was 12.
Think about all the centers who’ve gone No. 1 overall since Abdul-Jabbar in 1969, and tell me who’s even in his universe. Perhaps Bill Walton because of his Bruin career, but Bill was more of an in-shape Nikola Jokic (without the jumpshot — respect to the league’s current pudgy overlord).
There have been other defensive juggernauts for sure. You could even argue players such as Ralph Sampson or Patrick Ewing were as devastating offensively, too. But no one would say they were further along than Kareem in that category, and that goes for Wembanyama as well.
That said, the ease with which the Frenchman scores and the litany of tools at his disposal makes you wonder: In 2038 would it be unheard of if Wemby was still jogging up and down the floor, calmly, causally destroying defenses?
No one ever compares anyone to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, because of the skyhook and his uniqueness, but also due to the reckless, irresponsible and moronic nature of juxtaposing another hooper — who has yet to play a second in the Association — next to a 19-time All-Star that held the NBA career scoring mark until last year, won six NBA titles and six league MVPs.
So, yes, I am one such moron, and absolutely deserve to be lampooned and called stupid. But to quote another great philosphiser, “Stupid like a fox.”
Original source here
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